No. 32. Diospyros Virginiana.
English Name—PERSIMON TREE.
German Name—Persimon Baum.
Vulgar Names—Persimons, Yellow Plums, Winter Plums, Guaiacan, Seeded Plums, Pishmin, &c.
Authorities—Lin. Mich. Fl. and Sylva, Pursh, Eaton, Torrey, Elliott, Schoepf, Kalm, Catesby, Woodhouse, Coxe, Brickell, Zollickoffer, &c.
Genus DIOSPYROS—Diclinous, Calix 4 to 8 cleft. Corolla rotate or urceolate 4 to 8 cleft. Staminate flowers with 8 to 20 Stam. filaments free with one or two anthers. Pistilate flowers with one Pistil, a short style and 4 to 6 stigmas. Berry with 8 to 12 seeds.—Trees with alternate leaves.
Species D. VIRGINIANA—Leaves ovate oblong, acuminate, entire, smooth, pale and reticulate beneath, petiolate, petiols pubescent; Berries solitary globose.
Description—The Persimon is a common tree rising from 15 to 60 feet, with a smooth bark, and spreading branches. The leaves are from three to five inches long, shining above, whitish or pale and reticulate beneath, oval or oblong, base acute, end or tip acuminate, margin entire, on short alternate and pubescent petioles. These leaves vary in size, and some varieties have them glaucous or pubescent beneath. Buds smooth.
Flowers lateral, extra axillary, solitary, nearly sessile or on a short pedicel. Calix spreading persistent, commonly 4 cleft, seldom 5 or 6 cleft, segments oval acute shorter than the Corolla, which is yellowish, with as many segments as the calix, broad ovate, acute. Diclinous blossoms on separate trees or dioical, sometimes a complete flower occurs, in which are as many stigmas as segments to the Calix, and double the number of Stamina. The filaments are short, free or inserted on the calix instead of the corolla, depressed, anthers bilobe. One Pistil, germen round, style very short, stigmas obtuse, spreading.—Fruit a globular yellow berry, similar to a plum, with a thin skin, fleshy pulp and many compressed hard seeds.
History—This genus amply evinces the absurdity of the Linnean system, since hardly two species of it have the same number of stamina. Linnaeus put it in his class Polygamia; it is now put in Dioecia octandria, although many species have 10 or 12 or 16 or 20 Stamina, and 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 Styles or Stigmas. It however belongs to a very natural family the EBENACEOUS. The whole genus appears to need reform, and ought to be divided in many Sub Genera or Genera, such as
Diospyros to which D. Lotus, Virginiana, &c. belong.
Embriopteris (Gaertner) 20 stam. One cruciate stigma.
Ebenum. Cal. 5 Segm. Stam. 10. Berry 10 locular.
Dimia, with 2 or 3 Styles, type D. digyna.
Chloroxylon, type D. ditto.
Gonopyros, Cal. and Cor. 5 fid. Berry angular or lobed.
The D. Virginiana is by no means a definite species. Pursh and Michaux, jun. have noticed that two species are probably blended under that name: to one of them Pursh gave the name of D. pubescens. I have ascertained three principal varieties at least, (and there are more) which might almost be deemed specific; they are
1. Var. Macrocarpa. Leaves smaller, glauceous beneath, fruit very large—Southern States.
2. Var. Concolor. Leaves middle size, hardly pale beneath, somewhat obtuse, fruit of a good size.
3. Var. Microcarpa. Leaves large acute, pubescent beneath, fruit very small.—Virginia, &c. This is the D. pubescens of Pursh, who says that the leaves are tomentose beneath, petioles longer, &c.
The blossoms are of a pale yellow or orange color, they appear in May and June, when the leaves are yet small and not quite unfolded. The berries are only ripe late in the fall, and after frost; they resemble a yellow plum, but are globular: before their maturity they are exceedingly acerb and astringent; but when fully ripe and soft, become sweet, and have a fine flavor. These berries were one of the spontaneous fruits used by the native Tribes; who preserved them in various ways, dried them and made a paste with them: also a kind of Beer or Wine: this liquor contains alcohol, which has been attempted to be extracted; but too many substances afford it already.
A gum exudes sometimes from the tree, but in small quantity. The Persimon Beer is made by forming the fruits into cakes with bran, drying them in an oven, and bruising these cakes afterwards in water. The large variety has fruits as big as an egg, and deserves to be cultivated on a large scale as a fruit tree. The wood is hard and fine, suitable for tools and many other domestic articles. To make Persimon Wine the skin of the ripe fruits ought to be taken off, as it contains too much astringency.
Locality—From New York to Louisiana, rare beyond the 42d degree of latitute, common in the South, in woods and groves; more common in the plains than the mountains.
Qualities—Bark bitter and acerb, containing Tannin, Extractive, &c. Fruit sweet and well flavoured when ripe, containing sugar, mucilage, gallic acid and several other substances.
Properties—Bark astringent, styptic, tonic, corroborant, antiseptic, &c. Ripe fruits subastringent, nutrient, antiseptic, anthelmintic, &c. The inner bark is the most officinal part; it is extremely bitter, and a good astringent tonic, useful in sore throat, fevers, intermittents, and Dysentery. In this last disorder it is often united with rhubarb. It is much used in Carolina and Tennessee for intermittent fevers. It is also a powerful antiseptic, and equal to the Cinchona: Some physicians consider it, as well as its equivalent the Sorbus Americana as the best succedanea to Cinchona. It has been useful in ulcers, and ulcerous sore throat. The doses are the same as common tonics either in substance or extract. It has not yet been analysed; but probably contains a peculiar principle, Diospyrine, which is by far more astringent than Cornine or even Quinine, owing to its union to the gallic acid.
In the South of Europe the Diospyros Lotus, which is very much like the Var. microcarpa, is called holy wood, and employed as a substitute for Guayac wood. This may perhaps possess similar properties.
The unripe fruit has nearly the same properties as the bark; but is too austere and very styptic. The ripe fruit is very palatable, sweet and vinous; it has been used to kill the worms of children.
Substitutes—Sorbus Americana—Prunus Virginiana—Quercus rubra—Spirea tomentosa—Pinckneya bracteata—Cinchona Sp. and most of the Astringent Tonics.
Remarks—The Persimons, Wild Grapes, Papaws (Asimina) Hickorynuts, Pecans, Walnuts, Chesnuts, Chincapins, Filberts, Whortleberries, Cranberries, Strawberries, Mulberries, Raspberries, Blackberries, Crab Apples, Wild Plums, &c. were the fruits of the native tribes. Several have been introduced already in our gardens; but the Persimon has not yet been cultivated, although no fruit deserves it better: it promises to improve in flavor and size under the care of the gardener, affording a fine table fruit, many preserves, and a peculiar kind of wine.
Additions and corrections
32. DIOSPYROS VIRGINIANA—One of the remedies used by herbalists for the dysentery, is a syrup made with this, united to Prunus, Rumex and Rhubarb.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, 1828, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.