November 01, 2022
By NAW Staff
Not all native fruit trees are well known to the general public. But that doesn’t mean they’re unfamiliar to whitetails.
An example of a native fruit tree is the American or common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), a small tree whose fall-ripening fruit is a delicacy to not only deer but also many other types of wildlife. Native to much of the southern and central U.S., as well as up the East Coast into Massachusetts, this deciduous species yields small, orange fruits that are not only sweet but a great source of Vitamin C and calcium.
Prior to ripening, the fruit is extremely astringent. However, as the fruit ripens, it transforms from light green to orange and becomes much softer and sweeter. As the fruit tends to grow out of reach of deer, most feeding activity occurs once the fruit has ripened enough to fall off the stem.
In most areas, persimmons ripen during archery season, resulting in attractive feeding areas for deer and productive locations for bowhunters. Because the fruit is so attractive to deer and other wildlife, the tree has found favor with some land managers in areas to which it is native.
Mature trees can be productive with zero care. However, note that not all trees actually bear fruit. That's because the species is dioecious (separate male and female plants). Only the female trees bare fruit. Flower shape, size, and density are the main ways to confirm sex, though trees can randomly change from one to the other at some point. The white flowers themselves are inconspicuous and develop late enough to avoid loss due to late freezes. One of the easiest ways to determine which trees are male and female is to mark trees with fruit on them the season before. Or you can look on the ground in the leaf litter for the calyx – a part of the fruit that doesn’t rot quickly. The calyx is the “star-shaped plant part" attached to the top of the fruit.
As with many other fruit trees, American persimmon produces most reliably in moist, well-drained soil and full sun. However, some fruit can be found even on shaded trees growing along forest edges. Many wildlife managers plant persimmon with other fruiting species on food plot and field perimeters.
Learn More: Planting Trees for Deer
Persimmon wood is so hard it once was favored for golf club heads. The tree itself has knobby bark and large deciduous leaves that turn orange-purple before dropping. Often the leaves fall prior to the persimmons, leaving the orange fruit hanging on bare branches.
Consider This Nursery
If you’re in search of American persimmon trees to add to your deer property, one source worth considering is Mossy Oak’s Nativ Nurseries. Just in time for the fall tree planting season, they’re offering one-year-old, air-pruned, containerized seedlings of Diospyros virginiana for hardiness zones 5-9. These trees offer excellent wildlife value, prefer full sun and produce small to medium size fruit in early fall to winter — prime time for hunters. For more information, visit their website at: nativnurseries.com