If you look up while wandering in the woods in the fall, you may see bright orange ball-like fruit hanging like holiday ornaments from the bare branches of some deciduous trees. They are probably persimmons, the fruit of the American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) tree.
Male and female flowers are on separate trees, blooming in spring or early summer. Only the female trees bear fruit. The eye-catching fruits are edible, very tasty and mildly sweet when they are ripe. They can also be used for baking.
Humans are not the only ones who find these fruits desirable. Fox, raccoons, opossum, skunks and white-tailed deer are among the mammals that eat persimmons and help disperse their seeds.
Birds that consume this tasty treat include Catbirds, American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, Mockingbirds,
and the seasonally appropriate Wild Turkey.
The caterpillars of Luna, Regal and Hickory Horned Devil moths feed on American Persimmon leaves. The caterpillars may complete their metamorphosis to become moths, or they may become a meal for a hungry bird or other predator.
In addition to its fruit, American Persimmon can be recognized by its bark, which is deeply furrowed, forming rectangular blocks.
American Persimmon is a member of the ebony family, with wood that is very hard and shock resistant. It has been used to make textile shuttles, and for the heads of some golf clubs that are also called woods.
American Persimmon does well in a broad range of sites, from open fields to woodlands, in moist to dry soils, growing to a maximum height of about 50 feet (15 meters). Its native range is primarily the eastern and central United States, including parts of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and southern New York, as far west as Nebraska, and to the south from Texas to Florida. It may also be found in parts of California and Utah. Like Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), American Persimmon is considered a pioneer species, one that is an early colonizer in the transition from a field to a forest. It may eventually be shaded out as a mature forest rises above it.
Martin, Alexander C.; Zim, Herbert S.; Nelson, Arnold L. American Wildlife & Plants A Guide to Wildlife Food Habits. 1951.
Wagner, David L.; Caterpillars of Eastern North America, 2005.