As the name suggests, the Texas persimmon (scientific name Diospyros texana) is a species of persimmon native to south and central areas of Texas, as well as northern Mexico. In the USA, it grows in Rio Grande Plains, Edwards Plateau and also in the Trans-Pecos region, but only the corner in the south-east. The Mexican states where the tree can be found are the northern parts of Coahuila, Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, as well as a tiny corner of Chihuahua.
Disospyros, the botanical name for all species of persimmons, comes from a Greek word that can be translated as "food of the gods". Even if some people dispute this translation, it is a good indication of the fruit's value and how much it was used by humans through history.
Due to its native range, the fruit is also known as the Texas persimmon or the Mexican persimmon. For some reason, it also has the alternative name "black persimmon". It has several Spanish names, all coming from the Nahuatl word tzapotl, which designates several types of trees with fruits. These names are chapote manzano, chapote prieto or simplu chapote.
The Texas persimmon plant is semi-evergreen and can either be a shrub or a small-sized tree. It usually reaches a height of around 15 feet.
The Texas persimmon can easily be identified by the grey and very smooth bark that covers the trunk. It is hard to confuse it with other trees, since it tends to peel off, exposing several layers of grey, pink and white, in very attractive fashion. Leaves are dark green in color, with a leathery appearance and a length between 1 and 2 inches. Branches tend to be very twisted, unlike most tree species. The tree has white or green flowers, barely visible in the crown. It produces numerous black fruits, with a diameter of about one inch. The flesh is edible but the fruit isn't easy to consume, due to the very large number of seeds. Birds and wild animals are not bothered by the seeds and eat large amounts of fruits. Due to their color, the fruits are used in the production of a black dye in Mexico.
The Texas persimmon is well adapted to the very arid climate of its native range and has several features that allow it to survive there. The smooth bark is actually part of an interesting system, along with the broad leaves that grow at an upward angle. This is meant to capture as much rainwater as possible and to channel it down the stems, to the root system. Studies have shown that 5.6% of the total rain that falls on the crown is channelled to the roots. Leaves are also well adapted to the climate, being deciduous in drought conditions and sclerophyllous.
While Texas persimmons are edible and can be consumed by humans, they are extremely popular with wild animals. Many wildlife species use the tree for cover and the fruit is an important part of their diet. The crown is used by numerous bird species as a perching and nesting location. The fruit is popular food for mammals, while wild goats and deer consume the leaves as well. Bees and other insects feed on the flower nectar.
Fruits, bark, flowers, seeds.
The tree is well-known for its medical properties and most parts have powerful effects. They are anthelmintic, tonic, ferbrifuge and cooling, especially the flowers, bark, fruits and seeds. The most important effect is the astringent one, which is very useful in the treatment of dental issues, including gums that bleed, loose teeth, pyorrhea and dental caries. Ripe fruits are said to remove the burning sensation when urinating, while open wounds can be purified using a decoction prepared from the tree's bark. The flowers are especially powerful and their extracts can be an antiduretic in polyuria, as well as a counter for toxins and a treatment for menorrhagia and heart diseases. Texas persimmon flowers can also be dried and ground into a powder, which acts as a brain tonic.
Consuming the Texas persimmon fruit is recommended for eye health, since it is one of the richest natural sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, two essential compounds that are able to protect eyes from light damage and restore vision.
Like many other fruits, Texas persimmons are rich in fibers. Eating them prevents constipation by providing bulk to the stool. In addition, the fruits offer high amounts of vitamins A and C, two powerful antioxidants. This combination is especially beneficial for hair growth.
The tree also has several industrial uses, especially the wood. The sapwood is yellow, with a light color. However, the heartwood is a lot more attractive. Only the largest trees have heartwood, which is very similar to the one of related species D. ebenum, with an interesting black color. It is very dense, with a hard fiber and can be nicely polished. It can be used in the manufacture of tools, but also in art items and engraving blocks.
The fruits, popularly named berries, become very sweet after they ripe. Many species of birds and wild animals feed on them, while locals use them especially in the production of custard or pudding. A very old usage of the fruit in the tradition of the Indian natives, still found today in Mexico, was to produce a black dye for leather working. It is also a very popular ornamental plant, due to the attractive peeling bark, interesting twisted branches, small manageable size and extreme resistance to drought.
Before consuming the fruit, remove and discard the bitter skin. The flesh is sweet, with an interesting taste, and can be an ingredient in various products like pudding, jelly, bakery goods (muffin, sweet bread) or even prepared as a wine.
The texture of the flesh is similar to jelly, it can be eaten both raw and in dried form. Texas persimmons are a great source of various nutrients and have a superior content of vitamin C than a citrus.
The Texas persimmon is very adaptable and grows from sea level until altitudes of around 1800 m. It likes to grow in marginal locations, such as edges of prairie, rocky slopes and riparian areas. It can be found in the Tamaulipan mezquital and the Tamaulipan matorral of Mexico, as well as the southern part of Western Gulf coastal grasslands, the Edwards Platea and the Chihuahuan Desert. It tolerates soils with a pH between 6.1 and 7.8, but enjoys alkaline ground with good drainage.
The Texas persimmon tree likes full sun exposure. It is very easy to cultivate, since it requires almost no maintenance. It can be fertilized every one or two years but it is not mandatory and it can survive even in very dry climates. Seeds are the best method of propagation but it grows quite slowly. The tree needs about 5-6 years to start flowering and the interesting exfoliating bark only appears after 10 years.