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May 2010 cover image 12 Vulnerable Nursery

Flora Fact : The Sweet Snack of Texas Persimmons

Texas persimmons are known for juicy fruit and smooth bark.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Raccoons, deer, skunks and birds galore relish Texas persimmons. So does Amy Crowell, who’s mastered the messy art of eating the purplish-black fruit. (Hint: You’ll need some damp washrags.)

“First, squeeze the juicy, caramel-colored pulp from the skin into your mouth,” explains Crowell, an organic vegetable gardener in Austin. “Then suck all the sweet goodness from the seeds. When you’re done, spit them out!”

Crowell is well-acquainted with the native tree because scads of them cover the brushy land where she grew up in Hondo. Every fall, she makes the trip back home to harvest bucketloads of persimmons. “I freeze them in bags and use the pulp to make jams and jellies,” Crowell says. “I’m also brewing some persimmon wine.”

Only female trees bear plum-flavored fruits, which ripen by October and measure about an inch. When green, the fruit is highly astringent and not safe to eat (if you do, stomach problems are guaranteed).

Diospyros texana ranges primarily across Central and South Texas (and the eastern part of West Texas) in a variety of soils. A slow-growing member of the ebony family, the species — also called Mexican persimmon, black persimmon and chapote — rarely measures taller than 10 feet but sometimes reaches 40. Flowering begins at age 5 or 6.

The small white blooms, shaped like petaled bells, appear in March and April but are hardly noticeable because they droop upside-down. Their pleasant fragrance, however, gives them away. So do the bees, butterflies and moths that they attract.

Dan Hardy, who lives west of Austin, admires the Texas persimmons that grow in his yard for yet another reason. “They have a gray bark that peels away like a madrone and leaves a smooth bark underneath,” he says. Pretty, yes, but expect a long wait before a Texas persimmon starts to peel — at least 10 years from germination.

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