Common Persimmon

For those of you who live in North Alabama, be prepared for lots of snow for the winter of 2009-2010. The Persimmon Tree seed has spoken. According to folklore, when a persimmon seed is split in half it will contain one of the three following shapes: a knife, a fork, or a spoon.

  • If a knife is displayed, then the winter will be long and bitterly cold
  • If a fork is seen, then the winter will be mild
  • If a spoon is displayed, then there will be lots of snow to shovel
That and other bits of winter forecasting folklore were reported by the News Tribune newspaper on October 12, 2005. So, of course, I had to split a persimmon seed to determine what our winter has planned for us this year.

I quickly discovered that splitting a persimmon seed is difficult. The seeds are very hard, which isn't all that surprising considering that persimmon wood is also a very hard wood. In fact, until metal began being used in golf club "woods", golf club woods were made from persimmon wood because of its extreme hardness. The wood is also useful in other applications where an extremely hard wood is desirable- such as a loom's shuttle or a cue stick.

I first tried to split the seeds with a knife. My attempts were futile. I then microwaved one to see if it would pop open. It didn't. I was finally able to split a couple of seeds using a razor blade. The indention in the seed looked like a spoon. To be more scientific about it, I sought a second opinion- my wife also thought that the shape within the seed looked like a spoon. I split another seed, it too held the shape of a spoon. Therefore, lots of snow should be heading toward North Alabama.

The Persimmon Tree is a very common tree in the Eastern United States. It is also known by some as the "Possum wood" tree. Its fruit is also well known throughout the eastern US and has the reputation for being quite sour. Personally, I would describe it as being very bitter if not fully ripe, rather than sour. But some do describe it as sour, even historically sour. Captain John Smith (of Pocahontas and Jamestown fame) once wrote, "If it not be ripe it will draw a man’s mouth awire with much torment. But when it is ripe, it is as delicious as an apricot." (source)

The scientific name for the Common Persimmon is Diospyros virginiana. Diospyros means "fruit of the gods." Indeed, the fruit is high in vitamin C and has more fiber and potassium then even an apple. Wikipedia reports that a tea can be made from the leaves and the seeds can be used as a coffee substitute. Be aware though, that the unripe fruit is highly astringent. It should also be mentioned that the persimmon fruit is really a type of a true berry. (source)

The fruit can also be dangerous. Evidently, eating too much of this fruit, especially while unripe, can cause bezoars in the stomach. What is a bezoar? According to the well known medical establishment, Merck, a bezoar is "a tightly packed collection of partially digested or undigested material that is unable to exit the stomach." (source) Merck also reports that "Finally, consumption of persimmons (a fruit containing the tannin shibuol, which polymerizes in the stomach) has been known to cause bezoars that require surgery in over 90% of cases. Persimmon bezoars often occur in epidemics in regions where the fruit is grown." I think that I have just lost my appetite for persimmons.

Finally, the following photo demonstrates another pecularity about the persimmon tree- often times the fruits remains hanging on the tree well into winter- long after the leaves have fallen.


The Giraffe Head Tree said...

Possum Wood? Snow shoveling? John Smith was right on target with his observations, me thinks. I love the occasional ripe persimmon but like you think I'll skip them from now on. I LOVE your new blog look, Daniel! The change suits you! Thanks for all the education, and thank your lovely wife for her scientific opinions as well - ha!

Eve said...

Hi Daniel!
OH NO NOT SNOW!!! I've cursed Alabama...the snow will follow me down here...NO!!!!
We have a persimmon tree at the end of our driveway and I had to have someone from Alabama tell me what it was and show me how to eat them. Poor Morgan got one that was not quite ripe and she will probably never eat another one! It was quite pitiful! Don't tell anyone!!!
I love this post and all you others.