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What is Diospyros?

Alex Tree
Alex Tree

Diospyros, commonly referred to as ebony or persimmon trees, is a genus consisting of about 500 species of deciduous trees belonging to the family Ebenaceae. Only a small number of species can be found in temperate areas, as the majority of these evergreen trees are native to tropical regions. The flowers of Diospyros trees are dioecious, which means a single tree can bear both male and female blooms. These types of trees bear fruit which are rich in tannin, a type of plant compound, but most herbivores avoid the fruit when unripe. The name of this genus is derived from two Greek words, dios which means of Zeus and pyros which means grain.

The size of the Diospyros fruits, normally called persimmons, vary from 0.5 to 4 inches (about 1.2 to 9 cm) in diameter. Generally, the color of the fruit ranges from light yellow-orange to dark red-orange. The shape of the persimmon fruit is typically spherical and similar to that of a small pumpkin or acorn. There are two classifications of persimmon fruits: astringent and non-astringent, meaning one category is tannin-rich and therefore has an unpleasant, sandpaper-like effect on the mouth, while the other category of fruit does not.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Fruit of Diospyros trees are used for culinary purposes. They can be eaten raw or cooked, fresh or dried. When firm, these fruits are very sweet and have a crunch similar to that of apples. The flesh has a distinctive texture and ranges from firm to soggy. They can also be used in preparing cookies, salads and pies.

The male flowers of these trees are short-lived once the flower bud is fully open. There are four or more stamens, which are usually paired and form two whorls. Female flowers, on the other hand, are usually solitary and the coil of their petals are often shaped like an urn.

Commercially, Diospyros trees are considered important for their timber, which is classified into two types: pure black ebony and striped ebony. The wood was once widely used in the manufacture of high-quality golf club heads until metal took its place in the late 20th century. They are also used in making flutes, cornbread knives and wooden spoons.

In most native ecosystems of Diospyros species, the trees are very prominent and conspicuous. The leaves serve as food for the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, such as the double-striped pug, luna moth, and black-lyre leafroller moth. When fruits of these trees are grown in pastures, horses tend to overindulge and become ill.

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