pierre laszlo


The persimmon tree (Diospyros kaki) is of Chinese origin. Very tall, it can reach a height of up to 12 m. It belongs to the family of Ebenaceae, and a related tree provides ebony wood. The persimmon tree is likewise valuable for its hardwood. There are no fewer than 800 varieties known in Japan and more than 2,000 in China. The leaves are oval in shape, large and shiny on top. A single tree might have male, female and hermaphrodite flowers. The fruit is reminiscent of the tomato in size and shape, and it becomes reddish orange when ripe. The name Diospyros in Greek means “food of the Gods” and there exists a description by Theophrastus dating back to the sixth century BC. This fruit is indeed a source of healthy nutrients including vitamin C and antioxidant polyphenols. The plant is quite prolific, the Hachiya variety is on record in California for yielding 150 kg of fruit per tree.

As a boy, I was fascinated by a persimmon tree that grew in the yard of a house in our neighborhood in Grenoble, France, with its exotic aspect. As an adult, I retain my fascination, in particular for the names given it in various languages. The English (persimmon) and the French (plaqueminier) names both derive, not from an Asiatic but from an Amerindian language: piakimin in Algonquin, pasiminan in Cree. One thus wonders about details of the import of this tree from Asia into North America and its uses by Native Americans.