Do Persimmon Trees Have Seeds that Predict the Coming Winter?

Persimmon seeds may have been used as buttons in the Civil War.

 

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The bark of the persimmon tree looks as if it was made of building blocks.

The Ebony family (Ebenacea) consists of two genera, Euclea and Diospyros. The family contains between 400 and 500 species worldwide. The former genus contains ebony trees while Diospyros is made up of persimmons. Only two species of permisson are native to North American, the Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana) and the common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana.)

The common persimmon is found in about 3/5 of the lower 48. According to USDA publications, it grows in humid areas including the Mississippi River Valley, Long Island, and South Atlantic and Gulf states. For commercial development this same source recommends planting in areas that receive 48″ of precipitation.

This is a flowering tree. The flowers of the male and female are distinctive, with white-green male flowers in clusters. Female flowers are singular and more yellowy. The sex lives of these trees may be very involved as normally individual trees are either male or female. Occasionally male flowers appear on female trees and sometimes the flowers can self-pollinate.

Although occasionally referred to as white ebony, the uses of persimmon lumber are limited at least in part because of the small size of the tree. At one time golf club heads were made of this wood; according to Woodworking Network this is now more of a novelty. Due to its strength, persimmon wood has also been used for textile shuttles. Other uses include drumsticks. The wood can be turned and shaped with very sharp instruments.

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Persimmon leaves

The genus name Diospyros means fruit of the gods. Persimmons produce an edible fruit that is astringent when not fully ripe but becomes sweet after a frost (Sibley Guide to Trees, 2009.) A writeup from the University of Vermont reports the fruit increases antioxidant activity, is an anti-inflammatory, and helps prevent atherosclerosis. It is also reported to be high in vitamin C and calcium. Often the fruit, which is technically a berry, is dried, made into puddings, pies, jellies, cookies and even used to brew beer or make wine. This website has a recipe for beer from wild persimmons. The Old Farmers Almanac includes a recipe for persimmon bread as well.

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Leaves are oval and glossy,

Parts other than the fruit and lumber also have uses. The bark has been used in various forms to treat thrush, hemorrhaging, diphtheria, and even gonorrhea. The leaves may be made into a tea with purported health benefits. A newspaper article on the history of persimmons in the south mentions the seeds were used as buttons during the Civil War, while a second source says during that same war the seeds were ground up and used as a coffee substitute.

An unusual bit of folklore related to persimmon seeds is they may be able to predict weather! Again, the Farmers Almanac gives directions on how to use a split open seed to predict the coming winter.

The tagged Diospyros virginiana in City Park is a little more difficult to locate than other trees. To find it go to the western edge of the ball diamonds. It is near the southern tip of the northern field and is just outside the park boundaries in the golf course. Its unusual bark makes it easy to recognize. The National Champion Common Persimmon in Suffolk City, Va has a much larger circumference at 152 inches!

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As can be seen in this photo, it is one of the smaller trees in this area

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catalpa—the Fish Bait Tree

Some consider the long seed pods and large leaves of this tree to be messy

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Flower from a Northern Catalpa

The genus Catalpa contains ten or eleven (North American Trees, 5th Edition) different species of trees. The Chinese variety, Catalpa ovata, which is on the City Park tree tour, is a native of China but has been introduced in the eastern part of North America.

Two species are native to this continent, Catalpa Speciosa and the southern version, Catalpa bignonioides Walt. Even though neither of the other species is tagged in the park, I am going to discuss them because catalpas are one of my favorites. The trees look very similar with their large leaves and long bean-like seed pods. Each also has clusters of flowers, with the native trees blooming earlier with larger blossoms than the Chinese variety.

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Developing leaf of the catalpa.

The Northern Catalpa (C. speciosa) is native to all but eight western states and Florida and has been introduced into Ontario. The Northern Catalpa is the largest of the three trees, normally growing to 60′. The National Champion tree in Indiana is 78′ and  with a 81′ crown spread. C. bignonioides, the southern catalpa, has a range which overlaps that of the northern. It can be found in most of the states where the larger tree doesn’t grow as well as in North Dakota. Although the Southern catalpa is normally only 30-40′ in height (The Tree Book, Dirr and Warren, 2019) the champion tree listed in 2017 is not much smaller than its northern counterpart (75′ x 82′).

The moniker fish-bait tree technically applies to the southern variety of this tree, but the catalpa doesn’t want for other names. They include the cigar-tree, Catawba, Indian-bean tree, caterpillar tree, and Western Catalpa, with the Northern and Southern species sometimes sharing the same alternate name.

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The developing leaves of the Chinese Catalpa with a few of the seed pods from last year

The wood of the northern tree has been used as railroad ties, trim carpentry, telephone poles, fences, and furniture. The southern catalpa wood has been used for similar purposes, but its most interesting use is in plantations where it is grown to attract the the catalpa sphinx moth, which is used for fish bait! (The Tree Book, Dirr and Warren, 2019).

Bark from C. Bignonioides has been used to treat malaria. Other parts of the plant have been used for medical reasons, including the roots, although the current writeup from the USDA includes a warning in red that the roots of this plant are poisonous!  Plants for the Future rates only the Chinese Catalpa as having possible edibility. The USDA does warn that the native trees may be invasive and weedy. Many people complain that the seed pods are messy and many don’t like the large leaves. My feeling is that the larger leaves make them easier to pick up! Even the New York Times took up the case of the catalpa with the story of its spread in the 19th century.

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Bark of the Chinese catalpa

The Chinese Catalpa is smaller than the native trees. An  additional use of its wood is in the making of a traditional Chinese instrument, the Qin.

The Chinese catalpa C 175 in the City Park Arboretum is along Sheldon Drive, just south of the Indian Magic Crabapple on the eastern side of the road, catty corner from the latrine on the west side of the road. The catalpa trees in town seem to leaf out and flower late in the season, so much so that if you own one, you start to worry it has died, yet the Chinese catalpa is even later. It looks quite scraggly even this late in June this year.

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The Chinese catalpa in mid June

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Check Up on the Blog

Some of the trees of City Park in early spring.

Spring appears to be late in the park this year. The redbuds have flowers but are far from spectacular. The crabapples have transitioned to leaves. The few left with blooms look drab in the overcast weather. Trees which were only budding a few weeks ago are fully leafed out. Some are yet to flower and a few have not yet filled out.

At this point I’ve highlighted 98 of the 200+ trees on the park tour. Below are a few spring photos of trees I covered earlier, plus a few interesting ones I’ve yet to do.

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Gingko leaves emerging.

The column about this tree can be found here: https://whattreewhere.com/2017/10/30/gingko-tree-most-unique-tree-in-the-world

Although the weeping mulberry is not yet fully leafed out, it does now look more like it did when I wrote about it: https://whattreewhere.com/2017/10/24/the-r2d2-prototype-weeping-mulberry-trees/. On another note, I didn’t see any fruit from this tree in the fall.

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Bud on the weeping mulberry

The buds of the horse chestnuts are extremely sticky! I did mention this in my post last year but apparently I forgot and got my hands very sappy. My report on this tree was just about this time last year. Although it does have cones of flowers on it now, it does not appear to be very showy. https://whattreewhere.com/2018/05/27/the-tree-the-british-play-with-horsechestnut/

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Sticky horse chestnut bud

The write up on hawthorn trees can be located here: https://whattreewhere.com/2018/10/15/hawthorn-trees-supernatural-powers-and-an-unassuming-champion. Here are two of them this spring. Some may still be blooming.

Usually it seems as if the Siberian Larch is one of the first trees in the park to gain its new leaves, but this year it took forever. These needles, or leaves, are very soft. Apparently I have only written about our championship European larch (https://whattreewhere.com/tag/larch-in-mythology/) but the new needles on it are much too high to touch.

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The newly emerged leaves, or needles on the Siberian larch.

Trees yet to be featured in this blog also made their spring appearance. Below are three early appearances of various oaks.

 

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Prestige linden buds against the blue sky
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European Beech bud

Ussurian Pear: the Most Cold Hardy of Pear Trees

This pear is hardy to USDA Zone 3!

Like all pears, cherries, apples, and hawthorns, the Ussurian Pear is a member of the Rosaceae or rose family.

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The flowers of the Ussurian pear tree. These were one of the first trees to bloom in the park

The tree, also known as the Harbin pear or Chinese pear, is native to China, Japan, Korea, and the Ussuri river area, which forms a border between Russia and Manchuria. It is the most cold-hardy of the thirty or so pear species and will grow in USDA zone 3.

The seeds for the tree were brought to the United States in 1926 by a professor from South Dakota who gathered them near Harbin China. This date is disputed by the Morton Arboretum, which states their tree was planted in 1922. The pome of this species is said to be small, hard and not particularly delicious although it might improve in flavor after a frost. The amount of sugar the fruit contains varies widely between varieties.

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Early buds on the Ussurian pear tree

Some sources suggest it might be used for jellies. Although this website lumps the Harbin pear in with other Asian pears, it says the fruit may also have a tenderizing agent, making it good for marinades. In a chat group, another respondent suggested it might be worth trying to make a perry from the fruit.

In any case, the trees take up to eight years to produce fruit (pomes) and may live up to 300 years. The fruit is eaten by small mammals and birds. In the landscape the trees are used as a windbreak or as a specimen tree. Like most pears, Ussurian pears contain a compound that has antibacterial properties and may also serve as a flea and tick deterrent. 

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Ussurian pear tree still sporting snow bumpers

The Ussurian pear (Pyrus ussuriensis) in City park was planted in 1993 and had a trunk diameter of 3.5″. To find this tree: if you start at the intersection of Sheldon Drive and City Park and walk from the South East corner in a straight line south and east from the point of the intersection, you would find the tree between the the two playing fields. 

 

 

 

Bees at the Bee-Bee Tree

Hundreds of saplings may grow under a female tree.

The Korean Evodia is another tree with a checkered history in North America. The Latin name for this tree included on the City Park Tree Guide is given as Evodia danielli but it appears Tetradium danielli  is also used. Other names include Bee tree, Bee-bee tree or bebe tree. Other sources include the name Honey tree and One Hundred Thousand Flower tree. The current USDA map shows it naturalized in Pennsylvania and Ohio, yet many other states are reporting it as having escaped.

Although Pennsylvania has this species on its watch list for invasive potential, at this point it is not known how it might damage the environment. A four-acre patch of escaped trees has been reported in Maryland. A short article published in 2017 gives more information about the nature of this tree and its invasive nature, stating that hundreds of saplings grow under a female tree and it has been seen outcompeting other invasive species such as the tree of heaven and Japanese stilt grass.

First brought to the United States in the early nineteen hundreds, this specimen is native to the Koreas, northwest China and other parts of Asia. Why is it given its various monikers?

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A cluster of buds for the Korean evodia or One Hundred Thousand Flower tree.

Although the many small blooms, in clusters that resemble poorly formed cauliflower heads, are rather high up and hard to see, bees swarm these late bloomers. It is the second week in September here in Colorado and the flowers are still blooming. Purportedly female flowers will turn to stunning red seed pods.

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Bees on the flowers of the Korean Evodia

This propensity for late blooming makes the tree popular with both bees and possibly beekeepers. Although many sites mention this as a nectar source, the references I found date to the 1970s with few current citations. One website suggests a substance made from the seeds is used as both a cooking and hair oil!

In the 1990s the US Forest Service lamented this tree was not used more often for ornamental purposes and suggested it would be a good street tree. Similar to the Amur cork tree, parts of Korean evodia have been used in Chinese medicine for 2000 years. It has been used to treat arthritis, headaches, gastric upset, and other ailments. Both WebMD and RxList suggest there is not enough evidence to show if any parts of the plant are effective.WebMD includes a number of drugs with which evodia may interact and cautions pregnant and breastfeeding women from using it. Surgical patients should also use caution as it might interfere with blood clotting.

C185 Korean Evodia (Evodia danielii) is either no longer tagged or the tag is nearly impossible to find when the tree is blooming. At the right time of year, though, it is fairly easy to identify by the many bees buzzing around its flowers and its somewhat unusual  shape. If you found the Amur Cork, walk slightly south and west from there. Although not perfectly aligned with Olive Street, you can also start from where Olive Street tees into Jackson and walk west and slightly south across the park to find it. It is near a large evergreen tree.

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Korean Evodia in August

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amur Cork—Landscape Lovely or Harmful Invader?

First brought to the United States in 1856

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Amur cork tree

Amur cork  tree (Phellodendron amurenses) is native to China, Korea, and other areas of Asia. It was first brought to the United States in 1856 and grown in the Harvard Botanic gardens as early as 1908. From 1933 it has been reported to have naturalized in New York. Currently it is considered an invasive plant in a number of states. As an invasive plant it crowds out native trees and produces berries which are less nutritious than the nuts of native trees; its berries do not have the same essential fats needed for wildlife to survive through the winter.

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Leaves of the Amur cork tree

Some of the sources referenced above speculate that the trees were brought from Asia by railroad workers. The trees’ growth patterns have contributed to its “success” in crowding out native specie. By suppressing the growth of canopy trees, it has become one of the dominate trees in eastern states. Although many states warn against planting Amur cork, others suggest Phellodendron amurenses is a good landscape variety. A few suggest only male trees be considered. This might be a reasonable solution in areas were there are no others, but in areas where the trees have naturalized, the male tree may still fertilize female trees and add to the problem.

Possibly one of the reasons Amur Corks were originally brought to North America is that it is considered to be one of the fifty most important herbs used in Chinese medicine. Some of its compounds have been used to treat meningitis, arthritis, cancers, and diseases of the lungs. The Ainu population of Japan also used parts of this tree as a painkiller.

WebMD mentions most of the uses above. It also states some of the trees’ compounds, such as berberine, might lower blood sugar and LDL cholesterol. At the same time they include warnings about possible harmful effects. There is limited scientific research to support usage.

Other non-medicinal uses have been mentioned; older literature suggests the bark as a substitute for cork.

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The corky trunk of the Amur Cork Tree

It may be used for cork in Russia. An oil made from seeds may have insecticidal properties. A yellow dye obtained from inner layers of bark, was used to produce yellow-tinted paper, useful in distinguishing the important of various Chinese documents.

The Amur cork tree (C138) may be found in City Park  where Olive Street intersects with Jackson Street. As can be seen in the photo at the beginning of this post, the tree is almost directly across from Olive Street street.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Son Flowering Tree

Discovered in 1907 but not cultivated in the US until the 1980s.

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Seven Son Flowering Tree

The Seven Son Flowering Tree (Heptacodium miconiodes) is supposed to have a profusion of blooms in early August. It is mid August. So far I’ve seen two small white flowers on the tree on the city park tour. Not sure if it bloomed and I missed it, it’s too young, planted in too shady a spot, or if it will bloom more fully at a later time.

This small tree almost looks more like a shrub than a tree and looks to have many smaller trunklets. Like the paperbark maple, this tree also has very shaggy bark. Many authors mention its interesting bark as adding interest to the winter landscape.

Although originally discovered in China in 1907, this tree wasn’t cultivated in the US until the 1980s. Like the paperbark maple, there are not many specimens left in China. This is the only plant in its genus and it is said to be in the same family as honeysuckle.

One of the oldest trees in this country may be seen at the Denver Botanic Gardens. The author of the write up for that tree also mentions that this plant has a lovely fragrance, although, again, this wasn’t noticeable at the time of my last visit. We did, though, manage to take a photo of the flowers, which I would still not consider blooming in abundance. The article mentions the seeds are spectacular in the fall and shows a photo of what appear to be red flowers. P8170153

One use of this plant may be as an alternative to other shrubs which may be considered invasive or a nuisance in certain areas. This Old House suggests planting it in place of butterfly bushes in states such as CA and  NY.

To find A75 Seven Son Flower Tree (Heptacodium miconioides) park near the intersection of S. Bryan and Oak Street. This tree is behind the pottery studio on that corner. Maybe in late August you will be able to smell it or in the early fall it might be identifiable by its red flower-like seeds.