Diospyros virginiana, the Common Persimmon, is a large deciduous tree in the Ebenaceae family. The common persimmon is a southern native small to medium fruit tree that is becoming more popular for homegrown fruit. The bark is grey or black and forms chunks or blocks that give it a checkerboard look. Fall color can be a spectacular red in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 8a. It is well adapted to cities but requires fallen fruit maintenance and wildlife control. Its mature height can be 40 to 60 feet, with branches spreading from 20 to 35 feet and a trunk two feet thick, but it is commonly much shorter in landscapes. The trunk can have a singular or multiple trunks, it tends to form colonies. The leaves are alternate, simple, and a rich green color. The leaf margins can be entire or somewhat serrated. The funnel-shaped flower has four petals and ranges in color from white to cream to gray.
Tree Bark Photo: UF
The common persimmon is smaller than a ping-pong ball. The persimmon is a round fruit with an orange to reddish-purple color, with a size of 1 ¼ inches across. The flavor is more fermented and sugary-sweet. In Florida, the season is from late August to early November. Fruit do not ripen at the same time. When ripe, the fruit turns from green to burnt orange. They also fall from the tree. The fruit is soft, sticky, and very delicious, but it needs to be separated from its skin and seeds before being used in recipes. They can be eaten out of hand when fully ripe, pureed, dried, and used in preserves, chutneys, quick breads, puddings, pies, and sweet and savory dishes. The fruit is very favored by wildlife. Persimmon fruit is an essential food source for songbirds, turkeys, and small and large mammals.
Common Persimmon Fruit. Photo: UF
Common persimmon prefers moist, well-drained, bottomland or sandy soils but is known to be very drought- and urban-tolerant. It is a fantastic tree in its adaptability to site conditions, including alkaline soil. It is commonly seen as a volunteer tree in old fields but grows slowly on dry sites. Its fruit is an edible berry that usually ripens after frost. Some cultivars do not require the frost treatment to ripen. Persimmon fruit is hard and astringent when unripe. Most American cultivars require both male and female trees for proper fruiting.
Besides fallen fruit maintenance, persimmon maintenance is easy and is suggested that it persimmon should be planted more often. Due to a coarsely branched root system, transplantation is difficult. The trees should be balled and burlapped when young or grown from containers. The wood from the tree is used for golf club heads because it is tough and almost black.
Common persimmon is troubled by a leaf-spot disease in the south. This disease causes black spots on the leaves and premature defoliation in August in the north and September in the south. The tree will not die from the disease. It is also susceptible to a vascular wilt, which can devastate established trees. There are no severe pests fort his native fruit tree, except occasional caterpillars.
For more information, please contact your local county extension Office.
What do ice cream, make-up, paint, plastic, air freshener, laundry detergent, cellophane, and rayon fabric have in common? They all have pine tree in them. There are hundreds of products that contain the cellulose or sap from the pine tree species native to Florida’s panhandle, particularly Longleaf and Slash pines.
Early foresters of the 1800’s discovered these pine species that grew tall and strong. In fact, Longleaf pines were so overharvested that there is only about 3% of the original forests remaining today. These trees not only provided a huge resource for lumber, they also supplied the fluids necessary to support the timber industry – turpentine. By “cat-facing” (cutting downward angled slashes) the trunk of pine trees, the sap would flow into collection cups placed on the trunks. It was collected and heated.
Turpentine is a fluid obtained by the distillation of resin harvested from pine trees. As a solvent, it is used for thinning oil-based paint, for producing varnishes, and as a raw material for the chemical industry. Add some beeswax and it becomes furniture wax. In the early years, turpentine mixed with coal oil and kerosene was used as a topical wound dressing and lice treatment. Add some animal fats to make primitive vapor rub.
Terpene is the scientific term coined in 1866 to denote all hydrocarbons with the formula C10H16. The word was a shortened form of “terpentine”, the obsolete spelling of “turpentine”. Terpenes are major biosynthetic building blocks for the oils in plants. For the plants, these oils play a critical role in defense against herbivory, build disease resistance, and aid in attracting pollinators. When the resin of pine trees (turpentine) is distilled, each of the terpenes can be separated. Based on there formulation, the terpenes are the base for fragrances and flavoring in numerous consumer products. With various heating treatments, many “fresh scented” cleaning products and antiseptics can be produced. Others terpenes will add “taste” to ice cream, chewing gum, and even beer. The cellulose separated from the turpentine is used to provide “structure” to cosmetics, fabrics, impact-resistant plastics, and modern digital display screens.
Who knew that you could get so many uses from pine trees. They are not just for making 2 x 4s anymore. In fact, the 1939 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to the scientist that sorted out the 55,000 terpene compounds from turpentine. You may never look at a pine tree (or your beer) the same way again.
A Florida native wildflower is a flowering herbaceous species that had grown wild in the state’s natural ecosystems in the 1560s when Florida’s first botanical records were created. Planting native wildflowers in Florida benefits natural resources, native pollinators, and other beneficial insects. By planting wildflowers, one is providing shelter for pollinators and increasing wild be & natural enemies of insect pests population. When protecting, enhancing, or restoring habitat to benefit pollinators, choose a mix of native plant species that will bloom throughout the year and provide a continuous source of pollen and nectar for many pollinator species. Site planting and preparation are crucial to establishing new pollinator habitats. The site should be manageable, benefit wildlife, and support the overall management practices of the property.
Diversify your selection of seeds. Flowering species native to Florida and suited to specific site conditions are the best choice for attracting and supporting diverse pollinator populations. Try to use seeds that are not native and are produced in Florida. Florida-produced seeds will be better adapted to Florida’s growing conditions. Planting a mixed species that bloom at different times will benefit pollinators throughout the year. Different flower sizes, shapes, colors, and plant heights will attract more pollinators and other insects.
Site Planning & Preparation
Wildflower plots that are planted in full sun provide the most pollen and nectar and are more attractive to pollinators. Bees can start working on flowers early in the day. However, flowers wet with dew may be ignored until they are dry. Plant along field edges on farms, cleared from pesticide drift and areas that will not disturb farming practices. Wildflowers should be planted in areas where the ground is not disturbed regularly. Most bee species do not live in communal colonies or collaborate in rearing offspring; 70% of these solitary bees nest in the ground. Plant in multiple locations that have well-drained. An available water source for irrigation benefits the planting, mainly during seed germination and early seedling establishment. Once plants have been established, additional watering is usually only necessary in drought.
Proper site preparation is needed to minimize weeds throughout plot establishment and growth. At least an entire season of weed eradication before planting is necessary. At least two months before planting, mow the area and remove any thatch. Allow new weed growth to begin, and then treat the site with a non-persistent, post-emergent herbicide. Repeat the herbicide treatment at least twice, two weeks between applications, allowing for more weed growth between treatments. This process can start as soon as weeds grow in early spring. Some herbicides have a residual activity that can kill or prevent the germination of wildflower species typically included in pollinator planting. Herbicide labels list species that are tolerant depending on the rate applied. It is crucial always to follow label instructions. As organic weed management, sites can be prepared using solarization. This technique uses greenhouse plastic to raise high soil temperatures to kill weedy plants and seeds in the top four to six inches of soil. Solarization can be done using large sheets of plastic to control weeds. After either solarization or chemical treatment and mowing, the aim is to have at least 90% of the soil free of plant material to ensure proper seed-to-soil contact during planting.
Seed the plot
Depending on the region, plots should be planted between September and January in Florida after an entire season of site preparation. No-till planting is recommended. Years of weed seeds are stored within the soil, waiting to be exposed to sunlight and begin germinating. Tilling an area will disturb the seed bank and promote weed growth rather than wildflower growth. When the plot is ready, mix seeds based on size and weight. Annual and perennial seeds can be mixed and planted together. Alternatively, annuals and perennials can be planted in separate blocks to allow each type to be managed individually. Multiple techniques and equipment are used to spread seeds along the soil surface. Using tractor-pulled equipment is the most efficient option for larger plots but is less successful in evenly spreading lightweight seeds. Be cautious of using a too-heavy roller in very sandy soil. Excessive weight will force the seeds too far under the sand, where they will not germinate. A no-till seed drill is an alternative to spreading seed on the plot surface. Equipment costs of renting or purchasing a seed drill can be expensive for small wildflower plots; however, seed drills can be very efficient for larger wildflower establishments.
Undesirable weeds may establish quickly within the wildflower plot in the first year, especially if the site is not thoroughly prepared. Monitor the plants and try to control weeds sooner rather than later. Fertilization generally is not necessary. If competing weedy grasses start establishing in the plot, use a grass-specific herbicide to achieve control as quickly as possible, preferably while the grass weeds are small. However, if you have included native grasses in your planting, consider using a mechanical control method. The herbicide used will depend on the species you are trying to control. Spray using a coarse/large droplet size to avoid overspray onto desired species. Whenever possible, spray at night to prevent times when pollinating species will be present on the flowers. Always follow the product label when applying herbicides of any type. Hand-pull small patches of competing weeds. Cut or use a weed trimmer on larger patches of weeds. Mowing your planting can reduce weed competition. In perennial-only plots, mow throughout the first year to inhibit the growth of annual weeds. Mow plots were planted with annual and perennial wildflowers in the late fall of the first year after planting. Mow at a low enough level to hit and distribute the seed heads but high enough to avoid disturbing the bases of overwintering perennial plants. The actual timing of this mowing will depend on region, soil type, and weather.
The colder part of the year is the best time to install hardy trees and shrubs. All their energy is in the root zone. They will establish much faster than if you wait until they are actively growing leaves.
However, planting them correctly is critical to their survival. The top three mistakes that people make are: (1) installing too deeply, (2) leaving the rootball undisturbed, and (3) not applying enough water all the way through establishment of the root system. Unfortunately, it may be years before the mistakes are noticed.
Here are the ten steps for successful planting:
1. Call 811 and have all underground utilities marked before digging the hole.
Hitting a line can be costly and life threatening.
2. Loosen all surrounding compacted soil within the potential root zone of the tree.
Tree roots are close to the surface and need to be able to push through the soil.
3. If the soil is extremely dry and sandy, amend with the entire area with organic material.
This is only needed in coastal regions.
4. Remove the container from the tree and find the top-most root.
All media covering the root flare must be removed.
5. Prepare the rootball by removing encircling roots and shaving the edges of the rootball.
The rootball should no longer be shaped like the container when complete.
6. Dig the hole slightly less shallow than the rootball.
Make sure the bottom of the hole is firm soil, so sinking will not occur.
7. Place the rootball in the ground with the main root showing just above the soil grade.
Oxygen must reach the roots for new roots to develop.
8. Back fill around the rootball with the surrounding loose soil.
Take care to not cover the root flare.
9. Mulch around the outside of the rootball without covering the rootball.
Apply at least 2-3 inches of organic mulch. No more than 4″.
10. Water immediately to settle soil and then on a regular schedule until established.
Minimum of 1 gal per 3 gal plant, every 2-4 days, for 20-28 weeks. Larger plants will require more water at each event.
Since entering the U.S. from Eastern Asia in the 1920s and especially since its promotion as the ultimate wildlife tree in the last few decades, I doubt there has been a more widely planted tree by outdoor enthusiasts than Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima). It is easy to see the tree’s appeal. Sawtooth Oak grows quickly relative to other oaks, rates of 3-4’ per year in youth are not uncommon. It bears fruit at a very young age, as soon as five-seven years from seed, and produces a heavy crop almost every year, unlike many native oak species. Mature specimens are also mostly pest/disease free and very attractive, reaching 40-60’ in height with sweeping, wide-spreading branches, and deep, furrowed bark.
While it seems that I just described the ideal wildlife tree, and Sawtooth Oak can indeed be a worthy inclusion to your property, it is not perfect. All too often I see landowners and hunting lease holders plant solely Sawtooths as a part of their mast-producing tree strategy. As in other areas of life, avoiding monocultures and adding a little diversity to your wildlife tree portfolio is beneficial. Keep that, and the following lessons I’ve learned the hard way, in mind when you consider adding these wildlife attracting trees to your property.
Acorns Drop Early – Sawtooth Oaks produce all their acorns very early in the season, beginning in September. Conversely, most of our native oaks drop their mast (a fancy word for tree fruit) during the winter months that comprise our main hunting season, November-January. So, while Sawtooth Oak is an excellent wildlife attractor and most any creature will readily gobble up their acorns, if you plant them to hunt around or provide a critical winter food source, you’ll likely be disappointed.
Invasive Potential – As Sawtooth Oak is non-native, very adapted to the Southeastern U.S. climate, and produces literal tons of acorns each year, the species has the potential to become a nuisance invasive. I’ve visited several sites over the last few years that had a couple of large Sawtooth Oaks planted in areas mostly excluded from wildlife pressure. I was surprised to see small Sawtooth saplings popping up everywhere. It was eerily reminiscent of other nuisance trees like Chinaberry and Camphor. Though I don’t think Sawtooth Oak will ever be a problem on the level of Chinese Tallow or Cogon Grass, it’s wise to use caution with plants that have invasive potential.
Less Nutritious Acorns – Sawtooth Oak acorns are heavily browsed, but it’s not necessarily because they’re extremely nutritious. A study from the 1960s compared the nutritional quality of Sawtooth Oak acorns to 8 common native oak species and found Sawtooth lagged the natives by a significant margin in all macronutrients measured: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. This finding suggests that, while Sawtooth Oak is an excellent wildlife attractor, if your goal is growing higher quality game animals and providing valuable nutrients to get them through the winter when wildlife forages are scarce, Sawtooth Oak should be a minor component of your strategy, not the endgame.
Longevity – The jury is still out on longevity. However, anecdotal evidence from around the Southeast suggests that Sawtooth may not be as long-lived as some of our native oaks. This could be due to several factors. First, as a rule, extremely fast-growing trees tend to be shorter lived due to weaker branching structure, less dense wood, and other factors. Think of the tortoise and the hare analogy. The quickest do not always win the race. Second, Sawtooth Oak did not hold up particularly well during Hurricane Michael and other strong storms. Their growth habit (heavy, wide spreading branches low to the ground) is not conducive to major wind resistance. This is to be expected as Sawtooth Oak is native to areas that do not experience tropical wind events and likely evolved accordingly.
I am by no means suggesting that you shouldn’t add Sawtooth Oak to your property in the hopes of encouraging wildlife. There are few trees available that do a better job of that. I am suggesting that Sawtooth Oak should be a small part of your larger overall planting strategy and you should keep in mind the potential drawbacks to the species. Plant mostly native oaks, allow Sawtooth Oak to be merely a supplement to them, and I think you’ll be pleased with the results! Putting all your acorns in one basket is rarely a good strategy.
For more information on Sawtooth Oak, other wildlife forage and attractant strategies, or any other natural resource, agronomic or horticultural topic, please reach out to your local UF/IFAS Extension Office!
This Holiday season stay real and go local with a fresh locally grown tree. It may come as a surprise to many, but Florida has thriving local Christmas tree farms around the state. Just because Florida is a warm climate in the deep south does not mean Christmas trees are not grown here. Even though Florida is known for palms and citrus, Christmas trees are produced here. While the varieties of trees grown may not be the fir and spruce so often associated with a live tree; the Christmas tree varieties available are excellent trees for your Holiday decorating. Many of the varieties grown are native and have been used by locals going back to Florida’s early settlements. They also offer the experience of going to a farm directly to pick out and cut your perfect tree. It does not get any fresher than that, and the experience of going to a local farm is definitely a highlight of the season. It takes a large amount of care, trimming, and shaping over years to produce the 4 to 8 ft. trees that are popular in many homes. Farmers work year-round to bring a great product and Holiday experience to their local communities and beyond.
The Florida Christmas Tree Association, a statewide network of Christmas tree growers, maintains a farm list you can use to find local tree farms (Florida Christmas Tree Association (flchristmastrees.com). The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services also maintains an interactive map of local tree farms which you can access at the Christmas Tree Farms in Florida- Christmas Tree Farms in Florida – Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (fdacs.gov). With several tree farms across the Panhandle, make a drive out to a farm convenient for you and hand pick your tree. Be sure to pack some gloves, a saw, and maybe a holiday picnic. It is a good idea to check the weather and call the farm before you go to determine what activities, hours, and other amenities they may have.
Once you get out to a Christmas tree farm, you will need to find that perfect tree. Here are some tips and info to make your search easier.
First and foremost, measure the space you are going to put the tree in to determine what size tree you will be looking for. Having more tree than you have space and height is sure to be a difficult struggle when you get the tree home. Next, determine what tree species you prefer. At Florida Christmas tree farms you are likely to find the following types of trees:
Eastern Red-Cedar- This is a handsome native tree that has long been used for traditional Christmas trees. It has a good form and excellent fragrance, with bright green foliage and lighter branches. These trees do well with lighter ornaments but will hold some larger ornaments.
Sand Pine- This is a native pine that grows well here and can be pruned to make a great Christmas tree. They have stiff branches and fairly short needles which work well for larger ornaments. They have an excellent pine scent as well.
Virginia Pine- This species is similar and related to sand pine, but its native range is further north. It is the mainstay of southern Christmas tree farms across the southeast. It has nice foliage, stout branches for large ornaments, and the outstanding pine scent many people love.
Leyland cypress- This tree is a hybrid between Monterey cypress and Alaska cedar and is very fast growing. It is popular as a Christmas tree and has handsome sprays of foliage that are deep green. The branches are light and soft, which makes it easy to decorate but can be a challenge for heavy ornaments. They have a nice light scent, which can be good for those that are more sensitive to strong evergreens.
Arizona Cypress- This is a heat and drought tolerant tree that has become more popular with growers in recent years. It is somewhat like both red-cedar and Leyland cypress, but it often has a unique blue green color. The branches are lighter and tend to do better with lighter ornaments.
Based on the information for the common trees grown in our area, pick a tree that suits you. There is certainly one for all needs, and the best part is you can look the trees over well at a farm.
Once you find your ideal tree it is time to cut and get it home. Once you have it home keeping it fresh and green all season long requires some care. It is important to make sure your tree always has water and does not go dry. Once a tree dries out it will stop taking up water and start to lose needles. Get the tree in water as soon as you can, then check and add water daily. Be sure that the water level is deep enough in the stand that the cut surface is submerged. A well-watered tree will stay fresh and supple throughout the Holidays. Be sure to keep your tree away from major heat sources for safety and to slow the drying process.
By selecting a real tree from a Florida tree farm, you will be reducing your environmental footprint as well. Real trees are a renewable resource and each year a tree farm plants several trees to replace each tree harvested. When you factor in getting a tree from a local Florida Christmas tree farm reduces fuel and emissions from transportation; your locally grown tree just got more environmentally friendly. Once the season is over you can recycle or reuse your Christmas tree in multiple ways. Use them in soil stabilization projects, erosion control, or in a pond as a fish aggregator. They can also be turned into mulch to be used in the landscape. Check in your local area to see what pickup and drop off options are available for your tree after the season is over.
Enjoy the Holidays this year and all the benefits that come from a fresh cut tree. Buying from a local tree farm supports local agriculture and your local community, and the experience builds memories and connections. The tree may only last the season, but the memories and experiences will last a lifetime. Whether you start a new tradition or continue an old one, the product and experience offered by a real Christmas tree from a Florida tree farm is a great addition to your Holiday Season.