Winter Wildflowers

Hello!  Happy first day of the new Chinese year!

Farewell to the Year of the Snake.  I found it to be appropriately named, as I saw more than twice my usual number of wild snakes this year:  two different immature black rat snakes, a rough green snake, an unidentified, pale-bellied snake I saw at a distance, and an unidentified snake that might be some kind of hog-nosed snake.  I also found more dead snakes than I normally do, putting the total number at around eight or nine — still more than double usual.

One of two lovely young black rat snakes I found this year

Do you know what kind of snake this is?  I haven’t been able to identify it yet, but it has round pupils, and the thick neck and head make me think of a hognose.  Only, the nose itself isn’t quite right for that…

[UPDATE] I now believe it to be a Brown Water Snake, Nerodia taxispilota, but I would still appreciate any comments from experts.  Supporting its identification, it was found under overhanging limbs on a gravel path between a pond and an occasionally swampy area..

Even license plates seemed to play into the zodiac this year.  One of my neighbors had a visitor from Florida A&M University.

I wonder if I’ll notice anything interesting particular to the Year of the Horse?


Though it may be the Spring Festival, I consider this to be the middle of winter.  Still, there are many flowers blooming and budding in my area.

Some, like the dandelion, never seem to stop!

A ragged-looking dandelion flower, probably Taraxacum officinale, blooming one day before our “big” snowstorm on January 28th

Many people love eating dandelion greens and other parts.  I’ve tried them, but wasn’t impressed enough to make them a consistent part of my diet.  The greens were a little bitter, but tolerably so; I just didn’t think they were wonderful, like young dock leaves, wild lettuce, or catbrier shoots are.

A store-bought dandelion root tea has been the only part of a dandelion I simply couldn’t stand.  It smelled and tasted exactly like tobacco smoke!  I think sometime I should try making my own, since there might have been something wrong with that batch.

What I wonder about is how people can make dandelion wine from the flowers.  They look and smell amazing, but the taste is that of a green vegetable.  Still, considering my great-grandfather passed down a recipe for dandelion wine, I’m a little interested!  It does contain a lot of sugar… and sugar helps the flavor of lots of things.  Though the flavor might also be influenced in no small part by the spices and citrus fruits…

My great-grandfather’s hand- and typewritten dandelion wine recipe.  The version below was puzzled out from this.

Ross Palmer Whitemarsh’s Dandelion Wine (1940)

For a five-gallon keg:

20 quarts of dandelion blossoms

20 quarts of water

20 pounds of sugar

3 inches of ginger, crushed

Five oranges and five lemons — zested (keep zest), pith and seeds removed, and flesh cut up

One and a half yeast cakes

On the day that you pick the blossoms, boil the water and pour it over the blossoms.  Cover; let the blossoms steep in the water for three days, then strain.  Mix the crushed ginger with the sugar and add, along with the citrus zest and pulp, to the strained dandelion water.  Boil concoction gently for 3/4 hour.  Strain and put into a five-gallon keg.  When cool, add yeast.  Spread on well-toasted, small piece of bread; allow to ferment for three days, then water seal it.  Bottle in three months.

I admit, I have no idea what that next to last sentence actually means, especially what is meant by ‘water sealing’ — this is an old recipe, and I’ve never made it or anything like it before.  If I had to guess, I’d think it means that you’re supposed to spread the yeast cake on some toast and allow it to ferment before adding it to the keg, and that the ‘water sealing’ would refer to sealing the keg such that the liquid doesn’t contact air, but I wish my great-grandfather was still around to ask.  Anyone who knows what he meant, please let me know!

I know there are easier dandelion wine recipes out there, but someday I might like to try the family recipe — though maybe a bit scaled-down.  Here is another, similar recipe that could be a more manageable place to start:

I’m also intrigued by what Samuel Thayer, a forager I admire, calls the dandelion crown — his favorite part of the plant.  It’s the center of the dandelion plant, consisting of the unopened buds and the whitish part underneath.  He discusses preparing them, and digging them up with a special tool made from a spoon, in his excellent book, Nature’s Garden.

I hear that dandelions go completely dormant in even slightly colder climates.  Around here, they certainly don’t thrive in the winter like they do in spring and summer, but I’ve still usually been able to find some dandelions flowering in every month.  Because of this, it might not be so easy for me to find a dandelion crown to eat… I’ll have to pay attention and report on that later.


Speedwell, on the other hand, only started blooming in the middle of January:

Veronica persica, one of my favorite weeds, despite my not knowing of any edible or medicinal use for it

As a child, I called these flowers bluets, though real bluets are actually unrelated.  Speedwells are in the plantain family — the medicinal herb, not the banana — while bluets are actually in the coffee family.  The azure bluet is another common weed around here whose flowering time starts later, but overlaps with that of speedwell.  It is also bluish, and about the same size, but the bluet’s petals are narrower, with a more noticeable purplish cast to their color.

Houstonia caerulea, the azure bluet, can range from medium blue-violet through pale, bluish purple to white, and sometimes has a yellowish center.  They’ll start showing up in the spring.

Speedwell has a zygomorphic flower, like an orchid, with only bilateral symmetry.  Note how the petals are not all the same size or shape, unlike the actinomorphic (radially symmetrical) bluet flowers.

I love to see speedwell when it blooms in midwinter and early spring.  I love blue flowers, and Persian speedwell, also called winter speedwell, is one of the bluest growing wild in my area, like little bits of sky.  The unfortunate thing about it is it’s basically impossible to bring indoors as a cut flower.  The bloom will simply fall off of the stem at the slightest disturbance.


Another winter-blooming favorite of mine is winter honeysuckle.

A Lonicera fragrantissima bud just opening, already smelling marvelous

The honeysuckles most people in my area are familiar with are vines.   We have the native trumpet honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, and the beloved, quintessentially Southern, yet invasive Japanese honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica.

Trumpet honeysuckle being ironic — sempervirens means evergreen!  New growth on these recently bare branches is coming in pinkish-bronze.  In my area, it’s the Japanese honeysuckle that hasn’t lost its leaves all year.

But some honeysuckles are not vines, but shrubs.  Lonicera caerulea is one that I’ve always wanted to see.  The long, blue berries, marketed as honeyberries and popular in Japan and Russia, are supposed to be delicious, and the flowers fragrant.

Lonicera fragrantissima is another fragrant, shrubby honeysuckle.  The flowers have an amazing smell, floral and lemony, with a bit of a Froot-Loops odor as well.  They’re very pungent; I can smell them long before I can see them.

L. fragrantissima flowers and leaves

These pink-and-cream flowers, which begin and end blooming at about the same times as speedwell, are followed by small, translucent red berries.  Like many other honeysuckle species, the berries are not edible.

 A branch in full bloom smells amazing.


Trees that are probably blooming now, but not where I can walk to, include witch hazels and some ornamental Prunus species — cherries, apricots, and plums.  I’m not very good at consistently telling Prunus species apart yet!

A blooming Prunus sp. I photographed in the UNC arboretum in January 2010

A blooming witch hazel I photographed in the UNC arboretum in January 2010

I love witch hazel.  Hamamelis virginiana is native, and the cheery yellow flowers often have a wonderful fragrance.  Some hybrid varietals have orange or red flowers, which are even more striking against the snow.


Other early-flowering trees are in bud, soon to bloom.

Silver maple, Acer saccharinum, buds are visible on the perches of these Cedar Waxwings.

Red maple buds, Acer rubrum

I always look forward to maple flowers, especially those of the red maple.  Different species and even individual trees flower at different times, but generally all before their leaves appear, in the late winter through the springtime.  Red maple tends to be one of the earliest to flower, and I always look forward to the beautiful explosions of red.  They have a delicate scent that reminds me of apple blossoms.


It’s interesting to me that all the plants in this post that are actually blooming right now, not just in bud, are non-native.  The exception is witch hazel, which is supposed to be native to my area, though I’ve never actually seen it growing wild around here.  I’m sure this has a significant ecological effect.

In honor of the holiday, though, I’ll give a taste of things to come with a photo of what the red maple flowers will look like in full bloom.  Definitely festive!  They remind me of strings of Chinese fireworks.

枫树花有一点像鞭炮 (Maple flowers look a bit like fireworks)


(Happy Spring Festival!)

Posted in Acer, Aceraceae, Asteraceae, Asterales, Birds, Caprifoliaceae, Dipsacales, Elaphe, Gentianales, Hamamelidaceae, Hamamelis, Houstonia, Lamiales, Lonicera, Nerodia, Opheodrys, Plantaginaceae, Prunus, Reptiles, Rosaceae, Rubiaceae, Sapindales, Saxifragales, Snakes, Taraxacum, Uncategorized, Unidentified Prunus, Unidentified Snakes, Veronica | Leave a comment

Advent Calendar: Birds and Mistletoe


Hello, and Happy New Year’s Eve!  I’m looking forward to 2014.

Also, happy seventh day of Christmas!  My family has always celebrated all twelve, beginning on Christmas Day.  This year, I spent about a month painting an Advent calendar which honors that.

It features our local mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum, at the top:

A cluster of stylized Eastern mistletoe

Though other Phoradendron species do grow in conifers, P. leucarpum prefers hardwoods, making this painting a little inaccurate!  One of its common names is Oak Mistletoe, but it grows in many other kinds of hardwoods as well, including maples.

Phoradendron mistletoes may resemble, but are a different genus from the traditional European one, which is in genus Viscum.  Both used to be classed in their own family, the Viscaceae, but genetic evidence suggests that they both belong in the Santalaceae family, along with the sandalwoods, genus Santalum.  Interestingly, sandalwoods, like mistletoes, are also hemiparasitic!  Instead of parasitizing tree limbs like mistletoes do, sandalwoods parasitize the roots of neighboring trees.  One species, the desert quandong of Australia, can stretch its roots over thirty feet to reach host plants!

Like the European mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum is dioecious, with separate male and female plants.  Though we have plenty of mistletoe around here, I have never seen any berries.  I’m not sure how likely it is that they’re all male, though; I’ll just have to look harder!

Mistletoe plant in my neighborhood

It looks graceful and delicate way up there, but those leaves and stems are surprisingly large.  I was amazed when the wind blew some down this year and I was able to pick it up.  The leaves were at least two inches long, and as thick as those of some succulent plants.  Maybe that’s an adaptation to staying evergreen high up in the wind, unprotected by the host plant’s leaves, and having to steal all your water even when sap isn’t as plentiful?


I also decorated the calendar with images of birds that frequent my area in the winter.  Here are the Carolina Chickadee and male Northern Cardinal as the 2(0) and 1(0) digits:

a male Rufous-sided Towhee (the ones in my yard have red eyes like this one) and winter-plumaged male Goldfinch stake out 9 and 8:

I didn’t think I would enjoy painting a House Finch as much as the other birds, but this male perched on 7 became my favorite, tied with the Cedar Waxwing.  6 is a Slate-colored Junco:

For years, I wondered what the Cherokee people were referring to by “Snowbird.”  There are the Snowbird Cherokee, Snowbird Mountains, and the word “snowbird” in my Cherokee dictionary doesn’t split into words for “snow” and “bird”, so I knew it had to be something unique.  I eventually found out that the snowbird is the junco!  This makes sense, as they winter here, feed on the ground even in snow, and their bellies are white.

As they spend their summers in Canada, this certainly gives new meaning to also referring to Canadian warm-weather tourists as Snowbirds!

5 is a White-throated Sparrow, 4 a Tufted Titmouse:

3 is a Carolina Wren, and 2 is a Cedar Waxwing.  It occurs to me that I should have painted a white berry instead, as their consumption of the berries is one of the primary ways P. leucarpum spreads:

1 is a male downy woodpecker, and 0 a bluejay, which have only started visiting my yard this year:


Here is the finished product, with number tags suspended from gold-painted toothpicks:

And on the back, I made it possible to keep track of the 12 Days of Christmas, ending January 6!

Here are some detail shots:

 As stars don’t naturally occur in fir trees, either, I think I’m good!

While the numbers were based on the Colonna MT font, I based the lettering on Parchment font with a few subtle changes.


So, what kinds of birds are in your area over the winter?  If you’d like to broaden your awareness, you might be interested in the Great Backyard Bird Count.  Participants record every bird in their yard between February 14 and 17.  I did this one year in high school and had a lot of fun with it, becoming much more conscious of the variety and number of birds surrounding me.


Enjoy the new year!

Posted in Birds, Phoradendron, Santalaceae, Santalales, Santalum, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Cooking with Persimmons

A while ago I posted about persimmons and how to pick them.  Soon after, I embarked on another attempt to cook with them!  I met with mixed success, and will tell you all about it.


A year ago, I tried making Chickasaw persimmon cookies from the recipe in Ilimpa’chi’, a Chickasaw Cookbook, by Vicki Penner & JoAnn Ellis.  This is an amazing book, full of linguistic and cultural information as well as traditional family recipes featuring native flora and fauna.  The authors recommend harvesting persimmons only after the first frost to make sure they are sweet, and pre-cooking the persimmons in water before using them in the recipe, which I thought was very interesting.

They came out with a chewy, cakey texture rather than that of a stereotypical cookie, with a pleasant, slight crustiness around the bottom edge.  Unfortunately, this recipe is how I first discovered that heating persimmons seems to destroy their flavor — the cookies tasted deliciously cinnamony, but practically all the persimmon flavor had been lost.


Suspecting that I might’ve done something wrong and should give cooking with persimmons another chance, this year, I attempted a persimmon-topped cake based on a fruit-topped cake my family makes.

Before I get into that, I’ll show how to make persimmon pulp.  It’s easy to get about 75% of the pulp, and gets into diminishing returns if you really want to clean each seed, but I did figure out how to do it and will show you how.

First, clean the persimmons and peel them into a strainer over a bowl.

Push them down with a spoon, and bright orange gel should begin flowing out the bottom of the strainer into the bowl.  Help the process along by scraping the bottom of the strainer from time to time.

This is what you get, and it takes very little time!  You’ll be left with a lot of seeds surrounded by equally flavorful but more tenacious gel that is much easier to eat than to remove from the seed in any other way.  If you want to cook with this, too, it’s not as impossible as I once thought — but it’s pretty close.  I mostly did it just to see if I could, but if you’re in a situation where you have less pulp than you need, this is a way to get more.

Scrape the top of a seed with a tine of a fork until you see the gel envelope has a hole in it now and is wrinkled slightly off to one side in a shape like the bow wake of a boat (see arrow).  Scrape with the broad part of the tine in the direction of this ”wake” until you’re able to work the clean seed free of the envelope.

This process is labor intensive, especially when you consider how many seeds wild persimmons have!  But it’s nice to know it’s possible to get all the pulp.


So, back to the cake.  Normally we make it with two chunky-sliced peaches and peach liqueur, though pears (with elderflower liqueur) and apples (with cinnamon in the topping) have also done great.  To avoid masking the flavor of the persimmons, I left out the two teaspoons of liqueur or vanilla that normally belong in the recipe, and topped the cake with white sugar instead of brown.

Fruit-Topped Cake (Persimmon pulp version):

1 cup flour

1/4 cup optional toasted pecans

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 cup persimmon pulp = pulp of ten to twelve persimmons

1 added tablespoon white sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 350º F.  Butter and flour a round 9” cake pan.  In bowl, combine all except the fruit and 1 T sugar for topping.  Add batter to pan and smooth the top.  Arrange fruit on top — in this case, persimmon-sized spoonfuls of persimmon pulp.  Leave some space between pieces or dollops of fruit.  Sprinkle with topping sugar over all.

Cake before baking.  Note my artistic impression of a calyx drawn on top!

Bake 50 minutes at 350º until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cake after baking


So, did it work?

Not really!  I was able to taste the barest hint of persimmon flavor only at the center of the thickest dollops of pulp, and to boot, the cake came out looking sunken, toasted, and strange.  Maybe it would be more successful if I used more pulp, but it just seems like a bit of a waste compared to what I did next!


Yes, that’s right — ice cream!

Persimmon Ice Cream

(Adapted from’s Passionfruit Ice Cream, in turn adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz):

1/2 cup persimmon pulp (again, about equal to the pulp of ten to twelve persimmons)

1 cup heavy cream

6 tablespoons whole milk

7 tablespoons white sugar

3 large egg yolks

Pinch of salt

Approximately 1/4 cup of persimmon sauce ribbon:  pulp of about 4 persimmons + 2 Tbsp white sugar (stirred together thoroughly until sugar is dissolved, then chilled)

Combine the 1/2 cup persimmon pulp and the 1/2 cup cream in a large bowl sitting in an ice bath.

Place milk, sugar, salt, and 1/2 cup cream in a saucepan and warm over medium heat.  Stir to dissolve sugar.

Put egg yolks in a medium bowl and slowly pour the warmed liquid into the yolks — about a tablespoon at a time, at first — while whisking constantly to keep the yolks from curdling.

Scrape all contents back into saucepan; set over medium heat.  Stir constantly with heatproof spoon or spatula, making sure to get the bottom and edges of the saucepan, until the mixture coats the back of the spoon or spatula.

When the mixture coats the back of the spoon or spatula, strain through a sieve into the persimmon-cream mixture sitting in the ice bath and stir until blended.

Chill the custard completely in the refrigerator.  I chilled it overnight.

It solidified into something firm and… custardy!

Churn in ice cream machine that has a well-frozen bowl until the desired consistency is reached.  My ice cream machine is a Cuisinart ICE-21, and I highly recommend it.

I removed the ice cream when it no longer appeared to be moving, though the bowl was still spinning.  This took about fifteen minutes.  Your ice cream maker may work differently.

Transfer the ice cream to an airtight freezer container and fold in the persimmon sauce ribbon.  Freeze for at least two hours.


Now, this was a success!  It was especially nice with a big mug of hot chai.  The flavor, as well as the sweetness, could be amped up just a little – maybe by using 3/4 instead of 1/2 cup of pulp in the ice cream and adding a bit of sugar to it, like I did in the sauce ribbon.  But the flavor wasn’t completely lost as it was in the other recipes.

I’d love to understand the fugitive flavor chemistry of this wonderful fruit.  I maintain that the flavor could be approximated with the right proportions of orange blossom water or extract, orange extract, rose water/extract, and vanilla, but I haven’t tried yet.


Check out for more persimmon recipes.  And if you have any favorites of your own, feel free to post them in the comments here!


Next year, I anticipate focusing on preserving persimmons.  I’m mostly thinking about preserving the ripe fruits in sugar, which is supposed to make a delicious-sounding syrup as well as preserved fruits!


There’s also a more challenging method I’m tempted to try.  Hoshigaki is the Japanese practice of hanging strings of peeled persimmons from the rafters to dry, lightly massaging them from time to time until the sugars come to the surface and crystallize.

This sounds and looks amazing, but I’m not sure that it would work with D. virginiana fruits.  The ripe fruits are just not sturdy enough to be mostly-peeled and then massaged.  I have a hunch that the hachiya persimmons being used could be considered ”unripe” for practical purposes, and, therefore, someone could try making hoshigaki with yellow, still unripe D. virginiana.  Maybe I’ll try this next year, when it’s September and I’m impatiently wanting to start picking persimmons right away!


While on the topic of Asian persimmons, I did a taste test, and ate a fuyu (also D. kaki) I purchased at a local Asian market.  When I bought it, it was hard and the yellowish orange of an almost ripe persimmon.  A friend from Hong Kong reinforced my hunch that it wasn’t fully ripe yet, so I let it sit in a bowl with some apples, which release ethylene gas, encouraging other fruits to ripen if they’re climacteric — able to continue ripening after being picked.  I left it there until it was the right color and thoroughly squishy.  In fact, it got so squishy I was a little afraid it would burst open when I picked it up.  It may have been a bit overripe!  Looking at images online, it seems like you’re supposed to be able to slice fuyu persimmons.  Still, there was no trace of astringency!

I prefer the flavor and texture of D. virginiana, but there’s something to be said for the Asian persimmon.  It tastes like a persimmon, but also has a definite flavor of melon and pumpkin.  It also had no seeds, and by the point at which I ate it, was basically a bag full of pulp that didn’t need to be strained, making it that much easier to cook with if desired.


I’ve also long enjoyed soo jeong gwa, a Korean non-carbonated soft drink made with D. kaki persimmons and spices.  My South Korean roommate introduced me to this drink, and through it, the wonders of Korean cuisine, which uses woodland plants like acorns in intriguing ways that I will have to mention in other posts.

Here’s a recipe for homemade soo jeong gwa I really want to try:

And a great description of the drink and picture of the distinctive can may be found here:

Ah, brings me back to my college days!


Well, I hope you enjoy cooking with persimmons!  Maybe you’ll even make a persimmon pie in time for Thanksgiving.  Euell Gibbons’ endorsement might just make me try it…


Posted in Cooking, Diospyros, Ebenaceae, Ericales | 1 Comment

Banana MRI

Have you ever wondered what an MRI of a banana would look like?

Much more hypnotic than I expected!  I am definitely interested in seeing MRIs of other fruits and plant parts.  If I find any particularly interesting ones, I’ll let you know!

In the MRI, you can clearly see the three-part structure of the fruit that’s common to Zingiberales.  That’s right — bananas are related to those other tropical delights, ginger and cardamom!  Next time you find a whole cardamom pod, take a look — it will split into three parts, just like a banana.

Here is a video demonstrating how this aspect of banana structure can be useful:

It’s not just good for banana splits; I do this to add bananas to cereal!  It makes it quicker and easier to chop the bananas into small pieces.


Ever since I learned bananas and ginger were related, I’ve tried pairing them.  Try it sometime — it can be SO delicious.  Think Canton (ginger liqueur) in bananas Foster, powdered ginger with bananas in cereal or in banana bread, a banana and candied ginger creme brulee… yum!

Posted in Cooking, Musa, Musaceae, Zingiberales | 1 Comment

Persimmon Perfection

Hi, I’m back!  For the time being, I’ve decided to combine the content of the two blogs I had intended to write, making this a blog where I generally write about botany AND my experiences in nature.


For example, right now is THE time to pick persimmons!


Bundles of autumn!


I’m not talking about Diospyros kaki, the apple-sized persimmon native to China, grown throughout East Asia, and found in supermarkets, but Diospyros virginiana, the ping pong ball-sized persimmon native to forest edges of North America, from southern New York through Florida to the eastern Midwest.  Here in the Charlotte area of North Carolina, I consider October to be their peak season, though I picked the first few ripe ones at the beginning of September, and I’ve seen them stay on the trees throughout November, becoming wrinkled up at the beginning of that month.


Wrinkled persimmons in November


I look forward to persimmon season all year long, and even during persimmon season, after eating one, I’m already looking forward to the next one.  They really are that good!  Their delicate, ephemeral flavor – floral, vanilla-custard, and slightly tangerine – is addictive.  I’ve tried making persimmon cookies, and many people love persimmon pudding, which I’ve never had, but so far, to my taste, nothing has beat the flavor of the fresh fruit.


Some people only eat persimmons that have fallen on the ground; I don’t, because their skins split on impact and they can get dirty.  Others prefer to eat them only after the frost freezes them, releasing more sugars, and there’s much talk about how bitter persimmons can be.  Underripe persimmons can be not only bitter, but are very astringent, with a tannin called shibuol that dries out the mouth and congeals into a very unpleasant mealy substance that ruins an otherwise magical fruit.


To avoid such an experience, which might needlessly turn you off of persimmons, make sure the ones you pick are completely ripe.  They should be a deep orange with a reddish cast, and squish-tender to the touch all around.  If they pass those tests, try pulling them off the tree very gently.  Ripe ones come off with the absolute gentlest tugging, little more than a touch; if you’re moving the twig before you feel any give, let go and plan to come back later!


Green, near-ripe, and fully ripe persimmons


Some persimmons come off along with their calyx; others come off without, leaving the calyx stuck to the tree.  In itself, this has no bearing on ripeness, sweetness, or anything else I know of; it’s just a difference between individual trees.


Delicious persimmon with calyx still attached

Delicious persimmons without calyxes

Almost-ripe persimmons from a tree where fruits usually come off without the calyx. The bigger giveaways that these aren’t ripe are the paler, yellow- rather than red-orange color, and the fact that I had to pull harder than I should have to pick them.


There are more reasons than just flavor to avoid unripe persimmons.  Shibuol can cause a rare but serious medical condition if ingested, reacting with stomach acid to form a bezoar – a hard concretion in the stomach that can be hazardous to health.  It is mostly found in the unripe fruits, but also, to a lesser extent, in the skins:;60/2/261


Shibuol has anticancer properties, but that doesn’t mean you should ingest it – it would probably be better for you worked into a drug and injected into a tumor where it won’t react with your stomach acid.  Crab meat and an empty stomach are reported to exacerbate the problems posed by this compound.


As disturbing as the diospyrobezoars are, mere Coca-Cola has been proven to dissolve them:


it’s claimed to work by dissolving the cellulose in the bezoar:


So peel your persimmons, and if you taste them and still get that gross mealy effect, follow your instincts and just spit it out!


Fortunately, it’s easy to peel a persimmon.  They almost peel themselves!  Their skins are so incredibly thin that they’re a real pain to store or even transport – you can’t stack them on top of each other or give them much of a bump, or the skins will break.

This woman has the great idea of placing them into water as soon as they’re picked to prevent them crushing each other!

My method of peeling is to gently pinch the fruit on both sides.  The skin should immediately crack and begin to peel away.  Once you’ve pinched the skin on one side off, just bite the whole fruit into your mouth and throw the other side’s skin away.


It’s hard to pinch both sides when one hand is taking a picture! You can see how the skin is already separating, though.


About half the volume of the fruit seems to be taken up by the large, dark brown seeds shaped like lima beans, of which there are typically eight.  They are extremely hard to fully separate from the pulp by hand, e.g., for baking purposes, but so much easier when you’re just eating them.  When you have a seed in your mouth surrounded by its tasty gel envelope, bite part of that envelope with your teeth and suck the gel off.  Then you can spit out the clean, shiny seed.  Easier done than described!


I thought I had read once that shibuol was also present in persimmon leaves and seeds, but in researching for this blog post I couldn’t find any evidence of that.  Persimmon leaves have been made into a tea considered to be very healthy since time immemorial.  It helps regulate weight and is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C – and, apparently, not in shibuol!


You shouldn’t eat the seeds, anyway; instead, use them to predict the weather!  Country wisdom holds that if you pry open a persimmon seed, the shape inside will indicate what the coming winter will be like.  If you see a spoon shape, you’ll be shoveling snow.  A knife means a winter where the cold wind will cut through you like a knife, while a fork indicates pleasant weather.

This video indicates that there may be regional variations on this custom.


Persimmons around the world have been the source of other interesting legends, as befits such a delicious and attractive fruit.  Some Native American legends about D. virginiana can be found here:


and there’s a Korean legend about why D. kaki can scare tigers:


Six Persimmons, the renowned painting of D. kaki by 13th century Chinese artist Muqi Fachang


D. virginiana and D. kaki aren’t the only species of persimmon.  Diospyros is also the genus of ebony trees, and indeed, the heartwood of older persimmons can be very dark, like that of ebony.  There is a member of Diospyros native to every continent except for Antarctica.  Many have medicinal uses and edible fruits, though D. blancoi, the Mabolo found in Southeast Asia, goes by the name of ”caca de chat” for its unpleasant scent, likened to cat excreta.  The taste, like the infamous durian, is apparently better than the smell!


Unripe American persimmons at sunset


Most members of the genus, including D. virginiana, seem to be dioecious, with individual plants having either male or female flowers.  This means that it’s more difficult to find persimmon fruits than it is to find persimmon trees.


Persimmon trees can be a bit awkward and spreading while they’re still around eight feet tall or under, but the adult trees I’ve seen have become more cylindrical in shape.  The smooth-margined leaves vary in size along the branch, with small, rounded-tipped leaves found closer to the beginning of each branch, and larger, more pointed leaves that hang down limp-wristedly towards the end of each branch.  Leaves and fruits alike, but especially leaves, are usually covered in some degree of ”freckles” ranging in size from grains of sand to large spots.  Though spring leaves can be nearly immaculate, spotting gets heavier and heavier throughout the year.  Trees seem to basically freckle themselves into fall color, which can range from reddish to yellowish behind all the spots.


Even this young persimmon sprout in my yard displays speckled leaves in the fall.


But the most distinctive feature of the persimmon tree will be the round, bright orange fruits themselves.  Unripe fruits are green to yellow to yellow-orange; almost none are still green in my area at this time.


If you don’t find persimmon fruits in your area this year, try looking for the trees when they flower in the springtime.  They have small, bell-shaped, cream-colored (and sometimes freckled!) flowers with four petals and a distinctive, pleasant smell like a mix between Osmanthus fragrans flowers and olive oil.  It’s easy to tell male persimmons from female when they flower – and what’s handy is you don’t even have to wait for the flowers to open!

I’ve found that males have several, smaller, thinner and longer flowers per leaf axil:


Male persimmon flower buds.  Note how different the spring leaves look from the late-summer and fall leaves.

Open male flowers

Bees love persimmons!


while females tend to have one large, more square-rounded flower per leaf axil, with a much larger, more prominent calyx:


Female flower buds

Open female flower.  Note the huge calyx, much larger than that of the male flower!

The bee has moved on to the female flower…


The female flower can sometimes persist in a dried, blackened form on the underside of persimmon fruits.


Unripe persimmon with flower still attached


It’s interesting to note the similar shape of persimmon flowers and blueberry flowers, considering they’re both in the order Ericales!


As with all wild foods, make absolutely sure you know what you’re about to eat BEFORE you eat it.  But when you do eat it, I’m pretty sure you’re going to love the rightfully legendary American persimmon.


Posted in Botanerd News, Diospyros, Ebenaceae, Ericales | 2 Comments

Hello, World!

Greetings from an amateur botanist!

I’ve been interested in the natural world all my life, and when I was younger I struggled to learn the names of plants and wildlife from books and members of my similarly nature-oriented family.  Some of it managed to sink in, but no matter how hard I tried, not a whole lot clicked when I was a kid.  Especially when it came to plants.

Then, near the end of high school… I discovered Wikipedia!  GOD BLESS IT.  Completely accurate resource or not, in a reasonable-enough way, it helped me gain a sort of ‘feel’ for the plant kingdom.  And a GREAT passion for it.

After years of obsessively studying Wikipedia, using it, the rest of the internet, and actual legitimate books to follow up on hunches, and delightedly walking around in nature making personal observations that led to some of those hunches, I can now recognize lots of plants by genus or family at least, and summon up lots of useful attendant knowledge.  It’s pretty exciting, being able to do the things I wanted to do as a kid!

I live in the Piedmont region of North Carolina (zone 7), so most of the plants I understand the best are native to or commonly found in that area.  I’m a ‘gleaner’ or ‘forager’ – I love to walk around and eat what edibles I find!  I also have a (very) little gardening experience, and if I choose to do some gardening this year, I’ll definitely be talking about it (and my gleaning) here and on the upcoming sister site to this one, Gal-ivant.  Gal-ivant will be more of a nature journal as opposed to this site, which will be more strictly about plants (and the occasional fungus), though I will also sometimes talk here about cooking and eating plants, and other things directly related to plants like the behavior of insects, weather and soil conditions, etc.

I’ve had no formal training in botany.  There is an awful lot I still don’t know – my efforts to remedy that are part of this blog! – and just as much that I may have learned already and forgotten.  There are some obscure terms I understand, while other fine points that a real botanist would know – even a beginning one – may need refreshing.

I attempted to get a degree in biology, but ended up switching majors early on, and my real goals for a biology degree were directed towards neuroscience anyway – definitely not botany, despite an interest in it!  I did go on a botanical paleontological dig, once!  That was very exciting.  Maybe I’ll dig up those pictures and make a post about it…

For now, though, here’s some videos on how to grow mangoes:

and almonds:

and ginger:

I found these fascinating.  See, that’s the kind of person I am.  If you like that, macro camera shots, Greek and Latin words (‘exempli gratia’ … ‘dioecious’ … ‘Burseraceae’ … ‘et cetera’ …), and geeking out about taxonomy and other aspects of things green, you should read this blog!

None of those people in the videos are me, by the way!

Another great thing I want to do with this blog:  you will soon be able to contact me if there’s a plant you’d like me to identify from a photograph!  If I do know what it is, I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.  If I don’t know what it is, I’ll be at least as interested as you and will definitely look it up, getting back to you with a tentative ID as soon as I can.  I’ll tell you flat out how uncertain I am, and I’ll tell you again right now that I really am not a real botanist, so you might want a second opinion before you do something drastic like eat it – ESPECIALLY if I tell you I have a reasonable doubt!

I expect to update this blog at least twice a month.  Hopefully, that’s at least once every two weeks, and REALLY hopefully, much more often than that!

Until then,


Posted in Anacardiaceae, Botanerd News, Garden, Prunus, Rosaceae, Rosales, Zingiberaceae, Zingiberales | 2 Comments