Greek Dios—Zeus, Jupiter and pyros—pear, referring to the spectacular edible fruits.
Deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs with wood hard and often black. Leaves alternate, entire. Flowers mostly unisexual, axillary. Male flowers several together in clusters. Female flowers solitary. Sepals with mostly 4 lobes. Petals fused, mostly urn-shaped with the lobes bent back. Stamens 8-16. Fruit a fleshy berry.
A few species are occasionally grown as ornamental plants and a key to these is given below but without descriptions. The N American D. virginiana L. has yellow to orange edible fruit 2-5 cm wide while the W and E. Asian D. lotus L., Date Plum, has much smaller yellow to black fruits, and is widely used in Asia as a rootstock for D. kaki.
A few species from South Africa occasionally grown include: D. dichrophylla (Gand.) De Winter, Poison Peach, which has leaves to about 5 cm long that are obovate to narrowly lanceolate with the margins tightly rolled under, and fruits that are velvety hairy, about 2 cm wide and allegedly poisonous. D. lycioides Desf., Red Star Apple, has obovate leaves crowded at the tips of the branches and the fruits eventually turn reddish brown and about 2 cm wide. D. whyteana (Hiern) F. White, Bladder Nut, has leaves 2-4 cm long that are spectacularly shiny above and arranged alternately in 2 ranks. The persistent sepals on the fruit become inflated and bladder-like, enveloping the fruit. [Royena lucida L.]
The major commercial source of the hard black wood ebony is D. ebenum Retz from India and Sri Lanka but other species are also used as timber and referred to as ebony. Various species are grown for a range of edible fruits although perhaps the best known in Australia and overseas is the Persimmon, D. kaki. The fruit of all species have a bitter taste until completely ripe although non-astringent cultivars are becoming more popular.
Large fleshy orange, yellow or red fruits. The native D. pentamera (F. Muell.) F. Muell., Grey Persimmon, from Qld and NSW is occasionally cultivated as an ornamental.
About 550 species mostly from the tropics.
Source: (1997). Diospyros. In: . Horticultural Flora of South-eastern Australia. Volume 2. Flowering plants. Dicotyledons. Part 1. The identification of garden and cultivated plants. University of New South Wales Press.