General Overview

Botanical Classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Eudicots
Family: Ebenaceae
Genus: Diospyros
Species: Diospyros lotus, Diospyros texana, Diospyros melanoxylon
Common Names: Ebony trees, persimmon trees, lotus trees

Diospyros melanoxylon

Diospyros lotus (Date-plum)
Diospyros texana

Diospyros is a genus that includes 500 or so species. Its species consist of a large varitiety of evergreen and deciduous trees. It comes from the Ebenaceae family of flowering plants. These flowering evergreen plants are most commonly known as ebony or persimmon trees.

Appearance and Properties: Diospyros are mostly deciduous and evergreen flowering trees. Most species are trees or shrubs that grow up to 600 m above sea level. They require high light to thrive well.

Geographic Distribution: Most of the Diospyros species are native to the tropics, however some grow in temperate areas. Diospyros species are important to their native ecosystems that include lowland dry tropical forests. Some of the regions Diospyros species are found in are Hawaii, Caspian Hyrcanian forests, Kathiarbar-Gir dry deciduous forests, Louisiade Archipelago rain forests, Madagascar forests, Narmada Valley forests, and New Guinea mangroves.

Map of Diospyros Regions
Map of Diospyros Regions

Chemical Aspects of: When unripe, the fruit of the plants contain a large amount of tannin. Tannin is a bitter plant that tends to shrink or constrict body tissue. It causes the mouth to become dry and constricted therefore people avoid eating unripe fruit from Diospyros plants.

Tannic Acid

Human Use and Domestication: When ripe the foliage and fruit of the plants are used as food for several Lepidoptera species that include insects such as moths and butterflies. Humans use such plants commercially as edible fruit or as timber. The leaves of the species Diospyros melanoxylon are used to roll Asian cigarettes. The fruit of the Diospyros lotus known as the date-plum is an edible fruit that contains a large amount of sugars, malic acids, and vitamins. Date-plums are usually dried or frost trapped because in doing so their tartness is destroyed.

Diospyros lotus (Date-plum) Present in The Odyssey: The lotus-eaters are referred to in Greek mythology as a race of people who lived on an island along the coast of North Africa. Lotus-eaters consumed the fruit of the lotus plants which altered their state of mind. The lotus fruit was said to be a narcotic that caused people to fall into a deep sleep of peaceful apathy.

In the Odyssey, harsh winds blow Odysseus and his ships off course. They end up reaching the land of the lotus-eaters. Some of Odysseus' men eat the delicious lotus fruit which causes them to forget about returning home and instead stay and live among the lotus-eaters.

"I was driven thence by foul winds for a space of 9 days upon the sea, but on the tenth day we reached the land of the Lotus-eaters, who live on a food that comes from a kind of flower. Here we landed to take in fresh water, and our crews got their mid-day meal on the shore near the ships. When they had eaten and drunk I sent two of my company to see what manner of men the people of the place might be, and they had a third man under them. They started at once, and went about among the Lotus-Eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened to them, but were for staying and munching lotus with the Lotus-eaters without thinking further of their return; nevertheless, though they wept bitterly I forced them back to the ships and made them fast under the benches. Then I told the rest to go on board at once, lest any of them should taste of the lotus and leave off wanting to get home, so they took their places and smote the grey sea with their oars."

There is controversy over which exact 'lotus' the Odyssey refers to to because the Greek word 'lotos' refers to several plants. However one of the proposed species includes the Diospyros lotus, also known as the date-plum. The Diospyros lotus grow sweet edible persimmon fruit called the date-plum. The date-plum is sometimes referred to the "fruit of the gods" or "natures candy."

“Date-plum” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 29 July 2011.<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Date-plum>

“Diospyros lotus” Plants For A Future. Web. 30 July 2011. <http://www.pfaf.org/user/plant.aspx?latinname=Diospyros+lotus>

“Land of the Lotus Eaters” Web. 30 July 2011. <http://members.tripod.com/shs_odyssey/lotuseaters.htm>

“Lotus-eaters” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 29 July 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus-eaters>

“Tannic acid” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 29 July 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tannic_acid>