"The wonder is that we can see these trees and not wonder more." Ralph Waldo Emerson
Most of us don't lend much thought to the trees in our lives, and rarely do we ever discuss the vital impact they have on our environment. Most likely we see trees as decorations, and grumble when we rake their fallen leaves, and sigh at their beauty as they turn colors in the fall. I guess if we were able to imagine our world without them, we might think differently about trees.
I recently read a Dr. Seuss book to my grandson. The name of the book was "The Lorax", and it tells the story of a land where all the trees were cut down. and how the environment began to suffer as a result. I am hoping that my 5 year old grandson will come to value trees as much as I do. He already knows their importance, because he and I have picnicked in the shade of the old maple trees in my front yard, and trees have often protected us from a warm summer rain. He knows that trees provide a home for birds and squirrels, and he knows that most of our furniture is made of the wood of trees. One day he will discover that trees absorb harmful chemicals from the air, and replace them with the oxygen they give off, and he will learn that they filter the air we breathe as well. I didn't know those things when I was growing up because at the time, I don't think the environment was given much thought.
There were many trees in the back yard of my home in southeast Kentucky. Two of them were an unlikely pair: the persimmon and the mimosa. They had grown for a few more years than I had, which was perhaps six if I remember correctly. Living in the head of a holler in the mountains in those days meant that playmates were not very close so I had to provide my own entertainment. The two trees played a huge role in that.
The book "Raggedy Ann and the Slippery Slide" had been recently published, and I always wanted every new book that came out. I loved that book, and started campaigning for my own slide. Well, I campaigned for my own camel, too, after reading about the camel with the wrinkledy knees, but my parents both vetoed the camel idea pretty quickly. My dad told me that he could not make me a slide either, so I would have to find something to slide down all by myself. And so I did, the persimmons that covered the ground were as slippery as any slide ever was.
Now the persimmon tree (Diospyros virginiana) served two purposes, it provided a dessert fruit, and my great Aunt Bett used its fruit for her herbal medicines. She used the raw fruit in a liquid form to relieve intestinal disorders. The raw fruit was also used in a paste to stop bleeding. I was only interested in the taste, but I did double dog dare my cousin Tish to eat an unripe persimmon, and when she soon turned a nice grayish green color, I decided it might not be a good idea to accept her triple dog dare and eat one of my own. If you have never puckered uncontrollably, then just try one unripe persimmon. On the other hand, they were great airborne missiles when I hid in the trees and launched them right to the heads of unsuspecting male subjects who dared to saunter down the road that ran in front of my house.
The mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) is a gorgeous low growing tree. It is simply filled with abundant feathery blossoms of pink and white, and its foliage is very nearly fern like. My mom had planted it and loved it, until the blossoms started to blow in the breeze and make their way to all manner of places. They floated down the chimney and on into the house. They covered the clean wet clothes that hung on the line. And they caused her to sneeze at certain times of the year. I remember that my Aunt Bett mentioned that some parts of the mimosa were used as a fast acting tonic for depression, but at the time I had no clue what depression was, so I wasn't very interested in the medicinal aspect of the plant. My interest was in its beauty, and the fact that I could stick those feathery blooms in my ears and pretend they were earrings, or wear them in my hair and be the most beautiful princess of all. I punched a hole in a leaf from the poplar tree, stuck the blossom in the hole and floated it down the creek that ran beside my house. In my mind it was a flower bedecked ark on its way to bigger and better things. I think I stuck blooms in Kitty Fluff's ears, too. She didn't seem to mind at all. As I remember, she refused to be launched down the creek, though.
Now the problem was that I loved both trees, but they were planted very close together. The mimosa shed its blooms and then its seed pods first, but by then the ripe persimmons began to fall from the persimmon tree. Persimmons are rather sweetly squishy when ripe, and they are magnets for yellow jackets. Honey bees were drawn to the mimosa blooms. And I was drawn to the entire sweet, fluffy, sticky, bee covered mess beneath the two trees.
I decided if I could take a run-and-go from the top of the hill, then put on the brakes just as soon as I hit the persimmon/mimosa/bee mess on the ground, I could hit the ground sliding and not stop till I reached the back porch. The first few rides were great. My jean clad bottom was covered with the sticky mess, blossoms and all. After a few more successful slides in home, the juicy persimmons began to seep into the seat of my jeans and I was no longer very comfortable. I looked back at my sliding spot and saw that I had made a furrow through the persimmons on the ground, just as wide as I was from the trees all the way to the back porch. With every slide it became stickier, and more bees flocked to the sweetened mess. One more time, I told myself, just one more time, then I will get cleaned up and dump my jeans in a pan of water to soak. What I didn't know was that the bees were following my sticky sweet behind, too.
One more time was one time too many. I hit the ground sliding right on top of several angry bees and yellow jackets. The ones I did not smash decided to come to the aid of those that I did, and they followed me and my sweet smushy behind through the kitchen door. They were angry bees and weren't about to let me get away with the murder of their companions. After the excitement died down and the bees were swept out the door, I was thrown into the tub to soak right along with the jeans I was wearing. By the time I was pulled from the tub, cleaner, but definitely in pain, I had a sting on my lip, a sting on the inside of my elbow, on my fingers, and over my eyebrow, not to mention the condition of my behind. Actually, the latter might have been a good thing because even as mad as my mother was, she was not willing to swat a beestung backside.
My dad gave my mother a choice. She could keep the mimosa or she could keep the persimmon tree, but not both. One of them had to go. I loved the trees, and through tears I begged my dad to keep both, promising I would keep the persimmons picked up, I would never make a persimmon slide again, and I would polish his shoes every night. Nothing worked, one tree had to go, but he was going to have to wait till somebody could come help him cut down the trees. I also told Dad that I was pretty sure the mimosa would not live to be an old tree, and I told him that I thought it would die just any minute and it would be a waste of energy to cut it down. I didn't have any excuse for the persimmon, but it broke my heart to think that I was the cause of the demise of those two wonderful trees. Besides persimmons are delicious when they are ripe.
Within a day or two I had a severe case of measles. I must have been pretty sick for awhile because I never heard any tree chopping going on. Nothing was chopped that winter either, and years later both trees were still growing in my mother's back yard. I polished a lot of shoes that year, but I never repeated my slippery slide adventures.
Actually I think my mother must have talked my Dad out of chopping down either tree, because I know the subject was never mentioned again and they both lived happily ever after, my parents and the two trees. And I still love persimmons right off the limb.
The moral of this story: Enjoy these two interesting trees, but please don't plant them side by side!
Photos are from Dave's Garden Plant Files. Thanks to these photographers: Creekwalker for the persimmon and Kelli for the mimosa in the collage; htop for the mimosa bloom; Willbike for the ripe persimmon; Melody for the green persimmon, and Wingnut for the mimosa seed pod.