1. Diospyros Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 2: 1057. 1753; Gen. Pl. ed. 5, 478. 1754.
Ebony, persimmon [Greek Dios, Zeus, and pyros, grain, Theophrastean fruit name of unknown application appropriated by Linnaeus]
Shrubs or trees, usually dioecious; terminal buds absent; wood dense, hard. Leaves deciduous or persistent; petiole often glandular; blade lanceolate to broadly ovate, elliptic, or obovate, coriaceous, surfaces glabrous or pubescent, especially abaxially. Inflorescences 2-15-flowered cymes (staminate) or solitary flowers (pistillate, rarely staminate). Pedicels accrescent in fruit [or not], slender, much shorter to several times longer than flowers. Flowers: sepals persistent, often accrescent in fruit; corolla urceolate to campanulate or salverform, petals usually convolute and imbricate; staminate flowers usually smaller than pistillate flowers; stamens [6-]16(-32), paired and in [1-]2[-5] series; anthers introrse, 2-locular; ovary [3-]8[-16]-locular; ovules 1-2 per locule; styles connate proximally or to near stigmas, slender. Berries yellow, orange, red, purple, brown, or black, fleshy or fibrous. x = 15.
Species 400-500 (4 in the flora): se United States, Mexico, West Indies, Central America, South America, Africa, Asia; pantropical in wet to seasonally dry regions at relatively low to moderate elevations with temperate outliers in South America (Argentina, Chile), Asia (China, Japan, Korea).
In addition to the native species, Diospyros kaki Thunberg of eastern Asia, with orange fruits to 10 cm, is cultivated commercially in California and other southern states, and some other species are cultivated as ornamentals. Two of these have become naturalized to a limited extent in Florida. Ebony is obtained from D. ebenum and other Old World species; only the largest individuals of D. virginiana have a narrow, dark core in the heartwood. The total species count for the genus is uncertain because new species are being described and the distinctiveness of some previously described species is questionable. The complicated patterns of variation in some African species of Diospyros led F. White (1962) to coin the term ochlospecies (mob or messy species) for those that are neither monotypic nor conventionally polytypic, with variation tied to geography. The three ochlospecies that he recognized had abundant variation but not in patterns amenable to formal taxonomic recognition. Diospyros virginiana gives some hints of the same kind of variation.