Diospyros lotus, better known as the Date-plum or Caucasian Persimmon, is a widely cultivated species of the genus Diospyros, known by the ancient Greeks as ‘the fruit of the gods’ (‘Dios pyros’ means ‘the wheat of Zeus’).
The watercolour above is from a drawing by Sydney Parkinson, done while the artist was at Madeira during the Endeavour’s first stop on its round-the-world voyage in 1768, and comes via the Natural History Museum.
Diospyros lotus is one candidate for the lotus tree mentioned in The Odyssey. According to Homer’s epic poem, the tree’s fruit were so delicious that those who ate it forgot about returning home and wanted to stay and do nothing all day except sit and eat lotus with the Lotophagi or lotus-eaters.
Because the Greek word lôtos can refer to several different plants, there is some ambiguity as to which lotus appears in The Odyssey. Some of the proposed species include Nymphaea caerulea, Lotus corniculatus, Celtis australis and Nymphaea lotus, featured above left in the illustration from Louis Van Houtte’s Flores des Serres et des Jardins de l’Europe.