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Growing Mandarin Melon Berry: Maclura tricuspidata

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A member of the Mulberry family, Mandarin Melon Berry is closely related to Osage Orange, and more distantly related to Mulberry, Fig, and Jackfruit. Seedless cultivars have recently been developed with several flavors.


Form: Tree.
Lifespan: At least 40 years.
Leaf retention: Evergreen in warm regions. In cold regions, the leaves are deciduous and turn red in the fall.
Growth rate: Slow to moderate depending on location.
Mature Size: 25' high and as wide after 30 years. Female trees are larger than male trees.
Flowers: Green, small, separate male and female flowers on different trees.
Bloom: Mid to late spring.
Self-fruitful: Depends on cultivar. For some cultivars, females produce seedless fruit without pollination (parthenocarpy). If growing a seedless female tree, a male tree must not be present or the fruit will be excessively seedy.
Years before fruiting: Ten years from seed, 2-3 years if grafted. The tree tends to drop ripening fruit when very young, but gets better at retention with age.
Fruit: The "berry" is an aggregate fruit, red to dark red in color, with many small fruits clustered together. If not from a seedless cultivar, the berry is very seedy with each fruit containing 3-6 seeds. The fruit is poor tasting until very ripe. When ripe, it lacks acidity and is somewhat sweet, like watermelon. The chewy texture resembles that of a strawberry. Fallen fruit will stain sidewalks.
Months for fruit to ripen: 5. The fruit are ripe when soft and darkening with age, possibly tinged black. Ripe fruit can be removed from a stem with a gentle pull. If a hard tug is required, the fruit is not ripe. The stem does not bleed white sap when the fruit is picked fully ripe. Fruit ripens on the tree individually, not all at once, and does not ripen further once picked. One female tree can produce up to 400 pounds of fruit.
Storage after harvest: The fruit can be kept refrigerated unwashed for several weeks in a covered container. It can be eaten raw or cooked.
Leaves: Light-green, three-lobed to ovate, variable in shape, with leaf-out occurring later than apples.
Stems: Thorns exist in random locations on young wood, but disappear with age. The plant has milky sap.
Roots: Mandarin Melon Berry is usually grafted onto Osage Orange rootstock to speed fruiting, reduce thorns, and eliminate suckers. On its own roots, the tree is less vigorous, thornier, and produces abundant suckers.
Cultivars of Note:
'Darrow Melon Berry' female, seedless, cantaloupe to papaya flavor, USDA zones 5-10.
'Norris Mandarin Melon Berry' female, seedless, fig flavor with watermelon overtones, more vigorous, USDA zones 5-9.
Wildlife: Leaves and fruit attract browsing deer. The leaves can be used to feed silk worms.
Toxic / Danger: The milky sap is a skin irritant and is mildly poisonous. Unripe fruit can cause stomach upset. Thorns.
Origin: East Asia.

By SKas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 5-9.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun, including on the soil over the root area.
Drought tolerant: Somewhat.
Water after becoming established: Deep water every one or two weeks during fruiting. Fruit and leaf drop signifies insufficient water.
Soil: Very well drained, tolerant of most soil types but best with moderate to high organic content. PH 6.1-6.5 (slightly acidic) is preferred, but tolerates pH 6.6-7.8 (neutral to slightly alkaline). This tree responds poorly to flooding. Its native habitat is rocky soil.
Fertilize: Use an organic fertilizer three times a year in February, May and late July. Apply a citrus micronutrient solution at the same time. Spread fertilizer under the canopy but 6" away from the trunk.
Mulch: Use a 4-6" layer of organic material to retain soil moisture.
Spacing: Place 15' apart.
First Year Care: Deep water twice a week.
Prune: Prune only in winter when the plant is dormant and sap flow is low. The milky sap is a skin irritant. Fruit is produced on new wood. Heavy pruning encourages new growth and fruiting. Prune back branches about half way. Remove up to half of newly formed branches, especially those crossing or growing inward.
Litter: Leaves, and abundant, staining fruit, if not harvested, which drop in the fall.
Propagation: Seed and cuttings. Grafting onto Osage Orange rootstock is recommended.
Uses: Mandarin Melon Berry is primarily grown as a highly attractive ornamental. The fruit is edible, but bland, possibly due to a lack of nutritional value. It is usually not harvested as a food crop, however, sliced berries might be served with lemon juice and sugar to improve the flavor.


Cudrania tricuspidata is a former scientific name. Other common names are Chinese Melon Berry and Silkworm Thorn.

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Latest update: December, 2018