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Growing Mandarin Melon Berry / Che: Maclura tricuspidata

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

Description
Form: Tree.
Lifespan: At least 40 years.
Leaf retention: Evergreen in warm regions but deciduous in cold regions where leaves 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: Generally no, but 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 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. Fallen fruit will stain sidewalks. One female tree can produce up to 400 pounds of fruit. The fruit is poor tasting until very ripe. When ripe, it lacks acidity and is somewhat sweet, bland, and lacking in nutritional value. It's chewy texture is somewhat like a strawberry.
Months for fruit to ripen: 5. Fruit are ripe when soft and darkening with age, possibly tinged black. Ripe fruit can be removed 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.
Storage after harvest: Can be kept refrigerated unwashed for several weeks in a covered container. The fruit can be eaten raw or cooked.
Leaves: Light-green, three-lobed to ovate, variable in shape, leaf-out occurs later than apples.
Stems: Thorns exist in random locations on young wood, but disappear with age. Plant has milky sap.
Roots: 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, chewy texture, USDA zones 5-10.
'Norris Mandarin Melon Berry' female, seedless, watermelon flavor, more vigorous, USDA zones 5-9.
'Seedless Che' female, seedless, watermelon flavor, USDA zones 5-9.
Wildlife: Leaves attract browsing deer and can be used to host silk worms. Fruit is unappealing to most animals and birds because of its lack of nutrition.
Toxic / Danger: Milky sap is mildly poisonous and unripe fruit can cause stomach upset. Thorns.
Origin: East Asia.

Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones: 5-9.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun, including soil over 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 in 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). Responds poorly to flooding. Grows in rocky soil in native habitat.
Fertilize: Apply a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 three times a year in February, May and late July. Apply a citrus micronutrient fertilizer at the same time. Spread fertilizer under the canopy but 6" away from trunk. Use one cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer for every year of the tree's age up to 9 cups.
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: Fruit is produced on new wood. Heavy pruning encourages new growth and fruiting. Prune back branches about half way in early winter. Remove up to half newly formed branches, especially those crossing or growing inward.
Litter: In fall, leaves, and abundant fruit if not harvested.
Propagation: Seed, cuttings. Grafting onto Osage Orange rootstock is recommended.
Uses: Primarily grown as a highly attractive ornamental. Attractive fruit on tree is edible but not popular.

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



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By SKas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons



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