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Growing Mandarin Melon Berry / Che: Maclura tricuspidata

Botanical Overview

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

Description

Form: A thorny, suckering shrub or small 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 grow 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 ripen on the tree individually, not all at once, and do 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. They 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 should be grafted onto Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera) rootstock to speed fruiting, reduce thorns, and eliminate suckering. On its own roots, it is less vigorous and grows as a thorny shrub with abundant suckers.
Cultivars of Note:
'Darrow Melon Berry' female, seedless, cantaloupe to papaya flavor, USDA zones 5-10.
'Norris Mandarin Melon Berry' female, seedless, watermelon flavor with fig 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 for Mandarin Melon Berry. Osage Orange was limited to the Red River Valley of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas in pre-Columbian times.

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

Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 5-9.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Drought tolerant: Somewhat.
Sun: Full sun, including on the soil over the root area.
Planting: Locate in an area with full sun, good drainage, and not prone to flooding. Place trees 15' apart.
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. Spread fertilizer under the canopy but 8" away from the trunk. Apply a citrus micronutrient solution in irrigation water at the same time.
Water after becoming established: Deep water every one or two weeks during fruiting. Fruit and leaf drop signifies insufficient water.
Mulch: Apply organic mulch inside the drip line, and 8" away from the trunk, to retain soil moisture and reduce summer soil temperatures.
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. Heavy pruning encourages new growth and fruiting. Prune branches back about half way. Remove up to half of newly formed branches, especially those crossing or growing inward. Flowers and fruit are produced on new wood.
Litter: Leaves, and abundant, staining fruit, which drop in the fall if not harvested.
Propagation: Cuttings grafted onto Osage Orange rootstock.
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 rarely harvested as a food crop. For residential use, sliced berries can be served with lemon juice and sugar, or blended with other fruit in smoothies.

Comments

Cudrania tricuspidata is a former scientific name. Other names are Che and Melonberry.



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Latest update: April, 2020