What did you CHE!?

I first learned of Cudrania tricuspidata aka Chinese mulberry, or CHE, several years ago when reading Uncommon Fruits For Every Garden by Lee Reich. Most midwesterners are familiar with osage orange, which was commonly planted as a living fence on old farmsteads. Its relative che, however, differs in that it produces an edible fruit which resembles the brain-like fruit of the osage orange, but is about 3-4x smaller and a pinkish-salmon color. Being a nut for exotic and unusual fruits, I had to get a che tree growing in my orchard. And so I did. Three years later its about 6-7′ tall and has yet to bear. I patiently await the day I can finally taste the mysterious che fruit! I have heard different reports in regards to flavor, but some claim it tastes like a mixture of watermelon and fig. Yum…

Photo courtesy http://www.eat-it.com

Michael McConkey of Edible Landscaping is one of the few nurserymen to sell che trees. Here is a great video of Michael with his seedless che tree:

Keith Johnson of Permaculture Activist wrote an informatve article on che a few years ago. After revisting his article I thought it’d be a good idea to share it. So here it is:

Che, eh? Mmmm. Nom nom.

By Keith Johnson

This odd fruit, Cudrania tricuspidata (which in this image seems under ripe or a different variety than mine), is presently (Fri Sept 5, 09) yielding (finally) beautifully, abundantly and deliciously in my USDA Zone 6a-b ridge-and-valley landscape in Southern Indiana (a quarter century ago it used to be Zone 5) in heavy clay and (this year) a wet season (with a three week drought in late Aug through recently). It seems to be resistant to pests, the birds have tasted it (must observe more) and there are at least 200, inch-to-inch-and-a-half, fruits with about half of them ripe at the moment. About 50 taste testers at recent party said it reminded them “melon”, “mulberry” and “fig” (it is related to the latter two) and generally enjoyed it. It’s six years old, was transplanted here from W. NC, three years ago, and it lived at least its first year in a pot. I’d say that indicates sturdiness.My thornless cultivar is grafted onto an Osage orange seedling. I recommend it highly. You can buy it (where I did) at Edible Landscape in VA.

Moraceae; Common Names: Che, Chinese Che, Chinese Mulberry, Cudrang, Mandarin Melon Berry, Silkworm Thorn.
Distant Affinity: Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis), Jackfruit (A. heterophyllus), Fig (Ficus spp.), Mulberry (Morus spp.), African Breadfruit (Treculis africana).
Origin: The che is native to many parts of eastern Asia from the Shantung and Kiangson Provinces of China to the Nepalese sub-Himalayas. It became naturalized in Japan many years ago. In China, the leaves of the che serve as a backup food for silkworms when mulberry leaves are in short supply. The tree was introduced into England and other parts of Europe around 1872, and into the U.S. around 1930.
Adaptation: The che requires minimal care and has a tolerance of drought and poor soils similar to that of the related mulberry. It can be grown in most parts of California and other parts of the country, withstanding temperatures of -20° F.


Growth Habit: The deciduous trees can eventually grow to about 25 ft. in height, but often remains a broad, spreading bush or small tree if not otherwise trained when they are young. Immature wood is thorny but loses its thorns as it matures. Female trees are larger and more robust than male trees.

Foliage: The alternate leaves resemble those of the mulberry, but are smaller and thinner and pale yellowish-green in color. The typical form is distinctly trilobate, with the central lobe sometimes twice as long as the lateral ones, but frequently unlobed leaves of varied outlines are also found on the same plant. As the plant grows, the tendency seems towards larger and entire leaves, with at the most indistinct or irregular lobing. The general form of the leaves comprise many variations between oblong and lanceolate. The che leafs and blooms late in spring–after apples.

Flowers: The che is dioecious, with male and female flowers on different plants. Appearing in June, both types of flowers are green and pea-sized. The male flowers turn yellow as the pollen ripens and is released, while the wind-pollinated female flowers develop many small stigmas over the surface of the immature fruit. Male plants occasionally have a few female flowers which will set fruit.

Fruit: Like the related mulberry, the che fruit is not a berry but a collective fruit, in appearance somewhat like a round mulberry crossed with a lychee, 1 to 2 inches in diameter. The ripe fruits are an attractive red or maroon-red color with a juicy, rich red flesh inside and 3 to 6 small brown seeds per fruit. The flavor is quite unlike the vinous quality of better mulberries. While still firm they are almost tasteless, but when fully soft ripe they develop a watermelon-like flavor that can be quite delicious. The sugar content is similar to that of a ripe fig. In colder areas with early leaf drop the bright red fruit are an attractive sight dangling from smooth, leafless branches.