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Melonberry seeds

Melonberry seeds

Fact Sheet from the Just Fruits and Exotics Nursery
by Brandy Cowley Gilbert

Mandarin melon berry fruit

Mandarin Melonberry ( Cudrania tricuspidata ) is a beautiful, small rounded tree with broad green olive leaves. It’s also called Che or Chinese mulberry and is a member of the mulberry family. The tree flowers in mid spring and the fruit matures in mid summer. The fruit looks like a large, round raspberry, with a few seeds; the taste has a distinct cantaloupe-like flavor. Use fresh in fruit salad or eat out of hand. Mandarin Melonberry is one of the easiest, most problem-free fruits you can grow – a little care will go a long way with this tree. Female trees will fruit by themselves (ours did!). If you want to increase fruit yield you may want to add a male che later. Two types of trees are available. We graft some trees onto Osage orange rootstock to ensure early, heavy fruit production without root suckering. Cutting-grown trees are also available – these will spread into a hedge, but root suckers will be thornless.

Uses in the Landscape
Mandarin melonberry grow to approximately 30 feet tall. Trees can be allowed to grow into large fruiting shade trees or pruned into a smaller bush. Use as a small specimen tree or mix in with apples, peaches and plums for months of fresh fruit.

Mandarin melonberry female Norris tree

Planting and Culture

Site Selection
Well-drained sandy soils are preferred, but mandarin melonberry will grow on many soil types if good drainage is provided. Trees do not tolerate flooding. Trees will grow more vigorously and produce more fruit in full sun. Because space is usually limited, savvy gardeners have planted the male and female che in the same hole. The male is kept pruned to about ¼ of the total canopy for adequate pollination and best fruit production (see below for pruning tips).

Soil Preparation and Planting
Mandarin Melonberry prefers slightly acid soil (pH 6.0-6.5), but soils of up to moderate alkalinity are readily tolerated. If you are in doubt about the acidity of your soil, take a soil sample to the Cooperative Extension Agent in your county for a soil test.

Dig a planting hole approximately three times the width of the pot and at the same depth as the root ball. Set that soil aside and mix it 50/50 with either aged mushroom compost, aged manure, or rotted pine bark & aged manure/compost. Remove the plant from the pot, gently loosen the root ball and place in the planting hole. To avoid burying too deep, make sure plant is positioned with the top most roots at the soil line. Fill the planting hole with the mix of soil and organic matter; gently tamp it in. Water thoroughly to settle the roots and eliminate air pockets. Do NOT put fertilizer in the planting hole. Only apply fertilizer if it is the correct time of year (see Fertilization section below).

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If desired, construct a water basin around the base of the tree approximately 36 inches in diameter. Mulch in spring and summer with approximately 4-6 inches of mulch. Pull mulch a couple of inches away from the trunk for good air circulation. Grafted trees should be planted on 20-foot centers. Non-grafted plants for hedgerows should be set 6 feet apart.

The type of fertilizer you choose may be chemical or organic. Make sure that the fertilizer contains iron, zinc, manganese, magnesium, molybdenum, copper and boron. These minor elements are very important to plants and most soils are low in these elements. Application rates vary according to age of plant. See chart below.

10-10-10 or 10-0-10
with minerals
1 cup per each year of tree’s life
– Max out at 9 cups for Mature tree
Espoma Citrus Tone
6 cups for 1 year old
10 cups for 2 year old (4-6ft)
18 cups for 7-9ft tree
24 cups for tree over 9ft

Spread the fertilizer evenly under the entire canopy of the plant avoiding a 5-inch area around the trunk. Water or rake in. For Zones 8a-10, fertilize 3 times each year in February, May and late July/early August. For plants further north (Zones 6-7), fertilize 2 times each year in March and June/July. Never fertilize after August (July in Zones 6-7) as this will promote new growth late in the year which will be subject to freeze damage.

The first year is a critical time for the establishment of a new tree. Water thoroughly twice a week on light soils and once a week on clay soils. Soak the entire root system deeply – this usually takes 40-50 minutes. Mandarin Melonberry should receive at least 1 inch of water each week for best growth and fruit production. Water regularly, especially during dry periods. Fruit may drop prematurely if insufficiently irrigated during dry spells.

Male Mandarin Melonberry Tree He’s the Pollinator!
No fruit is produced by the Male but without his flowers the Female won’t fruit. The Male will cause seeds to be produced in the fruit of any Female Melonberry variety within pollination range. If you have a Female Melonberry that isn’t producing well or drops all its fruit, and you don’t mind seeds in the fruit, then plant a Male Melonberry within 15-20ft of the Female.

Darrow Mandarin melonberry fruit

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Pruning and Care
Trees fruit on the current year’s wood. Prune heavily in winter to encourage new growth for best fruit production. Remove approximately half the branches formed the previous year and head back remaining shoots by about half. If the male and female have been planted together, keep the male to about 25% of the total canopy. This may entail addition summer pruning of the male. The trees can be allowed to reach full height or kept smaller for ease of harvest. Mandarin melonberry appears to be free of pests and diseases.

Fruit should be allowed to thoroughly ripen on the tree for best quality and flavor. You’ll know the fruit is ripe when the stem doesn’t bleed white sap after picking.

Gilbert, Brandy Cowley. “Melonberry.” Just Fruits and Exotics nursery , Accessed 5 Jan. 2015.

Gilbert, Brandy Cowley. “Melonberry.” Just Fruits and Exotics nursery , Accessed 5 Jan. 2015.

Gardening in Tucson, Phoenix, Arizona and California

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.


Leaf retention: Evergreen in warm regions. In cold regions, the leaves are deciduous and turn red in the fall.

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.

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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.

‘Norris Mandarin Melon Berry’ female, seedless, watermelon flavor with fig overtones, more vigorous, USDA zones 5-9.

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.

Cultivation and Uses

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.

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.

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.


Do you have additional information or a different experience for this plant that you would like to share?
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