From Eat the Weeds
and Other Things Too website
by Green Deane
Che is not the tree it used to be.
Che's thorns are inconsistent
At one time there were just he and she Che trees. Then a few decades
ago along came a self-fertile seedless Che then Ches grafted onto a
close relative the Osage Orange. The he’s and she’s
have also escaped from cultivation in North Carolina and coastal
Georgia. I do’t think the seedless escape. Ches are planted
from about New York south and west. Your best chance of seeing one is
in landscaping in the southern half of the United States and up the
west coast. Whether to include Che as a wild edible was a bit of a
debate. It’s wild in Asia and has been around North America
for more than a century thus it was included. One reason why you might
not have seen a Che is birds. They aren’t too interested in
the berries so they don’t spread the tree around.
The Che is native from the Shantung and Kiangson Provinces of China to
the Nepalese sub-Himalayas. It was naturalized in Japan many years ago
which is where I first saw one back in the early 70’s. Che (Cudrania tricuspidata)
was introduced to France in 1862, England in 1872 and to the United
States about 1909. There was one growing at the P. J.
Berckman’s Nursery in Augusta Georgia by 1912 and fruiting,
which is another issue. Both male and female trees can fruit, she more
than he while the grafted seedless fruits the most.
Leaf shape can vary from 3 lobes to none
The seedless Che is a small tree. The natural species is shrubby and
can produce many suckers. By grafting the Che onto an Osage orange a
superior single-trunk fruit tree is created. It bears a large crop of
red, juicy fruit clusters reminiscent of round mulberries about an inch
through, ping-pong ball-ish in size. The flavor is a cross between a
mulberry and a fig, which it not remarkable as it is related to both.
It is also distantly related to Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis),
heterophyllus), Fig (Ficus
spp.), Mulberry (Morus
spp.), African Breadfruit (Treculis
africana), Paper Mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera)
and the aforementioned Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera.)
Che benefits from pruning
While the Che has been promoted outside of China as the up-and-coming
fruit tree for decades in China its reputation varies from valuable to
intolerable. This might be because of erratic thorns. The tree is
backup food for the silkworm and the leaves have to be picked by hand
which means braving thorns. Worse, the tree is not consistently thorny
so there’s no pattern to help you avoid them. Silk made from
the leaves, however, are reported to make high quality lute strings of
pure tone. The Che is also a favored tree of for bonsai. (On a personal
note a life time ago I visited Bonsai Machi in Japan, the heart of the
bonsai culture. There were amazing specimens there. There was also a
small city laid out with miniature buildings and bonsai tress for
landscaping. The effect was to be a giant walking down the street. And
when I see specials about bonsai they show specimens I saw some 40
years ago, still alive and craggy.)
Besides “Che” the tree is called Cudrania, Chinese
Mulberry, Cudrang, Mandarin Melon Berry, Silkworm Thorn, and
Storehousebush (why it is called that no one knows.) As for the
botanical name Cudrania
tricuspidata no one knows where Cudrania came
from either or what it supposed to mean. It was named by one Dr. Hance
in 1877 and he left no clue as to why his chose that name for the
genus. I suspect it has something to do with the common name of
means three pointed as in the leaves though even
Dr. Hance said the leaves vary so much calling it Tricuspidata was
inaccurate. “Che” (said like the Cuban
revolutionary) means “stony ground,” a reference to
the tree’s natural habitat of poor, dry soil. But it likes
warm, rich soil as well.
Che berries store well
Incidentally an intergeneric hybrid exist between the Che (Cudrania
tricuspidata) and the Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera) called
Macludrania hybrida. Mostly from France they were planted in the US
National Arboretum in 1960 and have large orange-like fruit and no
thorns. Other than that planting the hybrid seems to have been largely
ignored by everyone.
Green Deane’s Itemized Plant Profile: Che
Identification: Cudrania tricuspidata. Deciduous trees to 25 ft.
height, often a broad, spreading bush or small tree. rarely to 60 feet.
Immature wood thorny, female trees larger than males. Leaves alternate,
resemble mulberry but smaller, thinner, pale yellowish-green,
trilobate, with central lobe sometimes twice as long as the lateral
lobes, frequently unlobed. Flowers dioecious, male and female flowers
on different plants, green, pea-sized. Fruit is aggregate, looks like a
round mulberry crossed with a lychee, knotty, ripens to red or
maroon-red, juicy, rich red flesh, 3 to 6 small brown edible seeds per
fruit. Flavor varies from fig/mulberry cross to watermelon.
Time of year: Flowers in late spring or early summer, fruit in early
fall in cooler areas, later in warm areas. In warmer areas it is an
evergreen. In cooler areas the leaves turn red in the fall and persist.
Environment: Likes a sunny, warm location with rich, well-drained soil
but can grow in rocky dirt. Planted in zones 5-9, can tolerate -20F.
Treat them like a mulberry tree. Fruit stains like mulberries.
Method of prepareation: Trees mature early and can produce up to 400
pounds of chewy fruit. Let the fruit stay on the tree until they are
soft and dead ripe. Ripening is continuous for about a month. Fruit is
eaten out of hand or used like mulberries or figs. Good shelf life.
Grafts are better than raising trees from seeds. Seed planted
immediately from ripe fruit germinate at a high rate. Stored seeds must
have a period of cool, moist stratification. Plants from seeds can take
up to 10 years to fruit. Cloned plants bear very young.
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reference to be used in conjunction with experts in your area. Foraging
should never begin without the guidance and approval of a local plant
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