Cricket Hill Garden
Cudrania, 'Darrow' seedless female Che Chinese Melonberry
Cudrania tricuspidata 'Darrow'
Name in Chinese and pin yin: 柘 zhe
Variety description: This under appreciated fruit is a relative of mulberry and fig, and is native to central China. In addition to being grown for its fruit, traditionally Che leaves were used as a secondary food source for silk worms. Self-fertile seedless female trees bear a prolific crop of maroon-red, 1-2" fruit. Ripe fruit have a sweet flavor which is often compared to that of a fig with notes of watermelon.
We graft our Che onto Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) rootstock so that as the plant matures it will develop less of a bush and more of a standard tree form. Young plants have small thorns.
This che is propagated from a tree grown by the famed USDA plant breeder Dr. George M. Darrow (pictured left). Over the course of his long career with the USDA, Dr. Darrow worked to hybridize many of the commercial strawberry varieties which are still grown today. Dr. Darrow was also interested in improving other small fruits.
In his book, Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, horticulturalist Lee Reich writes that his first encounter with che fruit was at Dr. Darrow's Maryland home. Reich recounts: "I wish that I had become better acquainted with che soon after our introduction. That first meeting was in 1979 at the home of renowned fruit breeder George M. Darrow, then ninety years old and retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. His dooryard che, unfortunately, had no fruits ripe for sampling."
Site requirements: Full sun location. Che will grow in a range of soil types provided that the roots stay evenly moist throughout the heat of the summer. Deep, well drained loam is ideal.
Size at maturity: 10-25' tall, 25' wide, depending on pruning.
Hardiness: USDA zones 5b-9. There are some reports of Che growing in USDA zone 5. Cooler climates may have insufficient summer heat to fully ripen the fruit.
Pests and Diseases: None observed. Birds will eat the fruit if you are late to harvest and deer may browse both the fruit and foliage. We protect young trees with a circle of wire mesh to keep the deer away.
Plant size: Grafted tree, 2-3 ft. tall with strong central leader.
When we ship: Fall 2023/Spring 2024.
Shipping restrictions: None.