Melonberry (maclura tricuspidata) is probably one of the most overlooked tree fruits still awaiting discovery. It is known by many names such as Che, Chinese Che, Chinese Mulberry, Cudrang, Mandarin Melon Berry, Silkworm Thorn and the tree can grow up to 20 feet tall.

Melonberry is a tree native to East Asia and somewhat similar to that of a large mulberry. The tree hangs heavy with very large, round red raspberry-like fruit in the late summer and into the cool fall weather. The flavor is very sweet with the taste of a watermelon/strawberry combination. Some tasters might also find tones of cantaloupe. Either way the name melonberry tends to fit. The later the fruit is allowed to stay on the tree into the cooler weather, the sweeter it becomes.

Maclura tricuspidata has a long history of being grown for both food and medicine in China. Europeans carried the tree to France and England, and it arrived in the states over a century ago. The melonberry tree requires minimal care and has a tolerance of drought and poor soils, again similar to that of the related mulberry.

The trees are quite cold-hardy and can withstand temperatures of -20° F. They leaf out and bloom late in spring, and are rarely caught by a late spring freeze. The trees adapt and fruit well from New York to Florida, zones 6-9. It does require some summer heat to ripen the fruit, so areas like the Pacific Northwest are not good choices. Beautiful in fruit, it remains disease-free throughout the growing season. Melonberry is a great choice for growers that want to grow their fruit organically.

Western Maryland Lemonade gathers its melonberry fruit from John Popenoe's orchard in Little Orleans, MD. These fruit can get quite large to almost the circumference of an American 25 cent piece (quarter). The tree gets so inundated with big red fruit on every branch that we like to call it the Big Red Tree once the fruit is ready to be picked. These berries freeze really well so we are able to provide this beverage year round. They do have a large amount of tiny brown seeds which get incorporated into the bottle (see warning label) but don't seem to alter the sweetness of the beverage as long as the seeds are not crushed.

 


PHOTOS

Melonberries growing on the tree branch and ready to be picked.

 

A handful of picked melonberries. Note the hearty stem (that has to be removed before processing) and the tiny watermelon type seeds.

 

Example of actual size compared to a human hand.

 

The melonberry tree is well suited for just about any type of soil or location.