Grape-size red fruits catch the eye starting in late August on this uncommon but commendable fruit tree known as Chinese che. At first it is slow to grow, a few inches at best. Just be patient – as with many plants three years seems to be the charm, resulting in several feet of growth and the onset of fruit production. No pollinator is needed, but word has it in plant circles you want to get a female for good fruit set.
Blooms appear after danger of frost with seldom any disease or insect problems, similar here to mulberry and fig, which are in the same family (Moraceae). I have trained mine into a single-trunk tree, yet it can easily be grown as a large shrub. Ripe fruit has a strawberry color with a knotty exterior similar to kousa dogwood berries. Flavor is pear-like, but it’s the ornamental value and uniqueness of this plant that wows me.
Common Names: Che, Chinese che, Chinese mulberry
Botanical Name: Cudrania tricuspidata
Bloom Period: Late April
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Size: 15-25 feet
Exposure: Full sun
When to Plant: Late spring around May/June
How to Plant: Amend soil with well-drained organic matter and sand. Plant ¼ inch above soil level from container.
Soil: Sharply drained to sandy loam
Watering: Water until established and during hot summer months of first year.
When to Prune: Prune back following heavy freezes.
When to Fertilize: Late winter (February/March)
In Your Landscape: Ornamental tree requiring minimal care, tolerant to drought and poor soils, and resisting temperatures down to -20 F. Food supply for birds.
(From Virginia Gardener Volume IX Issue IX. Photos courtesy of Beth Burrell.)