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Chinese Che fruit tree (can be grafted onto Osage Orange)

 
Dan Boone
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Our property has innumerable Osage Orange trees in every stage from tiny saplings to towering ancient snags. They are, frankly, a pain in the you-know-what, and offer little value in return, being so hard and gnarly and thorny and difficult to use productively.

So, as you can imagine, I was brought up sharply by an offhand comment about them in another thread: "They can have a certain kind of fruit grafted onto them, but I forget which variety." I was like Roger Rabbit seeing Jessica, complete with googly eyes bulging out of my head and steam coming out of my ears."

It turns out that the fruit tree in question is the "Che" tree (Cudrania tricuspidata). From Eat The Weeds:

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), Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), Fig (Ficus spp.), Mulberry (Morus spp.), African Breadfruit (Treculis africana), Paper Mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera) and the aforementioned Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera.)


The tree comes from China, where it seems to have been used as a backup source of fodder for silkworms, and the fruit is not much valued there. Indeed, opinion on the fruit seems fairly mixed, possibly because there's quite a bit of variability between trees (as with apples grown from seed) and not a lot of developed cultivars. But I take heart from this essay:

In the years that followed, I occasionally happened upon the plant on the printed page where I found lukewarm descriptions of the fruit’s flavor—”mild watermelon,” for example. Almost twenty years after our introduction I decided, finally, to plant a che and evaluate the fruit for myself; a year later I tasted my first fruit. It was very good and nothing like a “mild watermelon.”

Were you to meld all the characteristics of a fresh fig and a mulberry—both, incidentally, relatives of che—you would end up with something very close to a che fruit. To wit, che is an inch to an inch-and-a-half across, round, and a dull maroon with a rich red interior, a slightly chewy texture, and a few edible seeds. The flavor is most definitely fresh fig plus mulberry although neither quite as rich as the fig nor
quite as sweet as the mulberry.


As for propagation, it grows (slowly) from seed, and can be fairly easily propagated from the roots or from rooted stem cuttings. The graft onto Osage Orange is said to be easy (at least by tree-grafting standards.) See http://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/che.html.

All in all, a very promising discovery for someone who has hundreds of robust Osage Orange trees!
 
Alder Burns
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I had che when I lived in GA and found it rather disappointing. Like many obscure things, it's probably crying out for selection and improvement. And, like many obscure things, it was much better made into wine than eaten fresh! You need male and female trees, or perhaps grafted onto each other. They sucker out along the roots (maybe they won't do that grafted onto osage orange?) and you end up with a thorny thicket.
There is another obscure Asian relative, Maclura cochinchinensis, which is an evergreen semi-vining thorny sort of thing, which I could never get to fruit even in GA since it was apparently only semi hardy even in zone 7/8.....
 
Dan Boone
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Alder, I'm still madly clicking around but from what I'm seeing, you've hit the nail on the head with your "crying out for selection and improvement" comment. It seems not to have gotten a lot of attention, at least on this continent, and reports about the fruit vary wildly.

Supposedly they don't sucker when grafted onto Osage Orange, which makes sense; Osage Orange itself doesn't seem to sucker much (if at all) though it does grow in clumps due to the hundreds of seeds that get dumped in a location where one of the fruits may come to rest.

I'm totally cool with making wine or jelly or syrup out of disappointing fruit. And I don't mind feeding the birds, if it comes down to that.
 
Ivan Weiss
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Dan Boone wrote: They are, frankly, a pain in the you-know-what, and offer little value in return, being so hard and gnarly and thorny and difficult to use productively.


According to this website, The Chimney Sweep, Osage Orange has the highest BTU of any wood, even greater than holly, which I hardly thought possible. Osage Orange sounds to me like it is made for a rocket mass heater, or a rocket cookstove. Has anyone used it in this way?
 
Dan Boone
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The downside to that is that the wood is very hard and dense, and often thorny. So it fights your axe, dulls your saw, and draws blood the instant you grow incautious while cutting, bucking, splitting, or stacking it.

I'm not saying it isn't of value as firewood; I'm just saying it's not a lot of fun to use that way.
 
William Bronson
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If che is a good backup fodder for silk worms, and forms a thorny thicket, iy sounds like a great tree for a poultry paddock.
Are the leaves edible? High in protein?
Good yield of berries?
 
Dan Boone
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I don't know about the leaves, but one of those links in my post goes to a California fruit-grower fact sheet that says a mature tree can produce up to 400lb of fruit.
 
John Saltveit
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A lady I know grows the fruit here and it tastes really good, kind of like watermelon. I think it likes more heat than we can usually give it.
John S
PDX OR
 
Zach Muller
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I am glad you brought this up dan. So are you going to grow some Che plants and start grafting with them sometime later?
 
Dan Boone
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Zach I imagine so. I am at least going to order some seeds (that's cheap) and get some seedlings going. I don't really have the budget to be mail-ordering potted trees, which I would need if I wanted grafting wood any time soon.

Then, too, I don't know how to graft. This is a good enough reason to try to learn, but I gather it has a bit of a steep learning curve.

So it's a bit of a long-term plan. The biggest *immediate* implication of this new info is that it affects my management decisions about existing Osage Orange trees. Some that I might have removed, I'll now be pruning/thinning instead.
 
R Scott
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Dan Boone wrote:The downside to that is that the wood is very hard and dense, and often thorny. So it fights your axe, dulls your saw, and draws blood the instant you grow incautious while cutting, bucking, splitting, or stacking it.

I'm not saying it isn't of value as firewood; I'm just saying it's not a lot of fun to use that way.


It is also very rare to get a straight piece, so it does not feed into a rocket very well. You can cut a whole cord of firewood before you get one piece straight enough to make a fence post.
 
Tim Sullivan
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I bought a seedless, thornless, grafted che from edible landscaping a few months ago. They are apparently self-fertile. Here's the link if you'd like more info.
http://ediblelandscaping.com/products/trees/CheSeedless/SeedlessChe.php
 
Dan Boone
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Thanks! I've planted some seeds -- no germination yet -- but I am holding out for a tree purchase until I can find one that's *not* seedless. If I am going to buy an expensive tree, I want to be able to plant an orchard from the seeds.
 
Tim Sullivan
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If you do get some seeds to germinate it may take up to 10 years to get some fruit. Softwood cuttings are supposed to be a pretty reliable method of propagation.
 
Dan Boone
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10 years? That's FAST compared to the nut tree seedlings I'm growing...

I may actually buy one of those trees, I'm just hesitating because I would prefer a more standard tree over the highly unusual cultivar they are selling.
 
Dan Boone
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It seems like an update is in order, even though I have little to report. I got some Che seeds from Tradewinds Fruit but (following the directions on the package, which were to sow into warm soil and wait "up to a few months") I got no germination last year. It's possible some of those seeds will germinate this spring if they have not rotted; I live in hope.

I am trying again this year with some seeds from an eBay seller. Subsequent to my failure with the seeds from Tradewinds, I have seen the identical sentence of germination advice repeated on several different websites: "Seeds germinate readily if sown immediately upon removal from the fruit, or, if stored, after a period of cool, moist stratification." So I will try, perhaps, several different guesses as to what "a period" of stratification means.

Recent conversations about plant breeding here on Permies had caused me to wonder whether a hybrid between Che and Osage Orange might be possible, and if possible, what sort of fruit might result. So I was pleased to discover while researching Che germination that such a hybrid was reported in France in 1905. At the time of the report the tree had not yet fruited; and more recent reports about the hybrid (Macludrania hybrida) do not mention fruit. However, there's also this 1999 report from USDA people at the National Arboretum calling the 1905 report into question, after the National Arboretum people failed to reproduce the cross. From what I know of difficult cross-species hybrids, they can be flukey and hard to reproduce, so I don't know how much significance that has. I suppose if I ever get a healthy population of Che trees, I'll have to try it!
 
David Livingston
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Hi Dan
Its a pity you cannot graft citrus on to its but I see its just called orange
My plan is to buy just one culivar of different apple trees and then graft them on to quince I can get free result free apple trees . To be able to do the same with citrus would be mighty there are so many of them .- possible buisness mybe

David
 
Guy De Pompignac
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It seems there is a che / osage orange chimera too :

http://www.greffer.net/?p=680



 
Dan Boone
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Ooh, nifty! I didn't even know that graft chimaera existed. That's very cool.
 
Mike Patterson
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So is there any reason you couldn't graft a mulberry onto an osage orange? I sometimes confuse them when just looking at the bark.

-WY
 
susan vita
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I hope to craft a living fence with osage some day, incorporating fruit into it might make for a more productive hedgerow eventually.
 
ev kuhn
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any updates after 9 month?
Tim, how did your tree from edible landscaping do? any fruit, yet?
I am very curious
even willing to buy from them or anyone else
but want to know about the taste from an independant party

am a burned child, too:
tried seed from Tradewinds with no luck
and a little tree from one of the el cheapo places, that did not survive the first winter in north GA

 
Dan Boone
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ev kuhn wrote:any updates after 9 month?


No germination so far, of seed from several sources. Have more cold-stratifying and will try yet again in spring. Still no budget for purchased trees.
 
Dan Boone
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Mike Patterson wrote:So is there any reason you couldn't graft a mulberry onto an osage orange?


Now, that's an interesting question. Mulberries are said to be really easy to propagate by rooting, though, so I hadn't considered it.

If it works, it would be a fun way to make all my robust osage orange trees more productive.
 
Dan Boone
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BTW here is a lovely photo of Che fruit from Eat The Weeds:

 
Lance Kleckner
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anybody know of someone selling them on their own roots? I have bought them on osage orange, and prefer not to, they are marginally hardy here, so while very young they dieback, and end up becoming an osage orange. Oddly enough my male melon tree hasn't died back from the winters, so I still have that, must be hardier than the females, on my 4th female. been through -20sF
 
Ken W Wilson
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You've convinced me that I need one even though I'll be pretty much out of space after I plant all the trees I've ready ordered. Edible Landscaping is one of my favorite sources, but they don't seem to have any right now. I only have room for one, so it looks like seedless is the best choice. Any other good sources? I don't care if it's on it's own roots or not.
 
Ken W Wilson
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Guy, I can't read you link. Is the fruit edible? I hope someone is working on back-crossing it?
 
lisa dabbs
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I bought a grafted Che from Edible Landscaping more than 10 years ago. It fruits every year but the fruit falls to the ground when is still green. Probable needs a male pollinator. The resulting fruits will have seeds. It's a very healthy little tree and doesn't sucker at all. I live in San Antonio, TX
 
Tyler Ludens
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lisa dabbs wrote:the fruit falls to the ground when is still green.


This article states that drop of unripe fruit may indicate a lack of water: https://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/che.html
 
Ken W Wilson
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Edible Lanscaping is taking orders for them now. I think they said they'll be ready in May. They were out last time I checked. I've got one ordered.
 
Rus Williams
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For what it's worth I ran the page that Guy linked to through google translate. Pretty ugly english, but understandable enough.

Formation of a chimera intergeneric graft of Cudrania tricupisdata var. inermis on Maclura pomifera
It all started with a cleft grafting of Cudrania tricuspidata var. inermis on a rootstock Maclura pomifera, 4 years old, which was carried out relatively late in the season in late April.
For a long time the transplant was a bleak appearance, foreshadowing a failure, but finally some eyes started late, followed by stunted growth of end of season.
When fall arrived, the young shoot was not sufficiently woody; the winter cold survival was compromised.
The following spring, the graft was totally parched appearance; even the rootstock seemed dead. Or, scraping bark, survival signs were present; It was the same at the callus grafting.
In late spring, young shoots appeared from the cal; exactly three, one of which seemed to withered appearance, I thought it was due to the strength of the other two shoots.

(two photos. Top two in Guy's post)

The initial appearance of two strong shoots left thinking it was the rootstock rejected.

(three photos of shoots. Bottom two in Guy's post)

But one of the two strong shoots eventually stand out a hairy foliage and cutting the foliage evoking that of a Chénopode; moreover, it had the characteristics of a Maclura thorns.

(three photos of stems)

The third puny grows, meanwhile, did not survive beyond two weeks.

It was now quite clear that grows velvety foliage was the result of a graft chimera.
So I removed the shoot that had the characteristics of the rootstock to leave the chimera push to promote the development of the latter.

(three photos of leaves)

As the chimera + Macludrania seems very stable, it is most likely a chimera pericline with the internal structure of a species, and the outer cell layer belonging to another species.
The species of the outer layer is yet to be confirmed; flower and bud are always formed in the outer cell layer, so the flowering fruiting bring us in the future for additional information.

 
Dan Boone
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In general I am fed up with sourcing rare/exotic/hard-to-find tree seeds in small numbers.  I pay five or ten bucks for a packet of seeds, I get five or seven or 12 or 15 hard-to-germinate seeds, I get maybe one or two seedlings if I'm lucky, and then the usual attrition in my tree nursery leaves me with nothing, except I'm two years older and thirty bucks poorer.  (I feel much the same way about buying one or two exotic live trees by mail order, only even poorer when I'm done.)

Nope, my new strategy for things I've been trying to get started in my systems for two or more years without success: buy lots of seed and let the numbers work for me.

At this point I've bought che seed in small packets from at least three places.  I've tried for three summers to grow a che tree.  And I've got nothing to show for it.

So, the other day I had a little bit of PayPal money to blow and I thought I'd take one more look for better sources of che trees or seed.  And what to my wondering eye should appear but a "New crop seed has finally arrived!" listing at Sheffield's Seed Company, showing more than five pounds of 2015 che seeds in stock.  Yay!

So I bought an ounce.  Twenty-two bucks including shipping and handling.  Ordered it on a Thursday and it got here the following Monday.  Sheffield's says 19,522 seeds per ounce, which would give me about 1200 seeds in my packet.  I don't think there are quite that many, but the seeds I got show a lot of size variability, and anyway I don't care.  Now I have enough seed:



I can winter sow some, I can fridge stratify some, I can scarify some, I can soak some, I can direct seed some in prepared locations, I can direct seed some in random locations, I could even put some in my bird feeder (though I probably won't).  Now the numbers game is working for me instead of against me.  Now I can finally grow some damned che trees.  Three years of screwing around has been at least two years too many. 

I have at least a dozen other trees, bushes, and perennial plants on my "want" list that have consistently defeated me when sourced as seed in small packets.  I believe I will be taking this bulk seed approach more often.  I'm not getting any younger; it's time to stop screwing around planting seeds three and five at a time.
 
Lance Kleckner
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even planting large amounts of seed can have the same results, as I know all too well.
 
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