The Chinese Strawberry Tree (Chinese Mulberry Tree), Cudrania tricuspidata, has been extensively planted in American because of its huge potential for bearing unique red strawberries that, once picked from the tree, have the appearance of a giant raspberry. The Chinese Strawberry fruit is more rounded than a mulberry, which is usually elongated. The Chinese Strawberry Tree is sometimes called a Chinese mulberry, because in China, the strawberry tree leaf looks like a miniature version of a mulberry tree leaf. The strawberry tree leaves in China are used to feed silk worms for the Chinese silk trade, like the mulberry leaf has been used for many centuries for the same purpose. In China, the Chinese strawberry fruit is sold in grocery stores, where the berry has a shelf life comparable to the red raspberry. Having only been grown in American for less than 80 years, the Chinese strawberry tree is relatively unknown except for fruit explorers and research hybridizers.
Several cultivar strains of the Chinese strawberry tree are distributed in the United States: one that is monoecious (male and female on the same plant) and the other dicecious (distinct male plants and distinct female plants).
Only the internet plant nursery site, TyTy Nursery, offers Chinese strawberry trees that require only one tree for strawberry fruit formation, but other sites offer Chinese strawberry trees that require male and female trees to be planted to grow a crop of strawberries.
Young trees of Chinese strawberry trees grow numerous thorns on the branches, but amazingly, the thorns fall off the twigs and tree trunk as the dense bark hardens and expands with age.
The strawberry fruit resembles a large red raspberry and can grow as large as a half-dollar. Generally as the tree ages, the size of the red strawberries increases as well as the strawberry numbers in the giant clusters. The weight of the red strawberry fruit clusters is so great at harvest time that the branches become weeping in form, resulting in easy-to-pick strawberry fruit. The Chinese strawberry tree is extremely productive as it matures, and a 15 year old tree can grow 20 bushels of strawberry fruits on a 40 foot tree. The strawberry tree appears to be reliable in fruit production year after year. The strawberry crop is picked by hand on younger trees, and as the strawberry fruit grows higher in the upper limbs of the trees, the branches can be shook to harvest the berry crop on sheets or canvases placed underneath the tree.
The flower of the Chinese strawberry fruit is unique—a blend of tastes and aromas from ripe fig, mulberry, Japanese persimmon, and even cantelope. The fully ripe Chinese Strawberry will develop a deep red transparency with hints of blue or purple when it is at its sweetest taste. The strawberry fruit can be eaten ripe from the tree, or it can be made into cobblers, pies, shortcakes, jams, jellies, or fermented into a red wine.
The Chinese strawberry fruit develops from small white flowers in April and grows rapidly as it ripens within large clusters of 8-10 berries. The fruit within the cluster ripens unevenly, like the ground strawberry, and begins maturing in July, ready to be harvested from the tree as late as September.
The Chinese Strawberry Tree is very easy to plant and grow and is generally sold as a bare-root dormant tree in the fall and winter. The strawberry tree can be adaptable in practically any type of soil and is highly drought tolerant and resistant to cold weather, where it has survived temperatures of -20*F in Chicago, Illinois to fruit prolifically the following summer. The young trees often require several years of growing to produce strawberry fruit; a 6-8 foot strawberry tree can grow berries the first year of planting, if you buy a larger tree to plant. The strawberry tree is vigorous when watered and coached with liquid fertilizer.
Once established to grow vigorously, the leaf cover is dense and can completely block out street noise and the sight of neighbors. The canopy of the tree can extend 40 feet wide, and the tree can grow 40 feet tall. The root system spreads rapidly outwards from the trunk, the same 40 foot spread of the canopy. The Chinese strawberry tree, when dormant, can be easily transplanted from one location in the landscape garden to another, unlike most other fruit trees.
Every grower of rare plants should have the Chinese strawberry tree growing in his fruit orchard or home garden. Great interest has been shown in the horticulture research developers to adapt this vegetatively propagated tree into financial ventures for distribution of the Chinese strawberry fruit to American grocery markets—a berry with a larger size and better shelf life than the red-raspberry. The gigantic fruiting potential of a Chinese strawberry planting could also offer food and shade for domestic animals and a source of inexpensive food for wildlife.
The Other Strawberry Tree from Europe—Arbutus unedo
The Strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo, originated in Europe where it grows wild in many countries. The strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo, was introduced last century into America as a curiosity plant to study for the use of human consumption. The strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo, grows into a small tree or large shrub with waxy, shiny, green leaves and white flowers. The strawberry fruit is red when mature, round, and has a tolerable taste to some growers and an unacceptable one to others. The fruit of the strawberry tree may be eaten fresh, cooked as pudding, jelly, or fermented into wine. The strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo, has been grown in some strates other than southern California, but it is not as cold hardy (Zone 8-11) as the Chinese strawberry tree, nor as productive in berry crops. The European strawberry fruit is loved by birds and some wildlife.
By Pat Rick