Articles written by Darryl McCullough (unless otherwise noted)

Sunday, June 26, 2016


This is about che--- the fruit tree Cudrania tricuspidata, not the mixed-success revolutionary. It's related to the mulberry, close enough that in China its leaves serve as a backup food for the silkworm when mulberry leaves are scarce. The sweet, round fruit is mulberry-like in form, but reported to taste quite different, with a delicious watermelon-like flavor.

No freeze tolerance worries with che--- it can handle winter temperatures below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Two traits limiting its appeal have been the three to six small seeds in each fruit, and the fact that the small, shrubby trees are dioecious--- both a male and a female are required. Now, however, there is a seedless, self-fertile variety available.

Seedling trees take up to 10 years to fruit, but che is readily grafted onto another mulberry relative, the osage orange, which also prevents suckering and produces a tree form, rather than the natural shrubby habit.

It wasn't until I looked up some images that I recognized the osage orange as a familiar tree from my youth in Ohio. This picture of its fruit by Gale French is in the Wikimedia Commons. Though its fruit is inedible, the osage orange is an interesting tree worth an article of its own. The seeds are edible, though said to be difficult to obtain, and the dense wood has the highest BTU content of any North American fuel wood.

This spring I obtained my seedless, self-fertile che from master grafter Wayne Clifton. It's joined my three persimmon trees in a sunny area, not irrigated but well-mulched. If the fruit is a tasty as I expect, the che's small size, hardiness and beautiful foliage make it an attractive edible landscaping choice.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Magnificent Seven Update

Back in March, I wrote about how Josh and I dug a big hole in the ground, and filled it with chopped-up banana plants and other compostable matter, and put some of the soil in a mound that partially encircles the hole, and added topsoil and manure onto the mound, and covered the whole thing with a thick layer of mulch from local tree crews. And about how when spring came, I planted seven small papayas on the mound, and staked them well so that the ring-tailed forest gods couldn't trample them on their nightly rounds.

What a difference three months can make! The middle three in this family portrait are Sunrise, one of the major commercial varieties in Hawaii. The tallest stands at least eight feet and already sports more than a dozen fruit. The right-hand two were sold as “from seeds from Costa Rica”. The two on the left are the rare broadleaf variety, grown from seeds that I got from Berto Silva when he spoke to the MRFC last year.

Here's the trunk on the largest Sunrise--- no need for staking now! Sunrise is known to be a tall, fast grower that produces relatively small-sized fruit. Given my healthy aversion to ladders, a tall variety was not a wise choice. But to look on the bright side, one of these days I'll get to write about techniques for topping papaya plants.

The Costa Ricans are slower-growing, and to this point only one carries a fruit. So far they look like ordinary papaya plants.

It's difficult to find much information about the broadleaf papayas. As best I can determine from online sources, they are a variety of the standard species, Carica papaya. Daley's in Australia touts the fruit  and says that only female and hermaphrodite specimens have been found. Several in the gang at Tropical Fruit Forum report that it's a slow grower, but though mine can't match the vigorous Sunrise, they are keeping up with the Costa Ricans. Some specimens have red petioles, but mine have only a reddish tinge. Unless Berto was very, very careful, mine could be outcrossings with ordinary varieties, but who knows?

Friends tell me that unprotected papayas sometimes end up with worms and sometimes not. I'll see how the unprotected fruits of each variety turn out, but I'm also trying some nylon bags from the Territorial Seed Company. They are fairly inexpensive and very easy to use. I'll let you know whether they actually work.

With any luck, I'll be able to report taste tests on these three varieties.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Bad Apple

A tip of the hat to Jeanie Glass for the link to this recent article by Dan Nosowitz about the deadly manchineel tree, Hippomane mancinella.

The manchineel grows in Florida, and according to IFAS it's usually a tall shrub found along seacoasts and in brackish swamps where it grows among mangroves. As you can see in this photo by Hans Hillewaert at the Wikimedia Commons, the fruit of the manchineel looks something like a small green apple, giving rise to its totally inappropriate common name of beach apple.

The fruit actually has a sweet, pleasant taste, but it and the entire tree are violently poisonous:

---The sap can cause burn-like blisters on the skin.

---Smoke from the burning wood can injure the eyes.

---Radiologist Nikola Strickland gave this description of taking one bite of the fruit:
[Moments later,] we noticed a strange peppery feeling in our mouths, which gradually progressed to a burning, tearing sensation and tightness of the throat. The symptoms worsened over a couple of hours until we could barely swallow solid food because of the excruciating pain and the feeling of a huge obstructing pharyngeal lump. Sadly, the pain was exacerbated by most alcoholic beverages, although mildly appeased by piña coladas, but more so by milk alone.

Over the next eight hours our oral symptoms slowly began to subside, but our cervical lymph nodes became very tender and easily palpable. Recounting our experience to the locals elicited frank horror and incredulity, such was the fruit's poisonous reputation.
Not surprisingly, native people used the sap to tip poisoned arrows, and legend has it that one of these ended the life of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León.

The manchineel is apparently toxic to all mammals, but healthy fare for iguanas. And the wood, aged until the sap has lost its potency, is used in cabinetry.

As mentioned Nosowitz's article, the manchineel is a relative of the familiar (and also poisonous) poinsettia plant. While the manchineel can claim to be the most deadly tree, there are even more dangerous plants even here in Florida. A quarter inch of the stem of the spotted water hemlock Cicuta maculata can be fatal.

It deepens my appreciation of the ability of wild creatures to figure out what to eat, without the help of tribal knowledge or smartphones.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

To Fest Or Not To Fest

The annual Fairchild Mango Festival is only a few weeks off. One of my acquaintances, Hammy (is that short for Hamilton?), has been thinking about going. He's a bit of an odd fellow--- claims to be descended from Danish royalty--- and he seems to have a lot of trouble making decisions. Called me up the other day to tell me about his deliberations. As I recall, it went something like this:

To fest or not to fest, that is the question
For each year's Fairchild mango celebration.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The heat and crowds of peerless mango show
Or stay at home in air-conditioned bliss,
And down a couple cold ones. South to drive
No more, and in our comfy home forget
The steam bath, and the thousand stinging bugs
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a recreation
Gladly to forswear. To rest, to sleep
Perchance to dream of unknown mango kind
Of taste supreme. Ay, there's the rub.
For those exotic mangos that we'll miss
By passing up Sir Richard Campbell's bash
Must give us pause. Such is the fear
That keeps us going back each year.

(with deep apologies to William Shakespeare)