Mysterious Mulberries

Mulberry trees line the sides of country backroads and make for the perfect snack.


| November/December 2016


They’re everywhere in summertime: Mulberry trees with berries the size of your thumb raining down upon you by the hundreds, and there’s another tree just like it every 10 feet. Branches are loaded down with fruit and are pouring out onto sidewalks, lawns, park benches, and meadows. Mulberry trees produce fruit in such a staggering quantity, I often wonder how there could possibly be starvation on the same planet where mulberries exist. The trees are prolific, and their fruit is delicious, incredibly nutritious, and best of all, free for the taking in lots of cases.

Yet people seem to despise them. Most often the complaints relate to stained sidewalks, fruit pulp tracked into the house on the soles of shoes, and lots and lots of purple bird poop on cars. Another complaint I hear about the mulberry is that they are an invasive species that competes with indigenous trees for space and nutrients, but this is only partially correct.

The red mulberry (Morus rubra), the one responsible for all of the magenta-hued avian excrement on your windshield, is indeed indigenous to eastern North America. Native Americans utilized the fruit as a food source and relied on other parts of the tree and its foliage for a variety of medicinal purposes. The white mulberry (Morus alba), on the other hand, was in fact introduced from Asia in a failed attempt to kick-start an American silk industry, as the leaves of white mulberry are the main food source for Bombyx mori, better known as the silkworm.

Because it hybridizes very easily with our own native M. rubra, there is some fear that white mulberry may eventually push red mulberry out altogether. Indeed, white mulberry is making an impact, but much like many other immigrants to this nation over the course of its history, white mulberry has found American soil quite hospitable and has become a contributor to our landscape.

Learning to Love Mulberries

There’s no need to describe where or how to find mulberry trees. If you live in the eastern United States, you’re probably already tripping over them every few feet. The fact is, most people aren’t looking for mulberries — they’re looking for ways to get rid of them. The enlightened among us, on the other hand, are eagerly anticipating the harvest.

The fruit of the red mulberry often gets compared to blackberries and black raspberries, as they are dark purple and grow in clusters. This is a natural comparison, but not a completely fair one, as the fruit of red mulberry has its own unique flavor and texture. Blackberries and raspberries tend to be quite tart, while mulberries tend to be sweeter and more delicate. All are aggregate fruits that contain many seeds. Blackberry and raspberry seeds tend to be hard and get stuck in your teeth, while those of the mulberry are quite tender and pleasantly dissolve into the fruit to the point that one hardly notices them while eating, even when raw.





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