Mulberry (Moras spp.) is a fruit producing tree that can provide gardeners tasty fruits. This tree also has a rich history.
Native red mulberry trees have been enjoyed by people in North America for centuries. On expedition in the mid-1500s De Soto observed Muskogee Indians eating dried mulberry fruits. Over winter the Iroquois mashed, dried, and stored the fruit to later add to water, making warm sauces that were occasionally mixed into cornbread. Cherokees made sweet dumplings by mixing cornbread and sugar with mulberries. The Timucua people of northeast Florida used the fruit, along with the tree's leaves and twigs, to make dyes, and the Seminoles used the branches to make bows.
The introduced white mulberry was brought from China in the early 1800s as a host plant for silk worms in hopes of establishing silk production in the United States. Trees were planted throughout the United States; however, silk production was too costly a venture. Despite the failure of the silk industry, the mulberry trees did well.
The mulberry plant family, Moraceae, also includes figs, jackfruit, and breadfruit. Mulberry trees produce small, sweet fruits that resemble slender blackberries. Mulberry fruits are quite popular with wildlife. Visiting creatures will reduce the harvest for your personal use, but on a good sized tree there should be enough fruits for all to enjoy.
These deciduous trees can have male and female flowers on the same plant (monoecious) or different plants (dioecious). Berries ripen in late spring or summer. If you select a dioecious type be sure you plant both a male and female tree to insure fruit production. Be sure to pay attention when purchasing trees, there are also weeping and contorted mulberry trees that are purely ornamental and do not produce fruit. Red mulberry trees and white mulberry trees can both grow quite large while black mulberry trees are generally the smallest. When considering their mature size, black mulberry trees may be the most practical choice for home gardens.
Red mulberry (Morus rubra), is a native, deciduous tree, found in moist soils from South Florida to west Texas. Also called American Mulberry, this tree grows to heights of 40 feet tall with the tree growing taller in the northern parts of its range. The pollen from male trees is extremely allergenic while female trees cause few to no allergies. These trees produce reddish or black fruits that are considered to be good quality. Red mulberry trees grow fairly quickly and are able to provide you with shade and fruit relatively soon after planting.
Despite the name, fruit from white mulberry (Morus alba) trees can actually be pink, black, purple, or white. White mulberry trees actually get their name from the color of the flower buds, not their variably colored fruits. These fruits, while sweet, are described by some as insipid when compared to red and black mulberries. Flower buds on white mulberry trees emerge a bit before those on red mulberry trees and well before those black mulberry trees. This is a large tree that grows up to 60 feet tall and has some salt and wind tolerance.
Black mulberry (Morus nigra) is native to western Asia and the Middle East. This mulberry tree produces what many consider to be the highest quality mulberry fruits. Fruit from these trees is almost without exception black. Black mulberry trees are more popular in warmer, drier areas like California; when grown in Florida, they're generally smaller with a more bush-like habit. If you're looking for a mulberry bush worthy of the nursery rhyme, black mulberry just may fit the bill.
Planting and Care
Mulberry trees can be planted in many Florida landscapes as they thrive in infertile, sandy soils, are drought tolerant after establishment, and moderately wind resistant. These trees do best in full sun to light shade. Native red mulberry trees are usually found growing in the shade of larger trees.
When choosing a location, keep in mind that fallen fruits stain the surfaces they land on, so it's best to avoid planting over driveways, sidewalks, and patios. Selecting a light-fruited cultivar can also cut down on the mess factor; look for 'Tehama' or 'King White Pakistan'.
Mulberry trees require very little maintenance; they rarely require irrigation after establishment and generally do not require fertilization. As far as pruning goes, you can perform light pruning when trees are young to help create a strong framework of branches. With a mature tree, you should only prune to remove dead or damaged wood or crossing limbs, since the wounds caused when removing a major branches are slow to callous. Be careful when pruning your tree, mulberry trees have milky sap which can causes skin rashes in some people.