What Is a White Mulberry Tree?

Overview

White mulberry (Morus alba) has many common names: Chinese white mulberry, common mulberry, Russian mulberry, silkworm mulberry, chi sang, chin sang and moral blanco. It is a shrubby, fruiting tree with a rounded crown and a dense array of branches.. The name "white" mulberry arises from the color of the fruit of some varieties. The edible berries can also be pink or light to darker purple. Medium green leaves can grow to 7 inches in length and can range in shape from deeply lobed or dissected to ovoid. The species has become naturalized on three continents--Asia, Europe and North America.

History

The white mulberry is native to China and is a host plant for the silkworm. Cultivated for centuries in the Old World, various varieties have been bred for a number of forms, growth habits and uses. The earliest settlers introduced it to America as a way of fostering a domestic silk industry.

Landscape Value

Experts disagree on the landscape value of white mulberry. Its adaptability makes it perfect for difficult situations, including dry or alkaline soil, however, that same quality makes it invasive in some areas. Rows of mulberries have been used for windbreaks and for erosion control. The berries are attractive to birds and other wildlife, but also create abundant, sticky litter when they drop or are excreted by birds. Some varieties and hybrids, including those with weeping habits or deeply dissected foliage, are decorative enough to be used as specimen trees.

Uses

White mulberry is among the most useful of plants. The sweet fruits can be made into wine or eaten raw, cooked or preserved; while leaves, stems and fruits have historically been used for a wide variety of medicinal purposes. The leaves can be eaten as a vegetable by humans or as fodder for cattle or hogs. Flexible white mulberry wood has been made into tennis rackets, hockey sticks, furniture, boats and houses. The fibrous stems have also been used for paper making.

Varieties

Many white mulberries exist, suitable for various uses. 'Pendula' and 'Chaparral' are weeping types, and the latter is fruitless. 'White Fruiting' is renowned for extra-large, tasty white berries, while Morus alba 'Kokuso' bears sweet black fruits. The dwarf 'Nuclear Blast' grows to only 3 feet tall and has lacy, dissected foliage. ''Green Paper Doll' is a small tree (10-12 feet tall at maturity) that bears black fruit and has attractively cut foliage.

Considerations

Litter from dark fruited varieties can stain concrete and light colored paving stones. For specimen trees near sitting or living areas, it is best to choose either non-fruiting varieties like 'Fruitless' or, if fruit is desired, white or light-berried cultivars.

Keywords: white mulberry, morus alba, mulberry

About this Author

Elisabeth Ginsburg, a writer with twenty years' experience, earned an M.A. from Northwestern University and has done advanced study in horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden. Her work has been published in the "New York Times," "Christian Science Monitor," "Horticulture Magazine" and other national and regional publications.