Mulberry trees have several scientific names: Morus alba for white mulberry, Morus nigra for black mulberry and Morus rubra for red, otherwise known as the American mulberry. Each variety has its own features. It is native to Africa, America, Asia and Europe. More than 150 species have been identified, but 10 to 15 are the most common. The red mulberry tree can bear fruit up to 75 years. The white mulberry originated in China, where its leaves were used to feed the silkworm. The black mulberry originated in Asia and in Europe and has been prized for its fruit since before Roman times.
Identifying Mulberry Trees
Mulberry trees are deciduous, which means their leaves drop in the autumn. They reach heights of 35 to 80 feet, depending on the variety and growing conditions. They grow quickly over the first few years, but then the growth rate drops dramatically. Leaves have serrated edges and are large with lobes. Fruit is produced throughout the growing season and can be white, red or black. Fruit is similar in appearance to a blackberry or raspberry.
Mulberry trees can be grown in large containers but are normally found in the wild. They are not usually used in landscaping. The berries stain everything they fall on. Birds spread the seeds everywhere, making the tree invasive in home landscaping. They are capable of coping with droughts and less than desirable soil conditions. While the white mulberry resists cold better than other cultivars, most mulberries don't do well in zones colder than 7. They need lots of space and full sun. Mulberries are wind-resistant and prefer well-drained soil.
Caring for Mulberry Trees
Most mulberries need very little fertilization. An annual application of 10-10-10 NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) is adequate. The trees should be watered during dry periods to prevent unripened fruit from dropping. Pruning of young trees to determine a framework and then annual pruning to remove dead or damaged branches or to thin a bit is all that's needed.
Uses for Mulberries
The mulberry is a folk remedy used to treat a wide variety of ailments including asthma, bronchitis, cold, constipation, diarrhea, sleeplessness, headache, sore throats and more. Each variety has a unique taste and lends itself to certain uses. Some are suitable for wines and cordials. Others are better when used for pies, tarts, jams and jellies. They can be eaten dried or fresh.
Occasionally a tree will develop cankers or dieback, which are problems associated with their vascular system. Remove the affected limbs and give the tree a good soaking. White and red mulberries are ready to pick in the late spring. Black mulberries take until mid to late summer before they are ripe. White mulberries can be picked easily by spreading a sheet under the tree and shaking the limbs. Red and black are more troublesome as they cling to the tree and tend to squish when grasped, leaving a red stain on the skin.