The red mulberry (Morus rubra) is quite similar in many aspects to the white mulberry (Morus alba), except red mulberry is native to North America and white mulberry is not. The red mulberry, although possessing many traits that help make it an ideal ornamental tree for your landscape, also comes with enough drawbacks to make you weigh them against the benefits.
The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences website notes that a red mulberry has a wide-spreading form and a round shape when mature. The tree is small to medium in size and typically grows to between 40 and 60 feet high with a trunk diameter of 1 to 2 feet. An exception is the 63-foot-high individual from Oklahoma with a measured circumference around the trunk of 82 inches. The mulberry grows rapidly, but the trade-off for rapid development is a short life in this case, with few living to see their 100th birthday.
The leaves and fruit of the red mulberry are its two biggest assets. The leaves will be a variety of shapes on the tree, and even leaves growing right next to each other might be dissimilar. Some will be oval and oblong, while others will have multiple lobes. The dark green leaves change in autumn to a yellow shade and then fall off, even in warm climates. The red mulberry can have male and female flowers on the same tree, or these flowers may be on separate trees. The fruit will ripen two months after the emergence of the flowers in early spring. The fruit, much like that of the blackberry, grows to 1 1/2 inches long and ripens from green to a deep black-purple color.
The red mulberry grows in the wild from southern parts of Ontario just north of the eastern Great Lakes eastward to Massachusetts. From New England, the red mulberry’s range goes southward to all but southernmost Florida and from there west to central areas of Texas. The red mulberry grows northward through the eastern Great Plains as far north as southeastern Minnesota, southern Wisconsin and Michigan and through most of Ohio.
Conditions for Growth
The kind of soil you plant a red mulberry in matters little, as these trees readily adjust to an array of conditions. While the tree will grow best in grounds that are fertile and moist, red mulberry will still develop despite variable pH levels, rocky or sandy soil and a number of sun conditions, including partial shade. The tree will not show any ill effects when exposed to such problems as air pollution, salt, drought scenarios and different insect pests.
Red Mulberry Drawbacks
The form, leaves and the fact that the fruit of the red mulberry is edible for people as well as assorted wildlife make the tree a potential landscape choice. Red mulberry fruit, however, can cause stains on your sidewalks, driveways and vehicles, even if the tree is some distance from them. The culprit will be birds, which eat the berries and then “bomb” your property with the colorful waste products from their meal. Unlike white mulberry, a tree that comes in some fruitless hybrids, the red mulberry will bear fruit no matter the cultivar. Another potential problem is that the milky sap of mulberry precipitates rashes from contact with the stems and foliage in certain sensitive individuals.