1138 Morus albaCommon Names: white mulberry Family: Moraceae (mulberry Family)
White mulberry is a deciduous tree that can get 30-50 ft (9.1-15.2 m) tall with an irregular, spreading crown that gets just as wide. The rounded crown is thick and dense, with many crossing slender branches. Leaves are alternate, 2-6 in (5-15 cm) long, toothed all along the margins, and variably shaped. Leaves may be entire, three-lobed, or mitten shaped (left or right handed), even on the same tree. Young bark, root bark and inner bark are often bright orange, but the bark on trunks and older limbs is gray. White mulberry is dioecious. (That is, it takes two to tango.) Female trees produce inch (2.5 cm) -long aggregates of tiny drupes that start out green and ripen to red or purple. The aggregates look superficially like raspberries, which also are aggregates of drupes. The fruits are insipid: sweet, but relatively flavorless. White mulberry looks a lot like the North American native, red mulberry (Morus rubra), but the former has shiny leaves, whereas the leaves of red mulberry are not shiny. There have been reports that the two species may hybridize; if so, identification means all bets are off.
There are white mulberry cultivars selected for a weeping habit ('Pendula' is one); forms with yellow leaves; dwarf shrub types that get less than 3 ft (1 m) tall; and some with different shaped leaves. Many of the cultivars are males that produce no fruit. (The prolific fruitdrop from female trees can be a big nuisance to all but hungry birds.)
Morus alba is native to China. It was intentionally brought to the US in the 1700s as a food for silkworms, when colonists thought they might be able to produce silk commercially. The species invades disturbed areas such as old fields, roadsides and vacant lots. Today white mulberry has become established in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and all of the lower 48 states except Nevada, as well as in much of Europe and Asia.
CultureLight: White mulberry will do well in full sun to light shade. Moisture: Once established, white mulberry is quite tolerant of occasional droughts. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 9. Propagation: Seeds should be stratified under cool, damp conditions for a couple months before planting. Propagate selections from young, fast growing tip cuttings taken in spring.
This is a fast growing, usually short lived tree. It is quite drought tolerant, tolerant of a wide range of pHs, tolerant of urban conditions and tolerant of seaside salty environments. The thick, dense canopy provides excellent shade in summer.
White mulberry has been cultivated as a food for silkworms for more than 5000 years. It still is; nylon and other synthetic fabrics cannot quite mimic the characteristics of true silk, and white mulberry is the only thing the silkworms eat.
White mulberry has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine. Extracts from the leaves seem to have antibacterial properties and have been used in the treatment of arthritis, hypertension and as a dental anesthetic for toothache. The orange colored root bark has been used as a diuretic, expectorant, sedative, and to expel tapeworms.
Birds love the fruits and wind up depositing gallons of bright purple excretion, staining sidewalks, patios, cars, and anything else under the birds’ perch. Of course the seeds within the birds’ purple deposits are the cause of mulberry’s prolific spreading. Choose non-fruiting varieties if you don’t want purple splotches in your environment. The North American native, red mulberry (M. rubra), and the European, black mulberry (M. nigra) both produce fruit that is excellent to eat.
The species white mulberry invades disturbed areas where it can displace native species. For this reason, the non-fruiting cultivars are recommended. Also, the prolific fruit drop from the female trees can be very messy, especially with the help of loose, careless birds.
Steve Christman 5/7/11; updated 8/28/16