1270 Morus rubraCommon Names: red mulberry,American mulberry Family: Moraceae (mulberry Family)
Red mulberry is a rounded, wide spreading tree to 40 ft (12 m) tall with a spread up to 50 ft (15 m) across. The grayish bark is scaly with irregular ridges and grooves. Red mulberry has a short trunk that starts branching low. Cut twigs and leaf stems exude a milky sap. The leaves are deciduous and alternate, mostly ovate, but usually some leaves are tri-lobed or mitten shaped, even on the same tree. (It is usually the younger trees that have the most lobed leaves.) The leaves are large, up to 5 in (13 cm) long or even larger, with pointed tips, slightly heart shaped bases and toothed margins. They turn yellow before dropping in autumn. The mulberries themselves look like elongate blackberries (Rubus) up to an inch and a quarter (3 cm) long, starting out red and becoming dark purple when ripe. Each “fruit” is actually composed of many tiny drupes packed closely together.
There are four species of mulberries that can be found growing in the wild in the US. Only the red mulberry and the Texas mulberry (M. microphylla) are native; the others have escaped cultivation and are now reproducing on their own. Red mulberry can be identified by leaves that are rough (like fine sandpaper) and dull green (not smooth and shiny) on top, and hairy on the undersides; and young twigs that are hairy (not smooth). White mulberry (M. alba) has leaves that are smooth and shiny on top, and young stems that are smooth. The leaves of black mulberry (M. nigra) are strongly heart shaped. Texas mulberry has leaves that are much smaller than the others, at just 1-2 in (2-5 cm) long.
Morus rubra occurs naturally in mixed forests, open woodlands, river valleys and floodplain forests from the Great Plains, eastward throughout North America from Ontario to Florida. Red mulberry trees do not form pure stands, but occur occasionally in forested lowland areas, rarely up to 2300 ft (700 m) in elevation.
The Asian invasive white mulberry (M. alba) generally occurs in disturbed habitats. It is known to hybridize with red mulberry. Black mulberry has been reported from just a few locations in North America and Texas mulberry is found locally in Texas and southwestern North America.
Light: Mulberry does best in full sun, and tolerates partial shade quite well. Moisture: : Mulberry likes a moist but well drained soil that is fertile and rich in organics. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 9 . Propagation: Sow seed outdoors in containers in autumn. Cuttings from fast growing stem tips can be rooted, as can cuttings from semi-ripe stems. Even rather large sticks of young wood can be used for cuttings.
Red mulberry is cultivated as a specimen tree and for its edible fruits. The fruits are sweet and used for wines, jams and pies, but, by most accounts, are not as tasty as those of the introduced white mulberry. Many kinds of birds and mammals go bonkers over the fruits, though. The leaves of red mulberry are eaten by caterpillars of the mourning cloak butterfly.
Native Americans valued red mulberries for food, of course, but they also used infusions of the roots and bark to treat intestinal worms, dysentery, and urinary problems.
The wide spreading habit makes for a beautiful tree that may require occasional pruning to maintain its desirable shape. Red mulberry is best used in larger landscapes and parks, and not near clotheslines, sidewalks, driveways or sitting areas because the fruits and bird droppings can make a mess. Unfortunately, there are no non-fruiting cultivars available as there are for white mulberry.
Red mulberry is listed as Endangered or Threatened in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Michigan and Ontario, due largely to hybridization with the introduced white mulberry.
Steve Christman August 30, 2016