The Messy and Delicious Mulberry
In recent years, the mulberry family (Morus sp.) has lost some popularity as an ornamental plant due to the messy berries, which resemble blackberries and (like blackberries) stain sidewalks, clothes, and more. However, for many years mulberries were tremendously popular small tree in rural and urban areas alike because of their delicious berries.
Traditionally, families would set sheets on the ground around the foot of a mulberry tree and shake it until the ripe berries fell and could be collected to make pies, jams, jellies, juices, and many other foods. Mulberries are also delicious fresh.
Humans aren’t the only creatures who love mulberries. They are extremely popular with songbirds, game birds, and many other species of wildlife. Farmers used to plant them near orchards and berry patches in an attempt to distract the local wildlife long enough to harvest the more valuable orchard fruits and berries. Mulberries are also popular with some livestock, especially pigs and poultry. In Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture, J. Russell Smith describes farmers who uses everbearing mulberries as the primary or even exclusive source of food for hogs in summer.
By far the most common native mulberry in the United States is the Red Mulberry (Morus rubra), which is native to most of the eastern United States and Ontario. The Texas Mulberry (Morus microphylla) is native to Texas and the Southwest. Two Asian mulberries, the White Mulberry (Morus alba), which was originally imported in an unsuccessful attempt to start a North American silk industry and is now considered invasive in many states, and the Black Mulberry (Morus nigra), are also commonly grown in the United States.
Mulberries spread prolifically because birds and other wildlife spread the seeds, so they should ideally be planted in areas where they can run a little wild without interfering with planned landscaping (yours or anyone else’s). They prefer moist soils, but are tolerant of a range of conditions.