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The Mulberries
Nature Bulletin No. 498-A   September 15, 1973
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

THE MULBERRIES
Here we go round the mulberry bush, The mulberry bush, the mulberry bush, Here we go round the mulberry bush, So early in the morning.

This Mother Goose jingle alludes to the lure that a mulberry tree, laden with ripening fruit, has for children and for throngs of birds that feast upon it from dawn until dark.

Our Red Mulberry, native to the eastern half of the United States, is the largest of about a dozen species found in temperate regions of both the Old and New Worlds. A small to medium-sized tree with a round- topped crown, it is commonly 25 to 40 feet -- tall and 12 to 18 inches in diameter, although sometimes much larger in southern bottomlands where it is more numerous. Most of its leaves, edged with coarse teeth, are oval or heart-shaped but some are deeply cut into two lobes, like mittens, and some into three .

The inconspicuous male and female flowers, both like small catkins, are usually borne on different trees 90 that some produce pollen and others bear fruit. The fruit is reddish purple or black and resembles a slender blackberry about an inch long. They are very juicy and have a fine flavor when eaten raw or made into pies, jellies and jams. But they are too soft to market and soon fall on the ground. The golden-brown mulberry wood is soft and weak but so durable in soil that farmers prize the trees for fence posts. The Indians made ropes, thread, and woven cloth from the fibrous inner bark.

The White Mulberry has been cultivated in China for thousands of years to furnish food for the silkworm. The caterpillars, reared on trays, are fed freshly picked mulberry leaves several times daily until, when mature, each spins a cocoon of silken filaments. These are later unwound and spun into thread -- a laborious process. This industry and its cultivation of the white mulberry spread to Japan, India and other parts of the Orient. It reached Asia Minor during the Roman Empire, France during the 1600'8, and was brought to Virginia in 1631.

After many failures in the American colonies, because of the amount of cheap labor required, that idea was abandoned but the white mulberry escaped and has spread until, in most regions, it outnumbers our native red mulberry. Its fruit -- white, pink or even purple -- is so small and insipid that it is usually ignored but many ornamental kinds have been developed from this species.

One of the most common is the Russian Mulberry used for clipped hedges and other landscape plantings. An especially hardy bushy type was introduced into some of our western states by Russian Mennonites to serve as windbreaks. One of the most popular ornamentals, the Teas Weeping Mulberry, is produced by rafting a Teas variety onto the top of a straight trunk of an ordinary Russian mulberry. The Paper Mulberry of eastern Asia and South Pacific island is the source of the famous tapa cloth -- some of it thin as paper, some like leather -- prepared by properly soaking and pounding the inner bark.

That Mother Goose rhyme is for the birds.


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