Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Morning Mulberry Trees

Some of you long-time Arborealists may recall the “mulberry mysteries” of last year.

To summarize for our new readers, during my first year in southeastern Pennsylvania I have learned that there are at least four varieties of mulberry trees growing domestically and semi-wild throughout the surrounding area. Furthermore, it is entirely possible that there are unique cultivars from cross-pollination, and that these varieties may be indistinguishable from common species (at least at first glance).

The four varieties I’ve read about include Red mulberry (Morus rubra), White mulberry (Morus alba), Black mulberry (Morus nigra), and Paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera). They each have some distinguishing characteristics, but overall I have had limited success with telling them apart. According to The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees: Eastern Region; Elbert L. Little, there are roughly 1400 species in the mulberry family (Moraceae) world-wide; in Eastern North America we can find five native and three naturalized species.

I can see common attributes among certain mulberries, so I know there are a few distinct varieties here at the farm. Characteristics include growth habit, over-all shape, leaf shape and texture, and preferred growing location. Still, there’s nothing definitive for me to point to which makes me confident with identification (not yet, that is).

Today’s images are of a particular species which is common around the farm (this one grows just outside the cottage, so I see it each morning). I believe this variety to be either the Black or the White mulberry.

If you have an opinion on this mulberry’s identity, or tips and tricks from your experience with identifying mulberries in your neighborhood, please do share! In the mean time, I will continue with the mulberry mystery chronicles. Sooner or later, we will find an answer.

Side note: the mulberry family Moraceae also includes the Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera).


  1. Wish I could help, but all I know is that the berries are delicious (if you can beat the birds to them), and they cause purple bird droppings to be visible on your vehicle while they're in season.

  2. Hi, I found you via Salix and enjoyed my read in your arbor.

  3. To distinguish Mulberrys:
    Paper Mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera) Leaves are densely hairy, and the fruit is round.

    White Mulberry (Morus alba) Aggressive tree but shade intolerant, leaves are usually glossy above and the margins have rounded teeth. Ripe fruits tend to be lighter (think pink to purple) than M. rubra or M. nigra, though this is not always the case.

    Red Mulberry (Morus rubra)
    Uncommon, but shade tolerant and prefers moist sites. Can grow to a fairly large size. The leaves are usually rough on top, margins have pointed teeth, and are not as glossy as M. alba.

    Black Mulberry (Morus nigra) similar to M. rubra, it is the shortest of the lot, often with a twisted, leaning trunk. The best clue is strongly cordate (heart shaped) leaf bases.

    See also:

    based on your photos, your trees are either M. rubra or nigra, I'm leaning towards M. nigra based on size and shape.

    Sorry for the post length, hope that helps.


  4. Lisa, I'll be on the look out for purple poopies!

    Princess Haiku, so glad you joined us! Stop by any time.

    Sam, thanks so much for all that great information! I'll try to collect some more details to see if I can match them up with your guidelines. Overall, I've been inclined to think I have black mulberries around here, and the details seem consistent with your description.

    Thanks again!


  5. Wow, I am also trying to figure out my mulberry dilemma. I love my mulberries. I have owned my house in Minnesota for 5 years. The two years I had great joy eating my produce. The second year, my neighbor put up a fence right next to the tree and it started to die back (only on my side of the fence somehow). The tree is in my yard, the fruit is in my neighbors.
    So I figured I would allow any of the shoots to come up and move it around a bit to determine where it likes the best. I now have 5 three year old Mulberry trees. Not a single one of them is less than 17 feet tall. This is the first year they will produce. But, now my dilemma. How in the world do I harvest this orchard?
    I love the fruit. If I can figure out a good way to harvest, I will have several bushels to eat/can/sell.....
    Can I cut these back and keep them smaller? Should I fertilize, would people buy them if I were to plant a few more trees? What cultivar do people think this probably is?
    I will post some pictures if you would like?
    Thanks. I am glad I found your blog, sorry I am rambling so much.


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