Unusual & Old Fashioned Fruit Trees

Mulberry - Morus Nigra

The Mulberry is not one of our native trees, but it can be grown without protection and will flourish in the south of Britain reaching only about 20 feet high.


Mulberries grow wild in Asia and are cultivated throughout Europe, as far north as Sweden. It is believed that trees have been in Britain since being introduced by the Romans. The oldest surviving Mulberry tree in Britain, is thought to be at Syon House, Brentford, and having been introduced from Persia in 1548, it is still only 22 feet high.


In 1608 King James the first, issued an edict encouraging the cultivation of Mulberry trees in an attempt to create a home grown British silk industry as it was known that silk worms feed on Mulberry leaves. However, the scheme was a dismal failure because the Black (Nigra) Mulberry was the species that was imported, whereas silkworms prefer the larger Chinese Native, White (Alba) Mulberry.


It is said that Mulberry trees can easily be propagated by cuttings taken in February. Most tree are difficult to root from cuttings, especially large pieces of old wood, but apparently pieces of Mulberry up to 8 feet are said to root easily. When branches are cut they ooze a white sticky fluid not unlike the latex produced by Rubber trees. Mulberrry trees often produce irregular shaped leaves, specially the white variety and specially from the suckers that they can throw up. They are very late to leaf up in the Spring and the leaves of the Mulberry are one of the last to appear in the new season. Old trees may need their larger branches supporting as they become brittle and can snap off under their own weight. Mulberry trees have a short trunk with their branches spreading as far as their height and their unattractive flowers are unisex. That is to say that the sex pollination parts of the flower are in separate spikes, or small catkins.


Planted in a warm sheltered site the slow growing Black Mulberry should produce fruit that will ripen and look not unlike a Raspberry or Blackberry. The easiest way to harvest the berries is to wait until they are very ripe, spread a clean sheet under and round the tree, and simply shake the tree very gently to make the berries fall. The ripe berries have both laxative and expectorant qualities and are used in modern medicine in the preparation of a syrup that will also relieve sore throats. The bark of Mulberry Nigra is reputed to be anthelmintic and is used to expel tape worm. Regardless of any medicinal qualities the berries are also a firm favourite for making jams and wine as they are full of natural sugar.


Apart from the Alba and Nigra varieties there are others including French and American which are even less suitable for English gardens, however several Canadian cultivars such as Carmen and Ivory (both white berried) have been bred that are both quick to fruit and quite hardy, but not readily available in England from garden centres.

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