UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

Phone: (863) 763-6469

E- mail:  indianco@ufl.edu

Quick Links:  3 Species  Paper Mulberry  Description  Landscape Use   Fun Facts   Growing Silkworms    References    

April 11, 2006

 Feature Article - for release the week of April 16, 2006

Dan Culbert - Extension Horticulture Agent

 RED, White & Black Mulberries for Florida yards

What’s black, white or red; good for the birds, and has been around since before Roman times?  I was reminded last week of a tasty fruit sometimes found in our Florida Yards.  It’s time to describe the good and bad points of an underutilized tree, the Mulberry.  Often overlooked as a landscape plant because of its messiness, the Mulberry is popular with both wildlife and people.

Red Mulberry tree

A Red Mulberry tree in the Florida landscape can add shade and fruit.  Photo: Dan Culbert  

Mulberries ripening 

Fruit of the Mulberries change from white to red to a deep purple black on the way to maturity. Photo: Dan Culbert  

Dwarf Mulberry 

Dwarf Mulberry bushes may fit into landscapes where a tree will not work. Photo: Dan Culbert 

Mulberry fruit

Mulberry fruit from "normal" cultivars (1 inch tall) and dwarf cultivars. Photo: Dan Culbert 

The experts disagree on the number of Mulberry species that exist, but many authorities focus on three major species grown under local conditions: our native Red Mulberry (Morus rubra), the White Mulberry (M. alba) from China, and the common Black Mulberry (M. nigra) from the Mid-east. Other more distant relatives of these fruitful plants include the breadfruit and the figs.

Red Mulberry trees are found though most of the eastern US. They can bring shade in a short period of time to our Florida Yards, a feature that maybe of interest to hurricane ravaged landscape owners. But rapid growth can result in weaker branches and a shorter life; both of these shortcomings can be improved if the young tree is trained for strength.

And did we mention the fruit? When you talk with persons familiar with mulberries, the fruit is both a blessing and a curse. Mulberries attract wildlife with its fruit: wild critters will reduce the amount of pickings available for humans, but on a good sized mulberry tree, there is enough for all.  Since birds may also leave their “calling card” on nearby buildings or your car, it is very important to plant mulberry trees away from the house and paved driveways and sidewalks.

The White Mulberry comes from China, and was introduced to the US by the British in the 1700's. They tried (unsuccessfully) to establish a silk industry with White Mulberry leaves as silkworm food.  The leaves of this exotic tree are larger and lack the hairiness of the leaves of its American cousin, and the fruit is inferior for humans because it lacks tartness.

Fruit from the Black Mulberry are the king of the family in terms of fruit quality.  This species is popular in warmer and drier areas such as in California.  It can also be grown in Florida but will usually be a smaller size and have a more bush-like habit than the Red or White mulberries.

Paper Mulberry leaves 

Leaves of the Paper Mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera) are very hairy, and may have three leaf shapes on one tree.   Photo: Amy Richard, UF/IFAS

Papaer Mulberry tree

Paper Mulberry trees are invasive woody species. Photo: Amy Richard, UF/IFAS

Another nonnative Mulberry seen in central Florida is the Paper Mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera), which has very hairy leaves, but it lacks the blackberry-like fruit of the other species.  The bark had been used to produce paper-like materials in Japan.  It is invasive and weedy, so the Paper Mulberry has been placed on prohibited plant lists in Florida.

Native Red Mulberry trees grow throughout Florida except in the southernmost peninsula. They often grow in the shade of larger trees.  Normally they are found growing in rich, moist soils, but locally they pop up in almost any habitat except for dry scrub lands.  Another place to find Red Mulberries is along fence rows or utility lines - the seeds are deposited there by birds that eat the fruit.

Red Mulberries have wide spreading branches and a rounded shape. They can stretch upwards to a height of 40 feet with trunks a foot or more in diameter.  Some mulberries are known to live for 100 years or more, but few Florida specimens reach this ripe old age.

Mulberries leaves are alternate, broadly oval in shape and have toothed edges. Red mulberry leaves are 3 to 5 inches long; White and Paper Mulberry leaves are larger, and the Black Mulberry leaves are smaller.  Some White and Paper mulberries have different leaf shapes on the same tree - unlobed, 2-lobed mittens or 3-lobed. The hairiness of the leaves is also used to distinguish between the species, especially along the leaf midrib.

Like its Ficus tree relatives, the Mulberries have milky sap. Some people can get a rash from contact with the leaves or stems.  Mulberry trees have golden yellow foliage in the fall, and loose their leaves in the winter. This deciduous habit may make it unpopular with new residents expecting all Florida trees to be green year round.

Red Mulberry trees can have male and female flowers on the same plant (monoecious) or on separate plants (dioecious). Heavy pruning will reduce the amount of fruit that grows from the current season's growth.  Flowering occurs in early spring and the fruits mature about two months later.

 The fruit resembles a blackberry, 1 to 1½ inches long.  They are red when they are "green" (immature) and turn dark purple to black when ripe. They are very sweet and edible. A few named mulberry cultivars exist: good choices for the South include “Shangri-La”, which originated in Naples, FL, and “Pakistan”, with very long fruit, bigger leaves, and very sweet tasting berry. Fruitless cultivars of White Mulberry, which are cloned male trees, are sometimes used in the landscape.

Although it is tolerant of air pollution, dry conditions, and resists most pests, Mulberries perform its best on moist soils.  The right place for this tree in Florida Yards would be the side or back yard, where wildlife can visit and messiness can be kept from the house.  Mulberry wood is rather light and soft, but very durable in contact with the soil.

Mulberry trees are rarely available in the nursery - those specializing in Florida Native plants may have them in stock or can locate trees.  Propagation of these trees can also be attempted. Seed from the White Mulberries need a cold storage period before germination.  Seedlings may take several years to begin fruiting and reach a good size.  Quicker results come from rooting cuttings of mature wood from the current season's growth. 

Propagation Tips:   Red Mulberry    White Mulberry

I’ve placed pictures and more information on Mulberries, including some recipes and references to Mulberries in history, mythology, literature and medicine our Okeechobee web page, http://okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu.  If you need additional information, please email us at okeechobee@ifas.ufl.edu or call us at 863-763-6469.  Local residents can stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North in Okeechobee, and visit our Okeechobee County Master Gardeners

-30-Return to Okeechobee Extension home page

Mulberry StampTrade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin.  Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS / University of Florida.  Millie Ferrer Chancey, Interim Dean Last update: 03/21/2011 .  This page is maintained by Dan Culbert   

 

Fun Facts - More about Mulberries:

"Here we go round the Mulberry bush"  

 Click here for the songGo here for more on the history of this rhyme. 

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush

Why are Mulberries red?  

 Click here to learn a bit about Mythology, and the real origins of Romeo & Juliet and West Side Story.

Thisbe - by J.W. Waterhouse (1909)

For recipes and a discussion on the medicinal uses of Mulberries, click here

Mulberry botanical print 

A question from  a reader:

 I am looking to raise silkworms but before I do I am trying to fine out where in Central Florida I may purchase some trees? -Allen-

The tree you are looking for is the White Mulberry, Morus alba, a fast growing tree that is native to China. In Florida, it has been shown to be invasive, and therefore the fruitless cultivars may be a better choice to avoid rapidly spreading stands of these trees.

http://davesgarden.com/pf/go/56629/index.html has some comments on this tree, and may list some out of state suppliers.  A look at the latest issue of Betrock’s Plant Finder indicates that a nursery in Fort Lauderdale, Spykes Groves (954) 583-0426 has 3 gallon White Mulberries available at a wholesale price of $15.00.  You might ask your local favorite nursery to contact Spykes and have them send it up to your location.

I’ve not been able to find anything quickly about efforts to raise silkworms here in Florida.   Here are some other sources of information on the web that may be helpful:

  •     Raising silkworms – (suggestions for a classroom observation project?)   Here’s a statistic from this site:  It is interesting to note that one ounce of silkworm eggs contains 40,000 eggs (1,500 eggs per gram).  These worms will eat 3,500 pounds (1500 kilograms) of mulberry leaves, and will spin cocoons which will produce 18 pounds (8 kilograms) of silk thread. It takes 1700 to 2000 cocoons to make one silk dress (or about 1,000 cocoons for a silk shirt).

  • http://www.mulberryfarms.com  supplies silkworms as a food source for certain reptilian pets.

  •  http://www.coastalsilkworms.com/ is another supplier - this one is somewhere in North Florida, based on the phone #.

Availability:   Try the latest edition of Betrock's  Plant Finder   or  The Plant List  to locate nurseries that produce these trees. Remember to search on the botanical name, Morus sp.  If the nursery does not sell retail, ask one of your local nurseries to order it from that source. 

 

 references

Armstrong, W. P. Multiple Fruits of the Mulberry Family.  Wayne's World website, 2002. http://waynesword.palomar.edu/fruitid6.htm 

Culbert, Daniel F. Going Round the Mulberry Tree. Vero Beach: Press Journal: March 15, 2000. http://okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu/News%20columns/Mulberry%20Tree.htm 

Gilman, Ed, Beck, Howard, and Grabosky, Jason.  Red Mulberry.  In: Northern Trees website: USDA Forest Service Northeast Region in cooperation with Rutgers University and University of Florida, April 2006. http://lyra.ifas.ufl.edu/TREESServlet?command=getNorthernTree&classoid=4903 

ibid. Black Mulberry  http://lyra.ifas.ufl.edu/TREESServlet?command=getNorthernTree&classoid=4891 

ibid. White Mulberry  http://lyra.ifas.ufl.edu/TREESServlet?command=getNorthernTree&classoid=7726 

Grieve, M., Common Mulberry [i.e., Black Mulberry] in A Modern Herbal. Botanical.com website, 2006. http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/m/mulcom62.html 

Lamson, Neil I. Red Mulberry Morus rubra.  In Silvics of North America, , Agriculture Handbook 654. Washington: United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, December 1990. http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/volume_2/morus/rubra.htm 

Mulberry Fruit Facts. Fullerton, CA: California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.,1997. http://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/mulberry.html   Discusses cultivars of Mulberry trees. 

Sydnor, T. Davis and Cowen, William F.  Morus – Mulberry.  In Ohio Trees {Bulletin 700-00]. Columbus: THE Ohio State University, Cooperative Extension Service.  undated. http://ohioline.osu.edu/b700/b700_32.html