Mulberries of nursery rhyme fame are the fastest plants on Earth.
But before we delve into the particulars of this delicious tree fruit, I have to share what I learned while tracking down the nursery rhyme lyrics.
White mulberries are often banned because they cross-pollinate readily with red mulberry. But there’s more than that to mulberry pollen. Mulberry flowers release their pollen at approximately 380 miles per hour, which is more than half the speed of sound. This makes them the fastest plants on Earth. This pollen is responsible for many bans, but not because of the speed. Instead, it is a matter of quantity. The sheer volume of pollen released by male mulberry trees is enough to be hazardous for people with asthma or other respiratory problems. Female mulberry trees absorb that pollen but check with your local government to see if they are allowed before you start planting.
Mulberries are multiple fruits, like pineapples and figs, made up of drupes. They start green, yellow, or white. Most of them ripen to a deep purple or black. They do this because they contain anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are frequently touted as having antioxidant properties. They are what give plants their blue or purple color. While the antioxidant ability of anthocyanins does occur in test tubes, research has not yet been able to demonstrate that that ability carries over into real life. It ends up that we only retain about 5% of the metabolites responsible for antioxidant properties. That’s okay. Mulberry trees look nice, taste delicious, and they provide lots of vitamin C and iron.
Mulberry trees have both male and female flowers, called catkins. Black mulberries are monoecious, with both sexes on the same tree. This makes them self-fertile. Red mulberries can be monoecious or dioecious. Dioecious trees are male or female and are not self-fertile. I’m not sure about white mulberries. Just be sure to read the label if you are buying mulberry cuttings if you want fruit.
How to grow mulberries
Unlike most other fruit and nut trees, which are best grown from bare root stock, mulberries can be grown successfully from root cuttings or stratified seeds. Seed- and cutting-grown mulberry trees tend to be healthier and sturdier. I don’t know why. I do know that seeds should be stratified for 2 or 3 months at 34°F to 40°F.
They do require some patience, however. Like avocado trees, mulberries can take 10 to 15 years to produce fruit. While some specimens are said to live 125 years or more, the longevity of mulberry trees has come into question as several specimens are most short-lived.
Mulberry trees prefer slightly acidic, light, loamy soil. These are lowland trees commonly found along river banks, forest edges, and on sheltered slopes. They can tolerate drought and dappled shade but perform best when conditions are warm, moist, and sunny. Black mulberries can tolerate poor soil, but red mulberries need healthier soil to thrive. Mulberry roots are very brittle and need to be handled with care.
Mulberry tree care
In Britain, home growers often train grapevines up their mulberry trees. This is said to help prevent fungal diseases from occurring.
In commercial groves, mulberries are cut back to a height of 6 feet each fall (pollarding) and the removed branches are used to make baskets. In home gardens, mulberry trees should only be pruned when they are in full dormancy and only when completely necessary to remove dead or poorly placed branches. Mulberry trees bleed heavily when cut and some people are sensitive to the milky sap and unripe fruit of red mulberry trees, so you may want to wear gloves when working with them. (The trees, not the people). Unripe fruit may also give you a tummy ache, but young leaves can be cooked or eaten raw.
Many mulberry growers install a soft ground cover under their mulberry trees to cushion the fall of ripe fruit. You could also hang tarp hammocks to catch the fruit.
Mulberry trees are lovely and the fruit is delicious. Do you have room for a mulberry tree?
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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