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Orchard Trees - Mulberries

( Originally Published 1927 )



The mulberry family includes fifty-five genera and nearly a thousand species of temperate-zone and tropical plants. The genus ficus alone includes six hundred species. Hemp, important for its fibrous, inner bark, and the hop vine are well known herbaceous members of the mulberry family, which stands botanically between the elms and the nettles—strange company, it would seem, but justified by fundamental characteristics. Three genera of this family have tree forms in America—the mulberry, the Osage orange, and the fig. Two native mulberries and three exotic species are widely cultivated for their fruit, their wood, and as ornamental trees. Weeping mulberries are among the most popular horticultural forms.

The Red Mulberry

Morus rubra, Linn.

The red mulberry grows to be a large dense, round-headed tree, with thick fibrous roots and milky sap. Its alternate leaves, three to five inches long, are variable in form, often irregularly lobed, very veiny, usually rough, blue-green above, pale and pubescent beneath, turning yellow in early autumn. The inconspicuous flower spikes are succeeded by fleshy aggregate fruits like a blackberry, sweet, juicy, dark purple or red, each individual fruit single-seeded. Birds and boys alike throng the trees through the long period during which these berries ripen. They are hardly worthy to rank with the cultivated mulberries as a fruit tree. But planted in poultry yards and hog pastures the dropping fruits are eagerly devoured by the occupants of these enclosures.

The chief value of the tree lies in the durability of its orange-yellow wood, which, though coarse-grained, soft and weak, is very durable in the soil and in contact with water. Hence it has always commended itself to fence- and boat-builder. It is sometimes planted for ornament, but its dropping fruit is a strong objection to it as a street or lawn tree.

One of the mulberry's chief characteristics is its tenacity to life. Its seeds readily germinate and cuttings, whether from roots or twigs, strike root quickly. Indians discovered that rope _could be made out of the bast fibre of mulberry bark. They even wove a coarse cloth out of the same material. The early settlers of Virginia, who found the red mulberry growing there in great abundance, dreamed in vain of silk culture as an industry based upon this native tree. Their hopes were not realized. Silk culture has never yet become a New-World industry.

The White Mulberry

M. alba, L

The white mulberry is a native of northern China and Japan. From this region it has been extensively introduced into all warm temperate climates. Its white berries are of negligible character. It is the leaves that give this oriental mulberry a unique position in the economic world. They are the chosen food of silkworms. No substitute has ever robbed this tree of its preeminence, maintained for many centuries in its one field of usefulness.

The hardy Russian mulberries are derived from M. alba. These have done much to enrich the horticulture of our Northern states, but the parent tree, though it thrives in the eastern United States and in the South, has not been the means of establishing silk culture on a paying basis in this country.

The Black Mulberry

M. nigra, Linn.

The black mulberry, probably a native of Persia, has large, dark red, juicy fruits, for which it is extensively cultivated in Europe. In this country it is hardy only in the Southern and the Pacific Coast states. It is the best fruit tree of its family, yet no mulberry is able to take rank among profitable fruit trees. The fruits are too sweet and soft, and they lack piquancy of flavor. They ripen a few at a time and are gathered by shaking the trees.

The dark green foliage of the black mulberry gives ample shade throughout the season. Planted in the garden or in the border of the lawn where no walk will be defaced by the dropping fruits, the mulberry is a particularly desirable tree because it attracts some of our most desirable song-birds to build on the premises. Given a mulberry tree and a bird-bath near by, and the smallest city lot becomes a bird sanctuary through the summer and a wayside inn for transients during the two migratory seasons.



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