Perhaps you recall as a kid singing the old “Pop Goes the Weasel” ditty. It opens with “All around the mulberry bush…”. Now I have to note that I’ve yet to see a mulberry bush – in my experience they become trees, and big ones at that. (Maybe there is some variety that does tend to remain bush-like.) Unfortunately for them, they’re generally lumped in company with box elders and buckthorns as “weedy” trees. And for good reason. If you have one on your property, you soon will have many many more, unless you’re a resolute weeder.
The trees themselves are rather handsome to my mind. You know how kids tend to draw trees with brown colored trunks? Most tree trunks actually are some shade of gray. But mulberry trees really do have brown trunks and branches. The limbs tend to crack lengthwise under the weight of winter ice storms, but in the spring the cracked branches prove to be still alive by leafing out. The guy from the tree service that cut off some cracked branches told me that it’s not that the wood is particularly brittle, but has to do with the direction of the grain. And as if trying to confuse us, mulberry trees have leaves of two different shapes – oval and lobed.
The sore spot for many people is the fruit that they produce, which, by the way, isn’t a true berry. They belong to the Moraceae family and are more closely related to figs. The black mulberries (Morus nigra) which grow wild are very sweet. Therein lies a problem. Birds and other animals love them. The critters poop out the seeds which soon sprout the weedy little devils that you end up pulling out of your garden beds. And our grandkids, who live across the road, used to descend on our clump of mulberry trees when they were little, ending up with purple stains on hands, faces, and clothing. Mulberries also like to be stepped on so as to leave their purple imprints wherever you walk. Caution: don’t let one grow near a sidewalk or driveway!
To some extent, there are redeeming features to the nuisance-causing fruit. The birds and animals seem to prefer the mulberries over whatever other fruits and vegetables one happens to be growing, so in a good fruiting year, they leave your other crops more or less alone. Also, the mulberries fall off the tree when fully ripe, thus making for easy access. If you were a chipmunk, that would be a plus. And to pick a quantity of mulberries for yourself, simply lay an old sheet under the tree, hit the branches with a long pole, and there will be a purple hailstorm of ripe fruit. I’ve had success with mulberry jam, which doesn’t require a lot of sugar due to the natural sweetness of the fruit. The short stems that cling to the fruit work as little handles when eating them out of hand.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has this love/hate relationship with mulberry trees. Yes they can be messy and are definitely prolific. But they get a bad rap for just doing their thing. Let us forgive their reputation and adjust to their presence.