Morus alba: Common mulberry

Family: Moraceae
Common name: White mulberry, Common mulberry, Russian mulberry, Silkworm mulberry

A medium-sized, heavily branched tree with long drooping stems, Mulberry trees are mainly used to provide leaves for silkworms. But the tree is also popular in gardens for its delicious fruits and lovely green foliage.

Mulberry trees can grow to a height of 20-30 meters with a spreading crown and slender but woody branches. These trees can live for 100-125 years yielding an abundance of fruits each year.

The leaves are 20-25 cms long, light green when tender turning dark green with age, severely toothed around the edges. These leaves are used as food for silkworm rearing, making the tree very valuable.

Some mulberry trees are monoecious bearing both male and female flowers, but most trees are dioecious bearing only male or female flowers. Flowers are small and borne in clusters on the axil, the angle between leaves and the stem. These flowers are inconspicuous, greenish-white in color, and formed as catkins or spikes. Mulberry fruits are formed from a cluster of flowers, technically called aggregate fruits.

Fruits are 2-4 cms long, initially greenish-white in color, gradually turning pink, red, and then deep red or purple when they ripen. Young fruits are very tart, ripe ones deliciously sweet with a grainy mouthfeel from the tiny seeds embedded inside.

Mulberry fruits are eaten by small birds, bats and squirrels who help disperse the seed. Ripe fruits are eaten raw or used to make juices, jams, jellies, preserves, and even mulberry wine. Dried fruits are considerably sweeter and used as substitutes for raisins.

Mulberry trees grow very quickly in warm tropical weather and good sunlight, yielding fruits from 1st or 2nd year of growth. They are deciduous in cold, frosty weather, but stays evergreen in tropical countries, bearing fruit from May till August.

Related species are Morus rubra or the red mulberry that’s common in North America, about 20 meters tall bearing dark red or purple fruits; and Morus nigra or black mulberry bearing purple-black fruits. Morus alba ‘Pendula’ with weeping long foliage is used as an ornamental tree in gardens.

Mulberries have some medicinal uses in the treatment of tetanus, elephantiasis, nosebleeds, colds, eye infections, influenza, hypertension, rheumatic pains, toothaches, kidney diseases, diabetes, asthma, bronchitis, cough, worms and bacterial infections.

Tender leaves and stems are cooked as vegetables, but are mainly used as famine food. The fruits contain carbohydrates and fiber, as well as trace amounts of vitamins and minerals. Bark fiber from young trees is used to making paper and clothing.

Dye from mulberry fruits are used to dye clothes and wool, red or purple. Twigs can be used to make baskets. Wood is reasonably sturdy and used to make small furniture, agricultural tools, and handles.

Propagation is through seeds and stem cuttings.

Image credits: Vimal Kurian