Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Species of the Month: Morus alba (White Mulberry)

Species of the Month: Morus alba
By Douglas Barnes

This month, we’ll take a look at the white mulberry, Morus alba. In the Species of the Month series, we’ve looked at some truly amazing plants and fungi. I thought I would make it easy on myself by doing a "simple" tree. Well, I thought wrong. I knew some of the uses of this tree, but as it turns out Morus alba offers many benefits and carries out many different tasks.

First off, this fast-growing tree is useful for controlling erosion. It also provides shade and can act as a windbreak. The leaf litter improves the soil. White mulberry has been adapted to many climates from tropical USDA zone 11 to chilly zone 4. The tree is coppiceable and survives short-rotation coppicing very well - I have seen M. alba thrive on a 2-month coppicing cycle, which is an amazingly short rotation. Mind you, this was in the tropics. Mulberry would not last very long on such a short cycle in temperate climates.

Mulberry can be propagated through coppicing or through seeds. Coppice shoots can be cut and treated with rooting compound or the coppice stool can be covered with soil after the shoots are around 30 cm tall. Left under the soil, the buried part of the shoots will grow roots. The shoot can then be carefully dug out and cut for transplanting. When propagating from seeds, soak the seeds in cold water for 1 week before planting. Mulberries grow best in dry to well-drained soils.

The wood is useful for both construction and woodworking. As a fuel, it will produce from 4370 to 4770 kilocalories of energy per kilogram or around 25.8 million BTUs per cord, making it an excellent fuel tree. In coppice production, it would make a goode fuel tree, provided it were grown in a small-scale operation. The bark from mulberry has its uses. It is used to make high quality paper and can be made into textile.

The leaves can be used for fodder. Ruminants can be fed up to 60% of diet with mulberry fodder. Mulberry also increases milk yields in cows. The leaves are also famously used in sericulture – raising silkworms. For this, mulberry is grown on short rotation; the leaves are chopped and then fed to silkworms.

Mulberry leaves being chopped for silkworms.

Silkworms fed on white mulberry leaves.

Mulberry can also be used as human food. While the young leaves can be eaten, it is the fruit that is sought after. High in vitamin C, iron, calcium and potassium, the berries are very tasty. Unfortunately, the only way to enjoy fresh mulberries is to pick them. Being quite fragile, they do not pack or transport well. Mulberries are used to make jellies, pies, juice and wine.

There are plenty of medicinal uses for mulberry as well. It has antibacterial properties, is used to treat rheumatism, reduces fevers, and helps induce sweating.

The leaves are used to treat insect bites and the cineole content in the leaves makes them useful as an expectorant. The limone in the leaves has antitumor properties. Some research suggests that the leaves could be used to help prevent type II diabetes. The fruit is used to treat upset stomachs and sore throats. And the bark is used to treat stomach aches, neuralgia pain and edema.
If you have the right conditions and the room, a mulberry tree would make an excellent addition to your permaculture garden.


Mathew said...

This is the easiest fruit tree to grow; in fact, in my area, it is hard not to grow. I have dozens of these trees sprout in my yard every year.

I would estimate that a six year old tree produces a hundred pounds of fruit per year, although the structure of the tree amkes it dificult to harvest more than a quarter of this. These are amazingly productive, prolific, and tough trees.

ninpo said...

i think this tree will become people's talk in 2010. Many research were carried out abt this cute berry.

Paul Allen said...

How long does this tree take to fruit? Would it be possible to harvest berry crops between coppice rotations?

DJEB said...

Hi Paul. Coppicing and fruiting are either/or propositions. Coppicing keeps a tree in its juvenile state, meaning that it will not fruit.

Should you want a coppiced mulberry (or other fruit or nut tree) to produce, you need to change the tree into a "standard" by selecting one of the sprouts and letting it grow while cutting the rest back.

Mulberry can take many years to start fruiting (could be 10 or more years), so switching back and forth from standard to coppice would be really impractical.

Travis Wassell said...

Bit of time since the last comment and mine, but I think I need to comment anyway. DJEB I am going to have to disagree with you about mulberry being an either fruit or coppice kind of tree. I coppice a tree every year for bean poles and to make tomato and pepper cages. In order to get good size poles and to allow the tree to fruit I cut on a alternate two year cycle. This means that I allowed the tree to reach its first fruiting, about 5 years, then I cut it down to a stool in winter. I then cut half the sprouts the following winter and half the next winter, the two year old shoots make good poles and the fruit sets on two year and older shoots. All that said, we have the better tasting black mulberry in my area so I cant speak to the effect on a white mulberry.

Douglas Barnes said...

Hi Travis,

I'll have to agree that the white is a better tasting fruit.

If I get your approach right, you first let the tree fruit, then coppice it. I would be amazed, though, if you got the coppiced shoots to fruit. That's what I was getting at. You can coppice, then grow a standard that will fruit, but I haven't heard of success in getting multiple coppice shoots to fruit.