Shawnee News-Star Gardening Article (for May 17th 2017) Becky Emerson Carlberg The amazing red mulberry is near and dear to my heart.   It has played a part in my college education, its sweet ripe berries provide sustenance and purple fingertips as I walk around the Tinker Air Force Base Greenbelt and it is one tree [...]

Shawnee News-Star Gardening Article (for May 17th 2017)

JPG Red Mulberry

Becky Emerson Carlberg

The amazing red mulberry is near and dear to my heart.   It has played a part in my college education, its sweet ripe berries provide sustenance and purple fingertips as I walk around the Tinker Air Force Base Greenbelt and it is one tree that has actually planted itself in a few place at the Japanese Peace Garden (JPG).   Red mulberry is considered a medium sized tree that begins branching quite low so the trunks tend to be short.   The bottom branches often die and become brittle.

The red mulberry is dioecious which means there are male trees and female trees.   Both sexes produce hanging catkins that look like fuzzy bits of chenille.   The male flowers send out pollen collected by the female flowers and soon, tiny fruits appear.   The miracle of life! The anthocyanin content in red mulberries grown in sunny places is particularly high.   The soluble colored antioxidant offers great health benefits.

Speaking of colors, the mulberry tree comes in red, white or black.   Our native red mulberry (Morus rubra) may reach 60 feet in height, has rough, fuzzy leaf bottoms, the leaves are dark green, and ripe fruit dark purple.   The non-native white mulberry (Morus alba) tops at 40 feet in height.   Leaves are smooth underneath with prominent veins; maturing fruits begin purple but turn creamy colored.   The shortest mulberry is the Black mulberry (Morus nigra) that hits 30 feet.   This tree is much rarer, originated in Asia as did the white mulberry, but is monoecious (bears both male and female flowers on the same tree.) The unique black mulberry has a very high chromosome count that indicates it is an ancient hybrid cultivar.   The fruit is nearly black when ripe, but, as with other mulberries, falls off the tree at that point.   The tastiest mulberries may be on the ground, which is why people are conflicted when it comes to planting mulberries.   They have a problem with purple stained cars, sidewalks, porches, houses , cats, dogs and hair, especially if birds are enjoying the mulberries.

The wildlife (squirrels, crows, cedar waxwings, raccoons, cardinals, woodpeckers, deer, bear) love mulberries for their fruit and structure (homes and nests.) The mockingbirds guard the trees in the JPG when the berries are ripening. People like mulberries. From the ripe fruit can be made jams, jellies, pies, teas, or juice, which, by the way, is red colored.   Red and black mulberries have the most intense flavor being 'fireworks in the mouth' according to The Cloudforest Gardener.   The white mulberry fruit has a hint of vanilla.   This mulberry, though, is considered an ecological threat that is displacing our native red mulberries. Large tracts of white mulberries have established themselves throughout several states, included OK.   Bring on Bombyx mori the silk worm.

There are mulberry farms that exclusively support silkworm production in the US.   The silkworm munches white mulberry leaves for about a month before spinning its cocoon of strong lustrous fiber, the source of silk. The transformed moths can't fly nor eat and may live a week.   The male hunts for what males are always hunting for.   The poor female lays over 300 fertilized eggs and dies.   The male keeps going before it too dies either from exhaustion or genetic timing.   The moths did fly eons ago, but thousands of years of domestication have eliminated this characteristic.   Some unscrupulous profit-driven silk manufacturers kill the larvae/moths before they emerge from their cocoons.   If you think properly caring for living organisms that provide you with sustenance, clothing or protection is important, please investigate hog, cattle, chicken or silk production.   In the silk world, if they advertise the moths are allowed to emerge before the cocoons are harvested.   I'd consider their products.