Saturday, January 17, 2009

RED MULBERRY - Morus rubra, Linn

ORIGINALLY THIS WAS OUR only mulberry in Missouri. However, early settlers introduced the white or Russian mulberry and cultivated them both for their berries and as fodder for an attempted silkworm industry. Birds have helped spread the white mulberry so much that in many places it is more common than red mulberry. Early explorers found Choctaw squaws wearing capes woven from pounded red mulberry bark. The fruits were also an important food source for Indians.

Man, in the past and present, has used the mulberries for fresh fruit, jams, wine, and even ink. The Chinese made the first paper from trees, using the fibers of the inner bark of mulberry.The leaf may or may not be lobed. It is heart-shaped, 2 to 4 inches wide and coarsely toothed on the edges. White mulberry leaves are similar but smaller and shinier.The bark on older trunks somewhat resembles that of elm. With age it becomes gray-brown and slightly furrowed.

The fruit looks like a blackberry. It turns from green to red to blue-black when fully ripe. Birds flock to these trees when the fruit is ripe. If a squirrel hunter can find a heavily fruited tree in the spring he is almost assured of squirrels.

It is a small tree seldom exceeding 30 feet in height and 8 inches in diameter. Usually it grows in narrow valleys and on lower north and east slopes. White mulberry, on the other hand, may sometimes grow to a height of 50 feet and 16 inches in diameter. It is becoming common in bottomlands and is usually the mulberry seen around towns.

The twigs of red mulberry are moderately stout and zigzagged on new growth. The buds are larger than on white mulberry and have a two-toned appearance with green and brown bud scales.Since the tree is so small it has little commercial use. It is very durable, tough and makes good fence posts. Game species of wildlife and songbirds find it extremely valuable. Turkeys, grouse, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, foxes, and even skunks eat the berries as do scores of songbirds.

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