A deciduous tree, the red Mulberry can grow up to 50’ tall, but can be pruned to a smaller and bushier shrub. The leaves are alternate, mildly serrated on the margin, and heart shaped when young, developing 3 or 5 lobes as the tree matures. The flowers are small and green in early spring, developing in early summer into a deep red/purple compound fruit similar in appearance to blackberries. Mulberries can be found growing along roadsides, in vacant lots, and in other marginalized spaces.
Mulberries are very cold hardy and will tolerate poor, compacted soils very well. Their deep taproot allows them to access water from deep in the soil, making the mulberry very resistant to drought conditions. Trees can be coppiced or pollarded and will resprout vigorously, allowing it to be cultivated as a bushy shrub rather than a tree. Individual plants usually contain only male or female flowers (though sometimes plants possess both), so multiple plants should be included in any garden to ensure good pollination and fruit set. Softwood cuttings taken in late fall through winter can be rooted by placing in loose, moist potting soil, and hardwood cuttings can be placed directly in the ground and likely root by spring. Seeds require cold stratification, so keep them moist in the refrigerator for 2-3 months or plant in fall for spring germination. Dry seeds will keep for a few years.
The fruits of the red mulberry are sweet and flavorful, excellent raw or in jams and pastry fillings. The fruits are very high in fiber, protein, vitamin C, and iron. They are also high in anthocyanins, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and can also be extracted in water and used as dyes. The fruit are also an important food source for many species of birds.
Mulberries attract many species of birds that can help manage populations of caterpillars on Brassicas and other leafy plants.