Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Check the Calendar

Illinois Everbearing mulberry

Hybrid Mulberry; Morus 'Illinois Everbearing'
Mulberry Family; MORACEÆ

For decades children have happily chanted:

    As we go round the mulberry bush,
    The mulberry bush, the mulberry bush,
    As we go round the mulberry bush,
    So early in the morning!

    How few of us, though, have eaten the berries! I want to champion their cause and convince you to grow and enjoy them. Should I die soon, my present wish for a gravetop memorial is a hybrid mulberry tree. Let me tell you why . . .
    Seattle's common species is the White mulberry (Morus alba) from China. Its leaves are the silkworm's food: when you wear silk, you wear mulberry leaf fibers reincarnated! All of the white mulberry's varieties thrive in the Seattle climate. For example, we have weeping, bird attractant, fruitless and extra-fruitful selections. Alas, the fruitful ones are rarest of all here. The berries are white, pink, red or deep purple, like blackberries on a tree.
    Two other species can be found in Seattle, but don't thrive. Red mulberry (Morus rubra), from the eastern half of the U.S., needs a continental climate to be at its best. Paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera) from China, Taiwan, Japan and the Ryukyus islands, needs more warmth.
    A small European, Black mulberry (Morus nigra), is unfortunately too rare for us to know how it performs. However, it does well in England, which bodes well for us. Beware: various red, white and hybrid mulberry trees other than authentic Morus nigra get sold as "Persian" or "Spanish" mulberries.
    Hybrid mulberries are best. Crossing the White and Red species results in a tree with the most desirable attributes of both. It grows splendidly in our climate, is hardy to extreme cold if need be; delicious berries are borne over an unusually long period (late June through late September); and the tree is exceptionally vigorous.
    The 'Illinois Everbearing' hybrid is a relatively new find, not as well known as some of the older mulberry varieties (such as 'Hicks'). It originated in Illinois around 1947, and because the berries were large, flavorful, nearly seedless and had a long season, the tree was introduced commercially in 1958.
    Why are mulberries less familiar than raspberries, apples, cherries, etc., even though just as delectable, nutritious and easily grown? Is it for their lacking showy flowers?
    No; fig and olive trees lack pretty blossoms but are still major crops. Nor is the problem that much spraying or pruning is needed, for practically none is; few fruit trees in fact are so easily neglected without crop loss.
    The key is: mulberries fall when ripe, and with a splat notify the world that if they be not eaten fresh, forget it. Marketing mulberries is therefore difficult. Still, there is always the home-grown option. Many people, however, who agree that the berries are refreshingly different, cannot bide the thought of stains --mulberry juice is dark and persistent to an infamous degree.
    So, plant your 'Illinois Everbearing' tree well away from paving, patios or walks. Then, beginning the very first year, you can enjoy its fruit all summer. In fall its leaves will turn yellow, then drop. Late in spring they emerge again, soon followed by small greenish flowers. You don't have to worry about cross-pollination with this mulberry; one tree is all that is needed. The mature leaves are mostly ordinary but on some shoots there are a novel mixture of shapes, like no other northern tree produces, except the sassafras.
    Give the tree a sunny site, and do not allow it to dry out in summer.
    Prune it only to keep it out of your way, and low enough so the berries are easily reached. If you don't prune, its rapid growth may alarm you: despite the children's rhyme, it's not a bush but a substantial tree. Fortunately, the yellowish wood is useful. There are no bug or disease problems. Birds may compete for the berries, but there will be enough for all.
    Michael Dolan, well known as a nut tree expert, has plenty of the hybrid mulberries at his Burnt Ridge Nursery, 432 Burnt Ridge Road, Onalaska, Washington, 98570. He also sells other mulberry selections. Call him at (360) 985-2873, e-mail him (burntridge@myhome.net), or meet him at the Olympia Farmers' Market, or at the annual Seattle Tilth Edible Plants Sales, typically the first Saturday in May. Dolan's trees are grafted on white mulberry rootstocks. You might try rooting cuttings in August if you care to do your own propagation.

(Originally published in the February 1990 Seattle Tilth newsletter, along with an illustration borrowed from a book.)

Back



Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert

Home   Wild Plants of Greater Seattle
About Arthur Lee Jacobson   Services & Rates   More Books
Plant of the Month   Essays   Frequently Asked Questions
   Articles   Tell A Friend
Awards and Interviews   Useful Links   Volunteer Work
Gary Lockhart's health books   Contact Me


http://www.arthurleej.com
all content and graphics herein
are Copyright © 2001