Although most species grow closer to trees than they do to bushes, the fabled mulberry bush (or tree) is a real as you or I. However, there are a number of species called "Mulberry Tree." One is native to North America, the Morus rubra, and others to various spots in Eurasia. Most are actually trees.There are over a dozen species of Morus, mostly growing in temperate zones around the world, but let's look at the the trees you're most likely to encounter.
Mulberries are little berries similar in appearance to elongated blackberries; to me at least, that's how they look. They are terribly fragile and unless you have access to a tree yourself, you're only likely to experience the flavor as a jam or jelly or maybe baked in a pie. They don't make it to the grocery store or even to markets.
There are three different species of mulberry trees commonly cultivated for fruit:
Native to the Eastern half of North America. This species hybridizes so easily with introduced M. alba that it is apparently losing, and is endangered in Canada. There still exist many pure M. rubra specimens as far west as Central Texas, but in urban area of the Northeast, purebred M. rubra is less common. The picture below and to the right shows different ripenesses of berries from M. rubra, c. Thaumaturgist. The darkest, red-black berries are the ripest..
Native to the Persian Gulf and even far to the west of that. introduced to Southern Europe. It is listed in several places as native to (for instance) Germany, England or Spain but is believed to have originated way earlier and to the East. Its flavor is said to be as fine as M. rubra's. Read what the Royal Horticultural Society has to say about M. nigra.
Native to China. this is the famous silkworm-feeding mulberry tree. Unfortunately, the M. rubra of the US and Canada hybridizes easily with M. alba. The fruits of M. alba are reportedly very sweet and blander than the more nuanced flavor of the red and black species.
Before planting this handsome tree:
Be aware that those delicious little berries will stain your carpet, your car windshield and your garage roof. Do not plant where the berries will be trampled into purple mush and then tracked all over your house by offspring, pets or visitors.
A berry-less M. alba?
People were attempting to start a silkworm industry in the United States. They bred a M. alba which made no fruit (and hence would not stain) but the silk industry dreams fell through. We still have the fruitless trees available, however, with plenty of mulberry leaves for all the American silk worms (there are no silkworms in North America). The leaves can also be used for cattle or sheep fodder. Look for M. alba cultivars.
Edible Landscaping has some information about the cultivars they sell on their website. Just be sure, if you sing with your children, to sing "all around the mulberry TREE!".
Picture courtesy of Thaumaturgist.Thumbnail picture courtesy of Attila Harigitay at Flickr.