Mulberries are fast-growing when young, but soon become slow-growing and rarely grow over 10-15 meters tall. The leaves are simple, often lobed, and ridged. The fruit grows in bunches, 2-3 centimeters long, is red to dark purple in color, edible, and sweet with a good flavor in several species.
The fruit is used in pies, tarts, and wines. The fruit of the Black Mulberry, native to southwest Asia, and the Red Mulberry, native to eastern North America, have the strongest flavor. The fruit of the White Mulberry, an east Asian species, has a very weak flavor.
Mulberries can be grown from seeds, and this is the best idea as seedling-grown trees are generally healthier. However, they are most often planted from large pieces cut from other Mulberry trees, which easily take root.
Mulberry leaves, particularly those of the White Mulberry, Morus alba, are important as food of the silkworm, the cocoon of which is used to make silk. Morus alba is also notable for the rapid release of its pollen, which is launched at over half the speed of sound. "This is the fastest motion yet observed in biology, and approaches the theoretical physical limits for movements in plants."
The fruit of the white mulberry – an East Asian species extensively naturalized in urban regions of eastern North America – has a different flavor, sometimes characterized as refreshing and a little tart, with a bit of gumminess to it and a hint of vanilla. In North America, the white mulberry is considered an invasive exotic and has taken over extensive tracts from native plant species, including the red mulberry.
The ripe fruit is edible and is widely used in pies, tarts, wines, cordials, and herbal teas. The fruit of the black mulberry (native to southwest Asia) and the red mulberry (native to eastern North America) have the strongest flavor, which has been likened to 'fireworks in the mouth'.
The fruit and leaves are sold in various forms as nutritional supplements. The mature plant contains significant amounts of resveratrol, particularly in stem bark. Unripe fruit and green parts of the plant have a white sap that may be toxic, stimulating, or mildly hallucinogenic.
Mulberry leaves, particularly those of the white mulberry, are ecologically important as the sole food source of the silkworm (Bombyx mori, named after the mulberry genus Morus), the cocoon of which is used to make silk. The wild silk moth also eats mulberry. Other Lepidoptera larvae—which include the common emerald, lime hawk-moth, sycamore moth, and fall webworm—also eat the plant.
Mulberry fruit color derives from anthocyanins, which are under basic research for mechanisms of various diseases. Anthocyanins are responsible for the attractive colors of fresh plant foods, including orange, red, purple, black, and blue. These colors are water-soluble and easily extractable, yielding natural food colorants. Due to a growing demand for natural food colorants, their significance in the food industry is increasing.
A cheap and industrially feasible method has been developed to extract anthocyanins from mulberry fruit which could be used as a fabric tanning agent or food colorant of high color value (above 100). Scientists found that, of 31 Chinese mulberry cultivars tested, the total anthocyanin yield varied from 148 to 2725 mg per liter of fruit juice. All the sugars, acids, and vitamins of the fruit remained intact in the residual juice after removal of the anthocyanins, so the juice could be used to produce products such as juice, wine, and sauce.
Anthocyanin content depends on climate and area of cultivation, and is particularly high in sunny climates. This finding holds promise for tropical countries that grow mulberry trees as part of the practice of sericulture to profit from industrial anthocyanin production through the recovery of anthocyanins from the mulberry fruit.
This offers a challenging task to the mulberry germplasm resources for
- exploration and collection of fruit yielding mulberry species
- their characterization, cataloging, and evaluation for anthocyanin content by using traditional, as well as modern, means and biotechnology tools
- developing an information system about these cultivars or varieties
- training and global coordination of genetic stocks
- evolving suitable breeding strategies to improve the anthocyanin content in potential breeds by collaboration with various research stations in the field of sericulture, plant genetics, and breeding, biotechnology and pharmacology
During the Angkorian age of the Khmer Empire of Southeast Asia, monks at Buddhist temples made paper from the bark of mulberry trees. The paper was used to make books, known as kraing.
A Babylonian etiological myth, which Ovid incorporated in his Metamorphoses, attributes the reddish-purple color of the mulberry fruits to the tragic deaths of the lovers Pyramus and Thisbe. Meeting under a mulberry tree (probably the native Morus nigra), Thisbe commits suicide by sword after Pyramus was killed by the lioness because he believed that Thisbe was eaten by her. Their splashed blood stained the previously white fruit, and the gods forever changed the mulberry's colour to honour their forbidden love.
Vincent van Gogh featured the mulberry tree in some of his paintings, notably Mulberry Tree (Mûrier, 1889, now in Pasadena's Norton Simon Museum). He painted it after a stay at an asylum, and he considered it a technical success.
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Mulberry Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.