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White Mulberry Morus alba


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White Mulberry
credit: Andre Abrahami/CCSA

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Family: Moraceae, Mulberry view all from this family

Description Morus alba, known as white mulberry, is a short-lived, fast-growing, small to medium sized tree, to 10–20 m tall, native to northern China, and widely cultivated and naturalized elsewhere.

The white mulberry is widely cultivated to feed the silkworms employed in the commercial production of silk. It is also notable for the rapid release of its pollen, which is launched at over half the speed of sound.

On young, vigorous shoots, the leaves may be up to 30 cm long, and deeply and intricately lobed, with the lobes rounded. On older trees, the leaves are generally 5–15 cm long, unlobed, cordate at the base and rounded to acuminate at the tip, and serrated on the margins. The leaves are usually deciduous in winter, but trees grown in tropical regions can be evergreen. The flowers are single-sex catkins, with catkins of both sexes being present on each tree; male catkins are 2–3.5 cm long, and female catkins 1–2 cm long. The fruit is 1–2.5 cm long; in the species in the wild it is deep purple, but in many cultivated plants it varies from white to pink; it is sweet but bland, unlike the more intense flavor of the red mulberry and black mulberry. The seeds are widely dispersed by birds, which eat the fruit and excrete the seeds.

Cultivation of white mulberry for silkworms began over four thousand years ago in China. The species is now extensively planted and widely naturalized throughout the warm temperate world. It has been grown widely from India west through Afghanistan and Iran to southern Europe for over a thousand years for leaves to feed silkworms.

More recently, it has become widely naturalized in urban areas of eastern North America, where it hybridizes readily with a locally native red mulberry (Morus rubra). There is now serious concern for the long-term genetic viability of red mulberry because of extensive hybridization in some areas. As a result, white mulberry is listed as an invasive plant in parts of North America.

Habitat Cities, suburbs & towns, Fields.

Range Florida, Southwest, Great Lakes, Rocky Mountains, New England, Northwest, Texas, Plains, California, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast.