The Red Mulberry tree (Morus rubra) is native to the eastern United States. It is a medium sized deciduous variety that can grow to between 35-50 ft tall. Its flowers are small and yellowish green in color, blooming only in late spring. The tree is hardy, tolerating drought and the negative impacts of pollution. It thrives in both sun and shade and can tolerate many types of soil. These trees can be monoecious or dioecious though male and female flowers usually appear on separate trees. The multiple fruit cluster looks similar in appearance to a blackberry or loganberry and ripens around two months after the flowering stage occurs. Native Americans used fresh Red Mulberries in various beverages and breads, when dried the berries provided a nutritious year round food source.
Indigenous peoples used the Red Mulberry’s fruit, leaves and wood. The leaves were valued for their medicinal qualities, the berries as a food source, and the wood used for shelter, agricultural implements, and fence posts. The tree is a good landscaping choice for a home garden because it can attract wildlife and birds, and provides a delicious bounty of fruit. You can tell the difference between a Red/White/Black mulberry by putting the edge of a leaf in your mouth; the leaf of the Red Mulberry is fuzzy underneath while the underside of a White Mulberry is smooth. To help preserve the Red Mulberry, the Canada-Ontario Environmental Farm Plan encourages farms to grow these trees through support programs centered around conservation and habitat protection. Currently there are fewer than 300 Red Mulberry trees remaining in Ontario, but populations are being carefully monitored. Under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act the tree is protected from killing, collection, and possession for sale.
Unfortunately, there is virtually no economic industry for the Red Mulberry because the fruit is delicate and has a very short shelf life. The Red Mulberry’s demise in Canada and the northeastern U.S. can be attributed to a loss of habitat, drought, deer populations grazing on young seedlings, and most of all the threat by the aggressive White Mulberry. The White Mulberry can overwhelm the red variety with pollen and cause hybridization in the wild which dilutes the red varieties gene pool. Conservation efforts hope to revive the long term sustainability of the Red Mulberry by culling the invasive White Mulberry and gaining a better understanding of why the tree is dwindling.
The fruit of the Red Mulberry is rich and sweet, and they can be enjoyed eaten straight or as an ingredient. They are refreshing, succulent, slightly tart and sweet. The fruit contains antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins C, A, E, and K, as well as iron, potassium, manganese, and beneficial fiber. Use the fruits as you would raspberries or blackberries. The flavor of the red mulberry complements pears and apples and can be used in pastries, tarts, preserves, cobblers, and jellies. When picking or buying Red Mulberries preserve the unwashed berries in a sealed container inside the refrigerator and use within 2-3 days. When ready to eat, rinse them by soaking gently, not under running water.