Mulberries, The Forgotten Fruit

Aside from a few children's rhymes, mulberries are pretty much ignored here in the U.S. But they're tasty, and pretty easy to grow

Most people don't consider mulberries when thinking of berry-growing, but they make an excellent crop for either the home or a small farm operation. The biggest strike against the mulberry is that it can take years for them to bear, but the trees themselves are very easy to grow.

Let's take a closer look at the realities of mulberry cultivation.

All Around the Mulberry Bush...

Mulberry trees grow in most temperate parts of the world, comprising some 10-16 species of the genus Morus. It's hard to be more specific than that, because scientists can't make up their minds, and the species hybridize with ease.

In any case, the most common are the white, black, and red mulberry. The fruit looks like a slender blackberry, and in some cases can be as much as a couple of inches long. Most versions are purple or black when ripe, though the white mulberry is red or (you guessed it) white.

Unlike most berries, the mulberry is a multiple fruit, formed from a mass of many small flowers. In this sense they're something like the Osage orange or hedge apple, though they taste much, much better (trust me on this). Mulberries have a tart but sweet flavor, somewhat reminiscent of a grapefruit.

Unsurprisingly, they're good for you, too. In addition to all the basic vitamins and antioxidants, they also contain resveratrol, which is proven to have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects in rodents (if not yet in humans), and may lower blood sugar as well.

Growing Mulberry Trees

You'll need plenty of room for a mulberry tree, so if you don't have a big backyard, you may want to consider another option. Mulberries grow very quickly, and aren't finicky about soil or irrigation. In some parts of the country, in fact, they're considered weed trees.

You can grow mulberry trees from seeds, but I'd recommend buying them from a nursery or otherwise acquiring saplings. Plant and care for them as you would any other fruit tree, and expect them to take up to 10 years to produce. Once they do, start pruning vigorously, because the berries grow from new branches.

The Harvest

Mulberry trees can produce an incredible amount of fruit, and the berries are easily bruised and broken. Here's the best way to harvest them: lay clean sheets around the tree and shake the fruit loose. That way, the berries will fall onto the sheets and are easily collected without damaging them too much.

Mulberry trees can get very tall (75 feet), however, and can produce for up to several centuries, depending on the cultivar; so at some point, you may need a ladder. Rest assured, any mulberries you don't get, the birds will!

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