Morus rubra

Red Mulberry                                           

 

Janice Stork Corridor Park, 250 W. James Street, Lancaster PA (after entering the park, turn left at the playground and proceed just beyond the bridge)

 

Len Eiserer

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In many regions including Lancaster County, Red Mulberry is being overwhelmed by its invasive cousin, White Mulberry (Morus alba), which is even more fecund than rubra.  Further, because the two species readily hybridize, some scientists worry that Red will thereby be threatened with extinction (non-indigenous species can bring about extinction of native flora by hybridization and repeated backcrossing).   However, there is probably no better place to see Red Mulberry in the county than Stork Corridor Park because a lush thicket of Red -- anchored by two large specimens -- stretches about 50 feet along the park trail.  

 

Like White Mulberry, Red often has three different leaf forms on a single tree:  unlobed, single-lobed like a mitten, and double-lobed (see third photo).   Ways that Red can be distinguished from White include:  (1) Red's leaves are substantially larger (up to 10-11 inches compared to 4 for White); (2) Red's leaves feel hairy underneath and sandpapery on top, unlike the smoother White; (3) Red's larger leaf buds have black bands; (4) Red has larger fruit (great than 1 inch) than White (3/4 inch); (5) Red's fruit is sparser; (6) Red's fruit ripens to Red or Deep Purple, while White's fruit may be Red, Purple or White; and (7) Red has much greater shade tolerance.

 

This amazing species is loved by birds for its fruit.  In one study, 31 avian species fed on a single Red Mulberry tree.

 

[Note:  Red Mulberry is often difficult to find in the nursery trade; moreover, what is sold as Red is sometimes actually White.  But four mail-order nurseries who offer Red are:  (1) Possibility Place Nursery (IL), www.possibilityplace.com; (2) Outback Nursery (MN), www.outbacknursery.com; (3) Forest Farm (OR), www.forestfarm.com; and (4) Mail-Order Natives (FL),www.mailordernatives.com.]