The mulberry was a popular tree this spring, hosting a bevy of birds and squirrels each day in its fruit-filled branches.  Gray catbirds were most numerous.  Flitting quickly from perch to perch, they’d pluck and swallow berries as big as their beaks got wide.  Robins fed here too.

If correctly identified, three of these trees seem like a good representation of how mulberries are distributed in the southern portion of Pennsylvania.

100_5873cropHNearest the creek, one tree’s leaves are primarily lobed, feeling finely-haired on the bottom and more like sandpaper on top.  Red and purple berries hang between them.  These traits characterize our native red mulberry tree whose edible fruit was valuable to both Native Americans and European settlers. Bark and roots were used medicinally, fibers were good for rope and weaving, and its wood made good fence and boating material.

100_4960cropHA little further from the creek, at the bottom of a slope, is a smoothly oval-leafed variety of mulberry.  Its white unripe berries were one of the catbird’s favorites. But these berries also ripened to pink, red, and purple this spring.  Unlike our native red, the white mulberry tree hails from China. Entrepreneurs brought it in the 18th and 19th centuries to feed the worms and ambitions of a silk industry that never spun a fortune. The white mulberry subsequently spread so extensively that it often outnumbers the red.  Many call it a weed.

multi-colored berries, click for close-up ... hybrid tree?The white and red trees have even hybridized, making identification particularly difficult.  That brings me to the top of the hill and a mulberry with variously shaped leaves. They are not as smooth on top as the white mulberry, and not nearly as gravelly as the red. Some feel a bit hairy on the bottom. Others, not so much.  Berries turn from white-pinkish to purplish-black.  I’m not sure which to call it–a hybrid perhaps.

Whatever variety, the mulberry perfectly hosted many in its branches this year.  Its fruit came plentifully and has now gone the way of spring. The robins, squirrels, and catbirds are finding new spots to feed.

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