Mulberry trees offer beauty and delicious fruit

by Diana Duff
Special To West Hawaii Today

Sunday, January 2, 2011 7:40 AM HST
Do you remember the nursery rhyme, “Here we go round the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush. Here we go round the mulberry bush so early in the morning?”

That little ditty was popular around 1840, when mulberry trees were gaining popularity in Europe and on the U.S. mainland but had only recently been introduced to Hawaii. Sometime in the early 1800s, a black-fruited cultivar of Morus alba known as “nigrobacca” was introduced to the islands for landscape use. Today, the trees are known here as lovely, drought tolerant plants that produce edible, tasty berries.

The genus Morus is in the Moraceae family and includes about 15 botanically separate species, all known as mulberries. The classification is complicated with numerous cultivars and varieties that have resulted from widespread hybridization of the species. All are deciduous trees that are native to warm and subtropical regions, mostly in Asia.

Mulberry trees were cultivated for several thousand years in their native China as food for silkworms. The worms, whose cocoons produce silky thread, are very host- specific. Today, billions of pounds of mulberry leaves are consumed by silkworms throughout the world in the annual production of the more than 70 million pounds of silk. To date, silkworms are not known to exist in Hawaii, however.