1890,  Browse By Era,  Browse by Subject,  Gardening and Agriculture

An Old Fashioned Fruit

MULBERRIES. Recent references to Mulberries in the pages of The Garden have revived old experiences and thoughts of my own on the subject, and also led to the overhauling of what meagre literature there is extant on this old-fashioned fruit. That it is an old-fashioned fruit there is no disputing, and there is every likelihood of its eventually also becoming rare in this country. Very few owners of gardens can boast of having had a Mulberry tree planted, and, according to my experience, old trees are becoming scarce and young ones still rarer. The former, after they reach a good old age, are very liable to split to pieces, this taking place when the branches are heavily laden with foliage, and the same care, therefore, should be taken of them as of old Cedars of Lebanon. The principal limbs should be made to support each other by means of stout chains or iron rods with flanged ends, which can be made to clasp the stout limbs and then screwed together. The question may be asked, Are these old Mulberry trees worth expending much trouble on? I maintain that they are, and also that it is a mistake to neglect planting young trees, in the more southern parts of the country at any rate, this being where the trees are both hardy and, after the first check received in their vigorous growth, extremely fruitful. Mulberries are among the best of lawn trees. They are ornamental whether in or out of leaf, no tree affording a more grateful shade, while the Grass is of good service in breaking the fall of fruit. The fruits are full of juice, but are too acidulous for many palates. At the same time they are very refreshing, a taste for them being quickly acquired. A few of them mixed with Apples in a pie brighten up the latter wonderfully. It is also a matter for surprise that Mulberries have not more often been turned to good account in the formation of syrups, as these are said to possess medicinal properties, especially when used as a throat gargle. Of this fruit it has been repeatedly stated that it is of no marketable value, but this assertion can be disproved. As a matter of fact, wholesale druggists will give one guinea and upwards per bushel for sound ripe fruit, this being required for the manufacture of a syrup known as Syrupus mori. The latter, even it did not possess any medicinal properties, has yet the merit of being a harmless colouring material, and, as such, is used in the dispensing of medicine. In one situation I held, all the Mulberries that were grown on an extra large tree were sold for that particular purpose. The variety most generally met with in this country [England] is the Black Mulberry, or Moras nigra. This succeeds well in almost any kind of soil, though a good, fairly strong loam suits it best. Occasionally trees are to be met with presumably of the Black Mulberry that fail to set and ripen fruit, one of the largest I have yet seen being located in the very genial climate of Bath. Evidently this is a spurious form, as it is very certain there would be no failures with the true variety in such a warm district. As a rule, standard trees are grown, and without much trouble, beyond an occasional foreshortening of straggling branches, fine, well-balanced heads result. In America Mulberries are considered admirably adapted for growing as hedgerow plants, and I fail to see why they should not be similarly employed in this country.

From America comes the best treatise on Mulberries I have yet read. This was the work of Mr. L. H. Bailey, Professor of Horticulture at the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station. According to this authority there are five distinct species, and these are arranged as follows :—

1. The White Mulberry group.—Morus albu.
1. (a) Russian Mulberry.—Var. tatarica.
1. (ft) Nervosa Mulberry.—Var. venosa.
2. The Multicaulis group.—Morus latifolia.
3. The Japanese group.—Morus japonica.
4. The Black Mulberry group.—Morus nigra.
5. The Red or Native Mulberry group.—Morus rubra.
5. (a) Lampasas Mulberry.—Var. tomentosa.

Of these, the types most generally grown are the white, black and red, and which, strange as it may appear, are not so easily distinguished from each other as their distinctive names might suggest. The White Mulberry is considered to have lighter foliage than the black species, but the fruit in some instances is of the same size and colour as the latter. According to Professor Bailey, Morus alba is the group most universally grown for producing food for the silk-producing worms, and it appears there are no less than twenty-seven botanical types of it, some producing quite tiny fruit, and others very superior fruit. They are supposed to be seedling variations, and of these the new American is considered the best, though not so very distinct from the Trowbridge and Thorburn—two other American seedlings. The Russian Mulberry is classed as being a hardy type of Morus alba, but is not valued in America either as a timber or fruit producing tree, though, owing to its dense habit of growth, it is found very serviceable as a hedgerow plant. Naturally it is very hardy and can readily be grown into a handsome hedge. Victoria is a seedling variation of the Russian, differing from the type both on account of its erect habit of growth and the size and sweetness of the black fruit it produces. At present it is principally grown in the Texas State. Ramsey’s White was also first grown in the latter State. It is a white fruited variety, “bearing young,” and by some is considered a desirable new sort. Teas’ Weeping Mulberry originated at Carthage, Missouri, in the nursery of John C. Teas. Unlike numerous other seedlings, this variety trailed on the ground, “but when grafted head high upon vigorous Russian stocks, it makes a most striking lawn tree.” The Nervosa Mulberry has mis-shapen leaves with white veins, and is considered of great value as an ornamental tree.

By all accounts, former generations of and many Americans still living have, or had, very good reasons for remembering the introduction of the Multicaulis group of Mulberries into tho United States. The first tree reached the nurseries of Messrs. Prince on Long Island in 1829, and soon after it was brought to Massachusetts by William Kenrick. This was the initiation of one of the most extraordinary horticultural speculations ever known, and I cannot do better than quote Professor Bailey verbatim :—

The records of the next ten years read like fiction. Many nurserymen gave up all other business that they might grow the Mulberry, and they realised several hundred per cent, profit. The secret of the Chinese silk had been discovered, and every available acre from New England to the Gulf must be covered with the marvellous herbage of this Mulberry, and men must train their hands to the breeding of worms spinning the silken threads. One nurseryman, who is still living, went to the West Indies that he might grow hundreds of thousands of trees during the winter season, so great was the haste for plants. From the thinly-settled portions of the West the planters came, eager for trees at almost any price, and even in Maine the demand was great. Then came the reaction. The market was supplied and soon over-stocked. A disease appeared. The winters of New England were too severe. One man near Hartford lost nearly 10,000 trees from cold. Men lost their fortunes; and in 1839 the bubble burst. One man near Philadelphia sold 30,000 trees at one auction in the autumn of that year. He realised thirty-one cents each, with a discount of seven and a half per cent, for cash. His buyers were mostly from the West. The eastern men had grown cautious before this. Other dealers sold for much less, and many had thousands of trees left on their hands. The trees were sold in some instances for a few cents each, and thousands, if not millions, were never replanted after they had been taken out of the ground in the autumn of 1839. So Morus multicaulis passed from sight, and the present generation knows nothing of it.

The Downing is a seedling form of it, but is not sufficiently hardy and has had to give way to the new American, while Spalding and Rivers are other forms of no special merit.

The Japanese group is only on its trial in America, and is reported to be tender in a young state. Of the Black Mulberry little more need be added. In America it is not very extensively grown, though the fruit is said to be much larger than that of any other and of an agreeable sub-acid flavour. The Red Mulberry is a native of America, and is very extensively and generally grown. Trees of it attain a great size, a height of 70 feet being reached in the South, and the wood is largely used for fencing purposes. The leaves in a young state are curiously lobed and, for a Mulberry, quite ornamental in appearance, while the fruit varies in size, and is deep red or nearly black in colour when ripe, having an ” agreeably slight acidity.” Johnson and Hicks’ Everbearing are seedling forms of the Red Mulberry, and are remarkable for their productiveness, size, and good quality of the fruit. It is said these are largely grown by farmers, who find the fruit excellent food for hogs. Another form known as Stubbs’ Mulberry is considered to be the most productive of all, “even exceeding the wonderful prolificacy of Hicks.” The fruit is deep black in colour, with a rich sub-acid vinous flavour. Of tho Lampasas sub-group of the Red Mulberry not much that is commendatory is said, and in some districts it is so tender as to be killed in the winter.

By the foregoing it will be seen that we in England are considerably behind in our experience with Mulberries. A trial ought really to be given some of the varieties raised or being cultivated in America with a view to discovering some one or more among them that would prove hardier, yet equally or more productive than the common Black Mulberry without the fruit being quite so acid to the taste. The term “agreeably slight acidity ” can scarcely be applied to our fruit. If it could, then there would bo a greater demand for them. Evidently the trees in America are propagated as readily as Grape Vines are in this country. According to the authority I have previously quoted, Mulberries can be propagated by cuttings of the ripe wood or of roots. These can be most surely struck in gentle heat, the preference being given in many cases to short lengths of ripened wood. As it happens, cutting-propagation is largely superseded by the plan of grafting the best varieties on cheaply bought Russian or other seedling stocks. In some instances the stocks are grown in pots and grafted during the winter, both root grafting and crown-grafting finding favour. Spring-budding has been in vogue for many years. This is done as soon as the sap rises sufficiently to make the bark run freely or just before the foliage is formed. The scion, a short length of ripened wood carrying one or two buds, is cut on one side only, inserted in a T-shaped incision, the sliced side of the scion going next to the wood, and kept in position by means of a bandage of string or raffia. – W. Iggulden

1894 The Garden