Whenever anyone mentions that a plant is a “pest”, I make a note to further research it for agricultural potential. Plants considered pests or weeds typically are extremely adaptable and can be cultivated with little to no maintenance or inputs. As long as they are not an invasive foreign species, I get excited to integrate specimens into my model.
My grandfather first exposed me to this genus by letting me collect (aka gorge then bring a few in for storage) the Morus rubra tree he had cultivated on his 18th century farmstead. The berries are delicious and plentiful but combined with the litter from flower and leaf drop, the mulberry is now seen as a pest to yards and urban landscaping. My sustainable farming calibrated mind translates that to: easy to raise, lots of litter to add organic matter to the soils and prolific bearer of food or fodder.
Unlike most of the fruit and nut trees featured for tree cropping, the mulberry is cultivated, hardy and has stood up to centuries of abuse. Trees like oak and hickory offer great promise, but are seen as a more wild specimen while the mulberry has been domesticated with suitable varieties already developed. J Russel Smith in Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture (1929) call this species a king without a throne.
However most mulberries cannot be stored for overwinter feeding like nut trees and honey locusts. With the cost of labor in the United States being so high, having a crop that pigs will readily self harvest is even more valuable. Furthermore, mulberries ripen in the summer, well before any other tree crop. Thus mulberries can play an integral part in reducing feed costs year round.
Numerous strengths of mulberry as outlined in Tree Crops:
- Ease of propagation means very inexpensive trees.
- Easily transplanted
- Rapid grower
- Earliest know bearer of any fruit tree in the US (and possibly beyond)
- Nutritious and easily harvestable fruits
- Regular bearer
- Long fruiting season
- Unusual behavior in that shady parts of the canopy fruit in addition to the typical sunny portions
- Unusually resilient in that they fruit in years where frost kills early buds
- Has both primary market as a food crop and a secondary market in meat from self harvesting pigs
- Rot resistant wood means use for fence posts while smaller limbs are great fire wood and meat smoking fuel
- Susceptible to caterpillars in the right conditions but rarely are damaged and yield with no spraying.
- Long history of breeding and cultivation has passed the experimental phase of development. Coupled with points 1 and 2, even areas with no history of mulberry cultivation can quickly develop orchards.
White, red then black mulberries fruit at different periods meaning most of summer can yield crops for hogs. Season extension is an aim of most farm operation and this is built right into the species. During a typical fruiting season of at least two months has bee reported to support a single pig, while other reports state the same is true for 2-100 pound pigs.
Mulberries have bee reported to bear in the 2 year after planting, and spreading to 30 feet by the fourth year. Needless to say, the establish rapidly. In places with humid summers, the trees are reported to continuously produce leaves and fruit.
To conclude, here is an early analysis of mulberry nutrition from Afghanistan where it is the staple crop among the poor.
I should note that while researching for a modern analysis, much work has been published on the nutritional benefits of mulberry leaves for both people and various animals (another PDF source) (another study). Both leaves and berries are high in minerals. The latter is below(source):
|Principle||Nutrient Value||Percentage of RDA|
|Total Fat||0.39 g||2%|
|Dietary Fiber||1.7 g||4.5%|
|Vitamin A||25 IU||1%|
|Vitamin C||36.4 mg||61%|
|Vitamin E||0.87 mg||6%|
|Vitamin K||7.8 µg||6.5%|
|Carotene, α||12 µg||—|