A Mess of Muddled Mulberries

… in Kentucky. And I presume elsewhere…



Yes, in towns in KY I see a lot of hybrids. There are also the white ones that obviously were intentionally planted some places, and one of the black cultivars I suspect I discovered planted by Berea College.

But, the first 30 years or so of my life, I think the morus rubra, red mulberry, was the only one I was acquainted with. Probably because I was surrounded by huge tracks that were 70 to near 100% wooded. As a barefoot boy with a rifle I recall shooting at squirrels in the mulberry trees.
But it was the nut trees that I had success with hunting squirrels. My family supplemented the pinto beans and butchered hog in the wintertime with fresh squirrel meat…and a young rooster from time to time. I gave up eating rats with fluffy tails as an adult, and that sort of took the pleasure out of hunting them. (But somebody needs to…there are way too many).

Back to the mulberry article…very informative…I just hurried through it though.

By the way, try mulberry upside down cake sometime!!!


I am far from the major urban centers, and all of ours look like pure M. rubra. Excellent berries, but critters get most of them before I can! I’m thinking about trying to propagate a particularly good-tasting one I found in an old fence row here. Maybe green cuttings?

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i have several M. Alba growing here in my z4a. one is a unnamed tree i bought friom cold stream farm 5 yrs ago. i thought it was a male untill i got a handfull of fruit off it last summer. they were small but tasty. so far there isnt any cold damage on them. the 1st one mentioned survived -35f 3 winters ago unscathed .the others are northrop and one from rolling river. i dont remember the name. hoping to get a illni. everbearing to try here next spring. if it does well ill use its scions to graft over the others i have if the fruit proves inferior.


On page 68 there’s a suggestion that there are far more than just rubra, alba and nigra species. Interesting…

I too grew up with plenty of wild mulberry around. I didn’t know there was more than one species and indeed they were probably all rubra. Awesome taste but definitely had to watch out for the bugs.

Some possibly don’t know how rot resistant mulberry wood is, as much or possibly moreso than black locust even. I have a trellis for blackberries made with mulberry posts and expect it to last a very long time. I’ve found at least 3 large but dead mulberry around my home and nothing but small seedlings alive.


I’d love to see more breeding/selection work done with pure Morus rubra; it is a much-neglected fruit in this regard. This site lists only a scant handful of cultivars—some of which are not pure rubra, and a couple of which may no longer be extant.

“Johnson” may be the oldest cultivar. According to this late nineteenth-century source:

[T]he first named variety originating in this country is an offspring of our own wild Morus rubra. This is the Johnson. The first mention of it, so far as I know, is in the first edition of Downing’s “Fruits and Fruit Trees” in 1845.

Anyone aware of any other known or putative red mulberry cultivars?

I’ve been hesitant to plant M. alba and the hybrids here, because I don’t wish to encourage the hybridization and out-competition of a native tree that is already becoming scarce in parts of North America. Of course, without genetic analysis it might be difficult to tell what is—and what isn’t—a true red mulberry.

One problem with morus rubrum is lack of bearing at an early age. Then, it’s the large size of the tree when they do bear heavy crops.

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Several years back, we bought a bundle of 100 Red Mulberry seedlings from the KY Div. Of Forestry nursery, not far away. Planted them mostly along fencelines to provide shade for livestock. Potted up smallest for use as rootstocks for grafting onto.
Not sure of their seedsource, but there is not a single tree from that batch that is M.rubra. ALL are hybrids with M.alba, and, to date, none approach the fruit quality or productivity of other rubraXalba hybrids, like IE, Silk Hope, Lawson Dawson(ortet about 10 miles from me, in this county), or my own ‘Corral’ selection which is probably an IE seedling.
All these KY forestry nursery seedlings have that trashy, twiggy M.alba habit, and mostly glossy leaves, signaling their hybrid genetics. Have not yet encountered a fruiting female in that batch with fruits worthy of picking.
Pure M.rubra is still easy to find out here in the country, but once you get close to town, trashy M.alba is in every untended ditch or fenceline…only outnumbered by the burgeoning millions of callery pear seedlings.


To answer my own question: Richard’s Buff Red

I’ve grafted a nice one from a mile or two up the road. Not nearly so productive as any of the M.rubraXalba hybrids I have, but I like it.

Had a really good M.rubra that I selected back home in East Alabama (named US 280/Dumpster Delight)… big fruit, great taste, heavy production… but it was not long-term compatible with M.alba understock here or in NJ - would only live 2-3 years before declining and dying; grafted it several times, but it just wouldn’t last… and the last time I was down to AL visiting family, I found that the ortet was no longer alive.


The late A.J. Bullard… Dean of Mulberry affectionados… listed the following as his favorite M.rubra selections - (Carlton)English, (Janie)Watts - but I have no idea where one might find those, if they’re even available in the nursery trade.

I’ve never tasted a bad M.rubra, though some are ‘drier’ than others. The local M.rubra I’ve grafted into my orchard can’t hold a candle to that good ol’ (now extinct) ‘Dumpster Delight’ from AL… it had great flavor, juicy, and heavier production.
Sure can’t say the same for M.alba… many are just ‘sweet’ with little flavor, or ‘grassy’, at best.
But, in an area where M.nigra is out of the picture, the good M.rubraXalba hybrids, like Illinois Everbearing, Silk Hope, Collier, etc., are hard to beat!


“I’d love to see more breeding/selection work done with pure Morus rubra” Hello, I just joined this forum to respond to that exact quote. I’m in the beginning stages of starting a seed orchard for the species. I’m looking for trees to collect material from. Any help with that would be greatly appreciated.


Welcome, Steve! I know of a couple young female trees in my vicinity. One has produced very good-tasting berries. Too early to say if it’s anything particularly remarkable, but you are welcome to wood or seed (if I can beat the critters–was only able to sample them last year by protecting a few of the berries with organza bags—some of which were breached anyway!).

Would love to hear more about your project! Where are you located?

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IDK how difficult it will be to find pure M.rubra seed.
Several years back, we bought a bundle of 100 Red Mulberry seedlings from the KY state Div. of Forestry tree nursery…there’s not a single M.rubra tree in the batch…all are hybrids.

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I imagine I could come up with some if i put it on the top of a to-do list. I know I have two on my property, perhaps more, that are not producing any fruits. As a youth I would visit two trees too big to reach around for the fruits as they would fall or be knocked off by birds and squirrels.
Those trees belong to an old grouch now that won’t allow any tresspassing. But, I am pretty sure along the western edge of the Daniel Boone Nat’l Forest in Pulaski and McCreary Counties in KY you could find some of the pure morus rubra. Probably Big South Fork R.&R.A in Tennesse also.

(Speaking of McCreary Co…there resides the amelanchier (serviceberry) with the 28 inch plus diameter trunk.)


I wouldn’t have to work very hard to gather M.rubra fruits out around the county here…they’re pretty common along back roads, and easy to spot… I’d just have to remember to look at the right time!
That said, there’d still be no guarantee that resulting seedlings would be pure… the ortet of ‘Lawson Dawson’, a very good local hybrid, which was a chance seedling that popped up in a barnyard fencerow, is located 15 miles or more ‘out in the country’. For sure, M.rubra predominates in that area, but birds spread M.alba and hybrid genetics widely.


Hi Jeremiah,

I’m located in SE PA. I grew up with mulberries all around me in an old farm field. I learned less than 5 years ago by way of that article “Muddled Mulberries” that I didn’t know what a red mulberry was. I have never seen one in PA my whole life. I have been in contact with the author of that article, the National arboretum, and a researcher that is working on the genetics of the species. It seems hybrids are everywhere. I have been searching for trees to graft and take cuttings from. Where are you located? Would you be willing to take some scion wood for me? At this point, the taste of the berries isn’t overly important. Do you have experience with cuttings are grafting Morus rubra? A lot of people have had a hard time with it apparently. I’m working on getting a large number to form a breeding orchard.

Steve Knott

511 West Chestnut Street

Pottstown PA 19464


I have been to that area of KY. I have seen one at the sawyer boat ramp on the Cumberland river.

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To everyone who has responded. I’m hoping to gather scion wood. That should avoid the possibility of hybrid as much as can be done. The hope is to propagate then study the genetics to determine the purity. Once purity is confirmed to breed pure forms together in a controlled manor.

Steve, I am located in rural Rockcastle County, Kentucky. The local mulberries—going on the basis of leaves, buds, etc.—do appear to be pure M. rubra. I think the fact that I am far away from major urban centers makes this even more likely. I suppose genetic analysis is the only way to be sure.

I would be happy to donate scion wood to your project. Any special collection instructions?

I do not have any experience grafting or rooting mulberries. I plan on attempting some green cuttings next season. Three weeks ago, I did start a single dormant hardwood cutting—covered with a humidity dome and treated with clonex—on a lark, because I had an empty space among the fig cuttings. I don’t expect it to amount to anything, of course. I understand M. rubra is rather more finicky to root than M. alba.

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