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Red Mulberry (Morus rubra)

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Red Mulberry

Summary

A tree native to eastern North America, threatened by hybridization with the introduced white mulberry.

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Native

This tentative map is based on the FHWA's ERA. This data lacks information on Canada, but also overestimates native ranges, especially around the edges, as this post explains. We have not yet reviewed or fixed this map.

Similar Plants

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White Mulberry (Morus alba)
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Habitat

Found primarily in floodplains and sheltered coves, and other moist sites, but found on a wide variety of sites. Found in many different soil types, including clay, sand, and loams, and found in both nutrient-rich and nutrient-poor soils, well-developed and poorly-developed soils, and soils with leached surface layers. Growth is best on well-drained but moist sites, but occurs occasionally on drier upland sites, and also tolerant of flooding. Mature trees can usually survive flooding by up to a foot of water for as long as one growing season but will die if flooded for two growing seasons.

Typically found in mid-to-late successional forests, but usually not an early colonizer of disturbed sites. Often appears first in forests when they reach about 80-90 years of age. Typically establishes by colonizing gaps in these forests as trees die, and persists indefinitely as the forest develops.

Usually occurs only as scattered individuals, never in pure stands or as a dominant species.

Highly susceptible to fire and usually found in habitats that do not burn.

Life Cycle

Trees usually begin producing fruit around 10 years of age, but may occassionally produce small volumes of fruit as early as 4 years of age. Seed production usually peaks between 30 and 85 years of age and continues until about 125 years. Good crops are produced every 2-3 years.

Fruits fall to the ground when fully ripe, but birds frequently consume the fruit when not fully ripe. This leads the fruit to be consumed and distributed both by birds and by small ground-dwelling animals.

Plants will resprout if top-killed, and can also reproduce vegetatively by layering.

Uses

The fruits are eaten fresh as well as being used in jam, jelly, and pies, although not usually commercially nowadays.

The wood, especially the heartwood, is very durable, resistant both to insect damage and to the elements, and it also has good workability. It is sometimes used for fenceposts where it is locally common, and also used for furniture and turned objects. However, due to this species' small size and scattered distribution, the wood is not usually harvested commercially, and is in low availability and tends to be high in price.

The introduced white mulberry (Morus alba), which is widely considered invasive, has established all across North America, and is much more common than red mulberry, especially in disturbed habitats and especially in the north part of this species range. It also ranges farther north and west. These two species form fertile hybrids readily, and thus form extensive integrades, and there is likely extensive gene flow between the two species where they interact. Many sources describe this hybridization process as "threatening" the red mulberry species, although it is not clear whether hybridization is causing any sort of decline or rather the decline has been driven primarily by habitat destruction, as red mulberry is late to move back into disturbed forests, whereas white mulberry thrives in disturbed habitats.

There are also other mulberry species found in North America, including the texas mulberry (Morus microphylla) which overlaps with red mulberry in a small region of Texas, and the introduced black mulberry (Morus nigra) which is established in two parts of the red mulberry's range, in Louisiana and also in the area where Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia meet, as well as non-overlapping populations in the west.

In North America the next most closely related plant is the osage-orange (Maclura pomifera).

Mulberry | The Wood Database (About This Site)

Red Mulberry | Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) (About This Site)

Morus rubra (Red Mulberry) | Illinois Wildflowers (About This Site)

Morus rubra (Red Mulberry) | USDA PLANTS Database (About This Site)

Morus rubra | Go Botany (About This Site)

Morus rubra (Red Mulberry) | Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder (About This Site)

Red Mulberry | Virginia Tech Dendrology Factsheets (About This Site)

Red Mulberry | Silvics of North America (About This Site)

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