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Black mulberry

Black mulberry was historically planted in prison yards and the nursery rhyme 'Here we go round the mulberry bush' is thought to describe the daily exercise undertaken by inmates.
Branches of black mulberry

About Kew's black mulberry trees

Cultivated for millennia, the black mulberry is well represented in Kew's Economic Botany Collection. This collection illustrates the many ways mankind makes use of plants. The black mulberry specimens show it has been used for fibre (making paper and cloth samples), wood, food (grown for its tasty fruit) and as a medicinal herb. Our collection holds both leaves and roots, which are used to treat urinary disorders.

Take a closer look

  • Mulberry leaves always have a rough hairy feel to them. Those of the black mulberry are dark green when mature and can grow up to 20 cm in length.
  • Black mulberry bark is an orangey-brown colour and often has numerous lumps and bumps as well as deep cracks, especially in older specimens. This isn't a sign of extreme old age though – in fact, this tree rarely grows beyond 300 years of age.

Tree biology

Although not a large tree, the black mulberry can grow to a height of 9 m. It often has a short trunk, and low, spreading branches.

This species is perhaps best known for its edible fruits which are such a dark shade of purple when ripe that they appear almost black. A mulberry looks rather like a large blackberry or raspberry – this type of fruit is technically a collection of fleshy 'drupes' known together as a 'syncarp'.

Cultivation and uses

Morus nigra was introduced to Britain in the early 1500s when it was grown in the hope that its leaves would feed silkworms and thus produce silk. Though many trees were planted at the insistence of King James I, the silkworms much preferred the leaves of the white mulberry (Morus alba), a native of China which does not grow well in Britain.

The tree is grown for its edible fruit which can be eaten raw or cooked, and is used in desserts or to make conserves and drinks such as mulberry wine.

Quick facts

  • Scientific name: Morus nigra
  • Family: Moraceae
  • Place of origin: western Asia – although this tree has been cultivated for so long that its original range is simply unknown
  • Conservation status: not evaluated
  • Date planted: not recorded
  • Height: 6.9 m