This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V24", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Many trees are famous because of their dimensions, others on account of their longevity, many are esteemed for the excellence of their produce, and there are many more yet that are exceptionally beautiful in regard to flowers or foliage. The Mulberry stands nearly alone in its special recommendation, which, as every one knows, is to supply food to the "millions of spinning worms,"
"That in their green shops weave the smooth-haired silk".
It should be stated that the White Mulberry has almost entirely superseded the Black Mulberry as a food-plant for the silkworm. Three centuries ago the Black Mulberry was alone used for this purpose, and it is to this latter that the following remarks chiefly apply. In physiognomy and stature it is by no means remarkable, the height not exceeding thirty feet. The branches are thick and rude, the head of the tree is close and rounded, the leaves are cordate, nearly sessile, rough, coarsely serrated, and very dark in hue. The form of the leaf is prone, however, to very curious changes, the blade often becoming more or less perfectly three or five lobed. The flowers are separately male and female, the males appearing in short yellowish-green catkins, the females in compact and almost globular green spikes. The perianth in the latter consists of four pieces, and it is these, strange to say, which eventually constitute the great mass of the ripe fruit. With the progress of the ovary to maturity the perianth lobes become greatly enlarged and finally confluent. Structurally the Mulberry is thus not very unlike the fruit of the Pine-apple. The tree is of great durability, and seems to be wonderfully tenacious of life.
It is tolerably hardy, deciduous, and in the spring very late in acquiring its verdure.
That the original birthplace was south-western Asia there can be no question. At the present day it is observable in a seemingly quite wild condition in the northern parts of Asia Minor, Armenia, and the southern Caucasian regions, as far as Persia.
There is no exact knowledge of the early history of the Mulberry. The ancient Greek writers upon plants and trees speak of it under the name of fiupov. " Moron of Sycamine," says Dioscor-ides, b. c. 25, is well known."Athenseus also gives proof of the name Sycamine being a synonym. With the Romans the name became Morus, the tree having reached Italy some time prior to though not so very long before the Christian era. Horace praises Mulberries as immensely conducive to health if gathered before the heat of the day, and eaten as dessert after dinner. Martial also refers to this fruit, and in Virgil, AEgle, the playful shepherdess of the sixth eclogue, paints the eyelids of the sleeping poet with the purple juice. To the very early Greeks the Mulberry would appear to have been a stranger. The period of the first conveyance of the tree from Asia into Europe is altogether undiscoverable; it was early enough, however, to become the subject of a myth, preserved in the pathetic tale of the loves of Pyramus and Thisbe. The extension westwards was no doubt, owing chiefly to the Romans, who after their victories never omitted to convey homewards what they found valuable in other countries ; and who, to their credit, at the same time, it should be remembered, were always diligent in conveying to conquered countries the plants and trees they thought most useful to mankind.
Their object in propagating the Mulberry would no doubt be to obtain supplies of silk, as a home-product, instead of depending for all they possessed on the merchants who traded with the far East. Silk in the time of the Caesars was so scarce, and the cost was so enormous, that even so late as in A. d. 270, the Emperor Aurelian is said to have refused his wife a dress of the pure material. Even royalty could not then afford to wear silk unmixed with some cheaper fibre. Silk was not even known to the Roman people until the period of the empire, though afterwards it is mentioned frequently in their literature. Charlemagne, who did so much for the good of his nation, in a. d. 812 ordered the Mulberry to be cultivated upon all the imperial farms ; and possibly it may have been about this time that the tree was first carried across the English Channel, "mor-beam," literally "morus-tree," occurring, Bosworth tells us, as an Anglo-Saxon word. When London gives 1548 as the year of the introduction to England, he surely must have in view some definite historical occurrence - a renewed rather than a first appearance. James I. like Charlemagne, did all he could to encourage the home production of silk.
He imported shiploads of young Mulberry trees from France, and offered a packet of Mulberry seeds to any one who would assist in his undertaking. In consequence of the patronage thus given to the tree, it is said that by 1609 there were in England not fewer than 100,000 of the Morus nigra, and of these it is believed some are still in existence, including the famous old Mulberries at Syon, and one or two at Oxford. In the gardens of country seats which date from the time of Elizabeth or earlier very aged Mulberries are also apt to occur, and these likewise are probably almost as old. The royal scheme, like so many others, set on foot by the unfortunate first of the Stuarts, died in its infancy. Praiseworthy, and for awhile promising, in the end it proved utterly unsuccessful. - Gardener's Chronicle.