A few years ago I noticed that a basswood tree I had identified from a little tree pamphlet many years prior had juicy black-purple fruits. Hmm, those look an awful lot like mulberries.
Of course, they were.
Several years went by with me knowing it was a mulberry but not knowing the species. Today, finally, a consultation with Alan Weakley’s Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States, a hand lens, and a few minutes double-checking everything, and now I’m fairly confident saying it’s red mulberry (Morus rubra), the native one.
White mulberry (Morus alba) is an Asian species, brought here with the Europeans centuries ago, which looks very similar to our native one, and which also cross-pollinates with M. rubra. It is difficult to tell which is which. Flora uses hairs on the underside of the leaves as a distinguishing character.
My trees (I have two) do have fuzz all over the bottom sides of the leaves (M. rubra), not just scattered along the veins and veinlets (M. alba). I thought it was pretty cool, both that my tree is native, and that I could figure it out with a hand lens. Plant nerding is one of my favorite things.
My mother remembers eating mulberries until her little fingers turned purple when she was a small child. She doesn’t recall ever being sick, but an interesting tidbit I heard on The Plant Report podcast (embedded below) made me think she was lucky. Over-consumption of the berries, particularly the unripe ones, can cause hallucinations, vomiting, and general misery (!).
But we know mulberries are eaten in all sorts of ways (pies, cakes, jellies) by all sorts of people and enjoyed without ill effect. They are often recommended for permaculture gardens and food forests.
Elsewhere in the garden, the white blooms of Penstemon ‘Husker Red’ started into bloom this week. They look so delicate and airy atop the deep green and red-tinged leaves. My neighbor’s bees seem to enjoy them as much as I do; it’s always busy at the penstemon buffet.
On the Windowsill
Do you have houseplants? Houseplants are my babies. I adore them all and I have an embarrassing number. Dozens and dozens. Hundreds, even. Some of them are getting leggy now that the sun is obscured by the oak tree leaf out, but it has been too cold at night to be sure they wouldn’t suffer any ill effects by putting them out for the summer yet. They need to go outside soon and enjoy the humidity, the beneficial insects, and the extra light.
My husband just called me into the yard to see this Eastern Box Turtle. Look at his snazzy patterns! I’m leaning toward thinking it’s male based on this PDF about sexing turtles. The claws don’t seem to match their description, but they did say to match 3 out of 5 and call it good enough.
Who’s in your garden this week? Which plants have you been hanging out with?