Morus rubra (Red Mulberry)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Genus:Morus
Family:Moraceae (Mulberry)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Origin:native
Habitat:part shade, shade, sun; moist; floodplain forest, woodland edges, rocky slopes
Bloom season:May - June
Plant height:25 to 80 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: spike

[photo of male flowers] Male and female flowers are borne separately, usually on different trees (dioecious), in clusters called catkins, 1 to a few catkins emerging from buds along 1-year-old branches at about the same time as the leaves. Male catkins are ascending to pendulous in flower, ¾ to 2+ inches long, green to yellowish, each flower in the cluster with 4 stamens.

[photo of female flowers] Female catkins are erect to ascending and more compact, oval to short-cylindric, to ¾ inch long, each flower with a somewhat flattened, oval green ovary and a whitish to reddish, 2-parted style. Cluster stalks on both male and female catkins are hairy.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: lobed Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaf] Leaves are alternate and simple, usually unlobed or sometimes irregularly 2 or 3-lobed (rarely more), most lobes with rounded tips, the leaf or terminal lobe abruptly tapering to an extended, sharply pointed tip (acuminate). The blade is oval to egg-shaped in outline, 4 to 7+ inches long, 3 to 5 inches wide, on a hairy stalk about 1 inch long. Edges are coarsely toothed often with rounded teeth, the upper surface dull dark green, slightly rough textured, the lower surface lighter green and hairy across the surface and more densely hairy along the veins. Three major veins radiate from the base where the stalk meets the blade.

[photo of new twig with milky sap] New twigs are green to reddish-brown with scattered, raised lenticels (pores), and hairless to minutely hairy; hairs can persist through the second year. Bark is thin and somewhat rough, turning brown to orange-brown with maturity. Twigs and leaves exude a milky sap when cut.

[photo of mature trunk] Older bark forms flattish, gray-brown ridges with shallow, orange-brown furrows. Trunks can reach 30 inches diameter at breast height (dbh).

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit ©Famartin] Female catkins become nodding to pendulous fruit clusters, 3/8 to 1+ inches long, resembling elongated raspberries or blackberries. The color of fruit ranges from white to pink to red, but all turn purplish-black when mature.

Notes:

Red Mulberry is considered historic in Minnesota, first collected in 1899 near Jefferson in southeast Houston County, then again in 1920 in the same area but with no confirmed reports since. In 2014, claims of two locations along Hwy 26 between Reno and Brownsville were reported but our search of that area only came up with the non-native White Mulberry (Morus alba), so we question the validity of those reports. The two species are known to hybridize, which complicates matters, and the hybrid has been recorded in Minnesota scattered across our southern counties and as far north as Sherburne county (see the county distribution map on the White Mulberry page).

Red and White mulberries may be easily confused. While the leaf shape of both species can be quite variable, Red Mulberry usually has (mostly) unlobed leaves that are dull and somewhat rough on the upper surface and hairy on the lower, while White Mulberry leaves are (mostly) 3 to 7-lobed, smooth and shiny on the upper surface, hairy only along the veins on the lower, and tend to be smaller (max 4 inches long vs. 7 inches). White Mulberry twigs and bark also tend to be more orange than Red Mulberry. The hybrid is not well-documented but is likely intermediate between the two. Unlobed Red Mulberry leaves may also resemble Basswood or Linden (Tilia species), which have asymmetrical leaf bases and very different flower clusters and fruits with a distinctive leafy bract.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka and Peter M. Dziuk taken in Louisiana. Morus rubra fruit By Famartin, via Wikimedia Commons, used under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Comments

Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Jim O'Connell - Yates Ave, Robbinsdale, MN
on: 2018-05-30 12:16:24

We used to live in this house and we enjoyed the beauty of this tree during the summer. We were told by old timers that it came from settlers and its origins were from China. It doesn't have the large lobed leaf. There are other Mulberry trees on the north property line and the birds loved the berries every year. Wonder if they are still there? Hope so, since it sounds like Red Mulberry and not White (invasive type). If you check it out, please let me know what you find!

Posted by: Samuel Thayer - Houston County
on: 2018-06-13 23:05:51

I have found more than 70 of these trees on the bluffs along the Mississippi south of the Root River extending south into Iowa. There is a healthy population of pure Morus rubra. Welby Smith and I have collected several herbarium specimens from these populations. I am still surveying for more sites and have successfully found new locations on each of my last 4 trips.

Posted by: Christopher Lane - EDEN PRAIRIE
on: 2018-06-27 16:45:35

I just discovered a red mulberry on the treeline between my neighbor's lot and mine. It is growing into a large arborvitae.

Posted by: Jacqueline S Espinoza - Andover
on: 2018-07-14 12:08:39

Just bought a house with lots of mature trees. Trying to identify them but not sure about this one. Have two or three scattered about the property.

Posted by: Jennifer Draper - Bloomington
on: 2018-08-01 08:57:10

As we work to eradicate buckthorn in woods on our lot, we want to be careful not to pull the “good” trees. We enjoy abundant fruit from several mature mulberry trees, but are unsure as to whether they are white or red.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2018-08-01 10:33:07

Jennifer, the leaves between the two species are different and should tell you which you have, but they are most likely the non-native white. You might solicit UM Extension/Master Gardeners for further assistance.

Posted by: Susan Bialka - Isanti county Princeton MN
on: 2018-08-19 18:59:19

Just moved to our grandmas farm and there is either a mature white mulberry or red mulberry tree on the property. The leaves are not lobed. Who can I have check this out?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2018-08-20 18:09:07

Susan, check with your local county extension service, Master Gardener, or other such agency. In any case, it would be very unusual for a naturally occurring red mulberry to be as far north as Isanti County.

Posted by: Annette - Sibley County
on: 2019-03-01 14:41:43

I am sure now I have a Red Mulberry Tree in my yard. Well actually I have 3 mature red mulberry trees. One does not fruit. I also have quite a few seedlings in my yard thanks to the Orioles and Robins that adore the fruit. I ordered a bare root red mulberry tree from a mail order nursery. What I got was a tree with orange bark instead of the pale bark my young seedlings show. The bark is definitely orangish red brown. My seedlings bark is pale and whitish compared to the tree I received. Also the leaves of the supposedly red mulberry tree are shiny and lobed. My mature trees are not shiny or lobed. They are also rough feeling. It took me a lot of time comparing the two mulberry trees to figure out the nursery sent me a white mulberry instead of the red one I ordered. I will gladly send pictures if anyone would like to look at them. The bark is so clearly different from each other.

Posted by: Preston Wight - St. Paul
on: 2019-06-06 09:04:07

I have confirmed an old tree of this on my property which is 2.6 acres in st. Paul. We have been eating these for a decade, but i just checked the leaf which is distinctly the red mulberry.

Posted by: Lynda Ponting - Zimmerman (Sherburne County)
on: 2019-06-25 08:41:43

We have one Mulberry tree in our backyard. We just built a house in the back of our property in the woods and discovered it. I only see female flowers. I have not see any fruit. Do we need the male tree for fruit?

Posted by: Linda Brown - Vadnais Heights
on: 2020-02-10 08:00:57

We have two red mulberry trees. I looked at the leaf differences you have posted to tell it was a red mulberry. I live in Vadnais Heights. My daughter lives in Minnetonka and has a mulberry tree but I do not know if it is a white one or red one. I will wait till it has leaves and report my findings and how many trees.

Posted by: Phillp
on: 2020-04-15 23:14:47

The last photo you have for fruit is actually White Mulberry, Look at the leaves you will see. Also Red Mulberry fruit usually hang in singles not clusters. At least according to this PDF below. https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/FNR/FNR_237.pdf Also how do they taste? Better/Worse than the Morus Alba or different?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-04-16 11:02:17

Philip, the fruit image came from Wikimedia, which only goes to show you get what you pay for. ;) We have not seen Morus rubra in fruit ourselves.

Posted by: Phillip
on: 2020-06-22 22:43:40

Thank you, just went to wikipedia and saw it for myself. We all make mistakes and thank you for being truthful. I also have never seen morus rubra fruit, only a large lone surviving tree by the barest of means. Has roughly about 30 leaves, is split in half with the other half being dead and all the other ones around my area are dead too. Could this be the result of lots white mulberries around? How do you get White Mulberry and red mulberry to grow next to each other without the white killing the red? Only way I see it being possible if the red is a hybrid but I am not sure.

Posted by: Gary Clark - Pickerel Wisconsin
on: 2020-07-06 07:42:32

I have a small plant with what looks like a mulberry on top. Spikey looking leaves. Almst maple like.

Posted by: Jon - St. Louis Park
on: 2020-07-07 13:21:31

I have recently discovered three of these trees while walking my dog in the neighborhood. I couldn’t believe my eyes a raspberry or blackberry like fruit growing on a tree? My curiosity got the best of me and had to look it up. I soon discovered it’s a mulberry tree, not sure if they are of the red or white or a hybrid. The fruit sure is delicious and the hornets thought so too!

Posted by: Alicia - Hennepin County
on: 2020-08-12 22:30:28

There is a large, RED mulberry tree that overhangs into the back lot of the Goodyear service center in Bloomington, on Bush Lake Road and Old Shakopee road. While getting my tires replaced I walked my dog to the back area and lo-and-behold, there it was, big and beautiful, with fat, juicy mulberries falling to the ground. I picked from the low hanging branches and ate what I could in 20 minutes. Definitely a RED mulberry. What a treat.

Posted by: Eileen - Marine on St. Croix
on: 2020-12-06 12:44:26

I have been reading your posts about the Red Mulberry tree and plan on ordering one from Prairie Moon in the early spring. Should I order more than one?

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