White Mulberry Discovery – The Rewards of No Mow May

White Mulberry Leaf
White Mulberry Leaf. Photography © Serena Kovalosky

It all began with No Mow May. Although it’s a pollinator movement popularized by Plantlife in the UK  and a very good reason to refrain from mowing until later in the spring, I had an ulterior motive for allowing the lawn to grow until June: I wanted to expand my Eco-Garden Project research to discover more new plant species on my property.

I had started allowing the “weeds” in my vegetable garden to grow two years ago, which turned into a flowering riot of fleabane, wood asters, lady’s thumb, brown-eyed Susans, red clover and more. But there were some early spring arrivals scattered throughout yard, like the snowdrops I discovered on the front lawn, that never had the chance to bloom before the lawnmower arrived.

So I staked out a patch of lawn in the back yard and decided to let it grow completely wild through the end of the year, just to see what might come up.

Lawn staked out for No Mow May
A patch of lawn staked out for plant research. Photography © Serena Kovalosky

By the end of May a surprising variety of small flowers emerged: dandelions, violets, wild strawberries and tiny white gems known as “lesser stitchwort.”

Lawn at the end of May.
Unmowed lawn at the end of May. Photography © Serena Kovalosky

But there were several small clusters of plants, all in a row along the side of the house, that I couldn’t recognize nor identify through iNaturalist. The only thing I could do was to let them grow and keep taking photos.

Small White Mulberry tree.
Small plant clusters in May. Photography © Serena Kovalosky

By July, tall woody stalks had shot up in the center of each cluster. They didn’t seem to be flowering plants – they were more like bushes. I took pictures and ran them through iNaturalist again. Nothing.

Mulberry Tree by July
A taller plant by July with woody shoots. Photography © Serena Kovalosky

They were quite impressive by the end of August  – almost up to the windows on the house – and were finally starting to reveal themselves.

White Mulberry Trees along the side of the house.
Impressive growth by August. Photography © Serena Kovalosky

The only clues I could go by were the leaves and the stalks. I was astounded to find three kinds of leaves in vastly different shapes. They were shiny and smooth to the touch and emerged in an alternating pattern on the branches.

White Mulberry Leaf - Full leaf
The first of three different leaves on the plant. Photography © Serena Kovalosky
White Mulberry Leaf with 2 lobes.
The second of three different leaves on the plant. Photography © Serena Kovalosky
White Mulberry leaf with multiple lobes
The third of three different leaves on the plant. Photography © Serena Kovalosky
White Mulbeerry tree branch - Year 1
Branch with alternating leaves. Photography © Serena Kovalosky

Armed with new photos, I went back to iNaturalist. I apparently have a small grove of white mulberry trees! The song, “Here we go ’round the mulberry bush” immediately sprang to mind until I realized the “mulberry bush” is actually a tree.

It’s not a local native either – It’s native to China and was grown for the silk industry as silkworms feed on white mulberry leaves.

What would such a tree be doing in the small town of Whitehall, New York? And how did it survive underground in my backyard that’s been consistently mowed for over sixty years?

And what do I do with all these TREES so close to my house?

I have an idea about how they got here, but need to do more research…and then decide what to do with them.

SerenaK signature

And Now for the Science…

White Mulberry (Morus alba) is a fast-growing tree with a lifespan comparable to humans, achieving a height of forty to sixty feet. Leaves are usually a dark or bright green with a smooth, glossy surface and occur in three shapes: entire, mitten (single lobed) and three-lobed. Fruits are often white when forming but are generally red to purple when fully ripe and although they are sweet, they are often not as flavorful as red or black mulberries. Native to northern China. Widely cultivated and naturalized elsewhere.
Sources: Lower Hudson PRISM, Wikipedia, Purdue University, Philadelphia Orchard Project

See all articles on this project in my Mulberry Story-Box

CLICK for the background story of The Eco-Garden Project
Click to view The Eco-Garden Project

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