Once I crunched the numbers
many mulberry leaves silkworms eat, it became clear we needed
more mulberry trees. Luckily, my mom’s backyard is full of what
I’m pretty sure is paper mulberry (Broussonetia
she gave me half a dozen to transplant to our homestead. My
sister kindly yanked them up out of dirt so rich we didn’t even need a
Why am I planting a
species that is considered an invasive in the eastern U.S.? As my
mother can attest, the trees don’t produce tasty fruits, but birds like
them well enough to spread the seeds far and wide, so paper mulberries
definitely have the potential to invade wild areas. Despite this
danger, though, the alert homesteader can take advantage of paper
mulberries without worrying about invasiveness if they use one of two
The first option is
simply to coppice the plants repeatedly so
they never bloom — that’s what you’ll want to do to harvest leaves
for silkworms anyway. The other option is to follow the lead of
Pacific Islanders who select only the male trees, ensuring that no
females are around to set fruit. You’ll be able to tell the
difference between male and female plants when the trees bloom — male
flowers look like little, fuzzy mulberries (long and skinny) while
female flowers are little globes, a bit like sycamore flowers.
Since paper mulberries are easy to propagate via cuttings, once you
grub out your female trees, you can make as many males as you want with
no invasive potential.
If you take the invasive
issue away, paper mulberry looks like a handy permaculture tree.
It grows quickly, often reaching 10 to 13 feet in a year in the
tropics, and you can coppice it repeatedly. In Indonesia, the
young leaves are steamed and eaten by people, while the raw leaves are
fed to pigs and to silkworms (in Indochina and China,
respectively). Most people grow paper mulberries for the inner
bark, which is turned into tapa cloth and used for ceremonial purposes,
but the wood also makes good kindling.
mulberry isn’t hardy in our climate, being listed as only hardy to zone
7. However, it has been found as far north as New York and
Massachusetts, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the little shrubs grow on
our farm. If nothing else, we’ll get a year of mulberry leaves
for the silkworms, then will lose our bushes to freeze this winter, at
which point, we can always dig more from my mother’s unending supply.
unlimited, clean water.