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Science & NaturePost Office Mulberry

Post Office Mulberry

by Neil Carleton 

As well as roadside sentinels that I can drive under, I also look for trees that arch over sidewalks and pathways that I can stroll under.  The closer the leaves are to my hat the better.  It’s shady and cooler under the branches, and the best adventures are when branches, bark, birds, and butterflies are close at hand.  The next time you’re at the Almonte post office, I hope you’ll stop to see the white mulberry tree growing between the parking lot and the town’s Riverwalk.

Behind the parking lot, the municipality’s Riverwalk passes beneath the canopy of Almonte’s post office mulberry.  

  The leaves of white mulberry are the main source of food for silkworms in eastern Asia.  In China, the tree has been cultivated for thousands of years.  The branches are repeatedly pollarded, or pruned back to the trunk, to stimulate a dense head of leafy shoots.

 White mulberry shrubs and silkworms were brought to North America for western silk production.  Although the industry wasn’t successful, the trees have spread across the eastern and southern parts of the continent.  This small, naturalized tree is also known as the silkworm or the Russian mulberry.

This view from the river side shows the 4 spreading trunks that create a surprisingly large 48 foot (14.6 m) canopy.

   The 4 trunks of the post office mulberry spread out from ground level, much like some of the Manitoba maples we have in town.  Earlier injury, perhaps from winter storm damage, has unfortunately weakened each base with significant rot.

 

The trunks twist and turn as they reach skyward for sunlight.

 

When you next visit, look for the criss-cross pattern of the older furrowed bark.

The post office mulberry is a prolific fruit producer.  Scattered on the ground today, with more dropping by the minute, were hundreds of long, purplish mulberries.  It was hard to avoid stepping on them as I took photos of the tree.  Most of those still on the tree were bright red.  Each mulberry is a compact cluster, something like a blackberry, composed of many tiny, beadlike, 1-seeded fruits.  When they’re ripe, a friend told me from experience, the post office mulberries are sweet, juicy, and edible.

The dark purplish mulberries fall to the ground when the branches sway in the breeze.

While the leaves on older branches are generally not lobed, new shoots produce leaves with various lobes.  White mulberry from eastern Asia is distinguished in part from native red mulberry by the high luster of its leaves, and the relative absence of hair on the underside of the leaves.

The leaves of the white mulberry are a lustrous shiny green above and slightly hairish beneath.

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New shoots produce leaves that are variously lobed.

About 3 feet (0.9 m) from the ground, where the spreading angle of the 4 post office trunks increases, their circumferences are in the 40 inch (1.02 m) range.  The remarkable lateral section of one trunk, which grows parallel to the ground towards the post office, is 26 inches (0.66 m) in circumference.

White mulberry hybridizes readily with native red mulberry, and there is a concern for the long-term genetic viability of red mulberry in North America.  White mulberry grows wild in much of southern Ontario north to Georgian Bay.

Thanks to Elizabeth Barron of Almonte for nominating this month’s shady character from the wilds of Algonquin Park.

Do you have a notable or favourite tree?  Readers are invited to submit their nominations for an honor roll of trees in our area that could be featured in future articles.  You can contact me at 613-256-2018, <ve3nce@rac.ca>, or Neil Carleton, 3 Argyle Street, P.O. Box 1644, Almonte, Ontario, K0A 1A0.  I look forward to hearing from you.

My volunteer columns started in March 2010, as print features, to support the tree planting and tree awareness initiatives of the Mississippi Mills Beautification Committee.  The contact for the Tree Working Group is Ron Ayling, 613-256-4617.  In Carleton Place, the contact for the Urban Forest / River Corridor Advisory Committee is Jim McCready, 613-257-5853.

   Until the next column, you’ll find me looking for and hanging out with local shady characters.

 

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