Paper Mulberry

by Green Deane

in Edible Raw, Fruits/Berries, Greens/Pot Herb, Plants, Trees/Shrubs

The orange pompom fruit of the Paper Mulberry. Photo by Green Deane

The orange pom-pom fruit of the Paper Mulberry. Photo by Green Deane

Broussonetia papyrifera: Paper Chase

If you are a forager, you will be told two things constantly: One is that the plant of your admiration is “poisonous.” Sometimes they are, often they are not. The other thing you will hear is that a particular species is a “trash tree.”

When I first asked about this species I was told by a knowledgeable botanist that it was a trash tree though at the time he did not know what species it was. Over the years I wondered about its identity. It resembled a basswood tree but wasn’t one. It was certainly prolific, growing in hursts everywhere, often in low spots or gullies and ditches. I watched it for several years but it never seemed to fruit. While it did form colonies I also saw an isolated tree now and then. I presumed it could either fruit or reproduce by cuttings and the like. In hindsight, compounding the issue is that a young tree’s leaves look very different than a mature tree’s leaves. Indeed, it was a lone young tree near a bike trail that got me on the track of solving the identity of my mystery tree.

Young Paper Mulberry leaves

What I discovered was that while it might be an invasive species it is far from a “trash tree.” Also know as the Paper Mulberry, the Broussonetia papyrifera  (brew-soh-NEE-she-uh pap-ih-RIFF-er-uh) has been used for thousands of years to make paper and cloth. Young leaves are edible cooked — chewy — and in the right climate it produces orange pom-pom-like fruit. The tree, with extra large leaves, soft on one side, rough on the other, is also a common source of woodland toilet paper.

Native to the cooler regions of Asia they were taken to the Pacific Islands for paper and cloth. Someone had the bright idea of taking only sterile male clones to control their proliferation plus the male trees produce the better bark for cloth and paper. However, they can clone themselves by runners. Big mistake. The Paper Mulberry was in Florida by 1903 with someone also introducing female trees as well. With males and females being able to clone plus seeds from the female the species went gangbusters.

Mature mulberry leaves

Two things compounded my identification and appreciation of the Paper Mulberry. The first, already mentioned, is that the leaves of the young Paper Mulberry look very different than the adult. They are palmate and very indented, resembling an ornamental, Chinese pitchfork. Older leaves are very large mittens with one or two lobes looking like left or right thumbs, double thumbs or no thumbs.   The second issue was the species is from a temperate climate. Florida is not temperate. In my sub-temperate area they never fruit. Eighty miles north of here they do fruit but in years of watching they’ve never fruited locally (They might, however, if we have an exceptionally cold winter producing the necessary chill hours.)  It took tid bits of observations over many years to finally sort out the species’ identity.

To call the fruit an orange pom-pom is actually quite accurate. It starts out as a green ball about the size of a large marble on the end of a two-inch stem. The ball is pitted much like a Bread Fruit, which it is related to, and the Osage Orange. Then the ball grows white hairs which  eventually make the orange pom-pom part, which is edible. The ball is not edible as far as I know. The fruit is sweet, juicy and fragile. It does not travel well and is best eaten on the spot.   Fruiting starts around April and ends by the end of June.  Young leave for food are steamed though they do have a texture issue. You can also chop them up and boil them as well. The larger leaves can be used to wrap food in for cooking.

At one time the Paper Mulberry was grouped with other mulberries, and is closely related, but was given its own genus Broussonetia named after Pierre Maria August Broussonet (1761-1807) a professor of botany at Montpelier, France.  In the US the tree can be found From Massachusetts south to Florida, west to Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

Ripe fruit

IDENTIFICATION: Paper mulberry is deciduous with milky sap to 45 ft. (15 m.). Twigs hairy reddish brown, on young trees zebra stripped, older trees tan, smooth, furrowed. Wood is soft and brittle. Leaves are hairy, lobed or mitten-shaped, alternate, opposite or whorled along stem. Leaf edge sharply toothed, base heart-shaped to rounded with pointed tips, upper leaf surface is rough feeling. Separate male and female flowers in spring. Male flower clusters are elongate, pendulous, 2 ½ to 3 in. Female flowers globular about one inch in diameter. Fruits orange to reddish purple.

TIME OF YEAR: In Florida April to June, summer in northern areas, February to April in warmer climates.

ENVIRONMENT: Open sunny fields but also low areas such as ditched and gullies. Grows very fast and can be fruiting within 18 months.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Fruit out of hand (orange parts only.) Young leaves steamed or boiled. Bark can be used to make paper and cloth (tapa).  The fruit (grown in Thailand) is very high in calcium, potassium and magnesium. It also has trace amounts of arsenic (0.62 ppm) as many foods do.  Deer like to nibble on the leaves.

 

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Jan July 12, 2016 at 15:43

This information is from botanical.com A modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve
—Medicinal Action and Uses—The sole use of Mulberries in modern medicine is for the preparation of a syrup, employed to flavour or colour any other medicine. Mulberry Juice is obtained from the ripe fruit of the Mulberry by expression and is an official drug of the British Pharmacopoeia. It is a dark violet or purple liquid, with a faint odour and a refreshing, acid, saccharine taste. The British Pharmacopceia directs that Syrupus Mori should be prepared by heating 50 fluid drachms of the expressed juice to boiling point, then cooling and filtering. Ninety drachms of sugar is then dissolved in the juice, which is warmed up again. When once more cooled, 6.25 drachms of alcohol is added: the product should then measure about 100 drachms (20 fluid ounces). The dose is 2 to 1 fluid drachm, but it is, as stated, chiefly used as an adjuvant rather than for its slightly laxative and expectorant qualities, though used as a gargle, it will relieve sore throat.

The juice of the American Red Mulberry may be substituted; it is less acid than the European, while that of the White Mulberry, native of China, is sweet, but rather insipid.

In the East, the Mulberry is most productive and useful. It is gathered when ripe, dried on the tops of the houses in the sun, and stored for winter use. In Cabul, it is pounded to a fine powder, and mixed with flour for bread.

The bark of M. nigra is reputed anthelmintic, and is used to expel tape worm.

The root-bark of M. Indica (Rumph) and other species is much used in the East under the name of San-pai-p’i, as a diuretic and expectorant.

The Morinda tinctoria, or Indian Mulberry, is used by the African aborigines as a remedial agent, but there is no reliable evidence of its therapeutic value.

A parasitic fungus growing on the old stems of Mulberry trees found in the island of Meshima, Japan, and called there Meshimakobu, brown outside and yellow inside, is used in Japan for medicine.

Gerard recommends the fruit of the Mulberry tree for use in all affections of the mouth and throat.

‘The barke of the root,’ he says, ‘is bitter, hot and drie, and hath a scouring faculty: the decoction hereof doth open the stoppings of the liver and spleen, it purgeth the belly, and driveth forth wormes.’

With Parkinson, the fruit was evidently not in favour, for he tells us:
‘Mulberries are not much desired to be eaten, although they be somewhat pleasant both for that they stain their fingers and lips that eat them, and do quickly putrefie in the stomach, if they be not taken before meat.’

The Mulberry family, Moraceae, formerly regarded, together with the Ulmacece (Elm family), as a division of the Urticaceae (Nettle family), comprises upwards of 50 genera and about 900 species, of very diverse habit and appearance. Among them are the highly important food-plants Ficus (Fig) and Artocarpus (Bread fruit). M. tinctoria (Linn.), sometimes known as Machura tinctoria (D. Don), but generally now named Chlorophora tinctoria (Gaudich.), yields the dye-stuff Fustic, chiefly used for colouring wood of an orange-yellow colour. The tree is indigenous in Mexico and some of the West Indies, the wood being imported in logs of various sizes. This kind of fustic is known as old fustic, or Cuba fustic. Young fustic is a different product, obtained from Rhus cotinus (Linn.). It is known also as Venetian or Hungarian sumach, and is used in the Tyrol for tanning leather. The extract of fustic is imported as well as the wood. From Maclura Brasiliensis (Endl.) another important dye-wood is obtained. A yellow dye is also derived from the root of the Osage Orange (Toxylon pomiferum, Raf.), belonging to this order. The milky juice of Brosimum Galactodendron (Don) – the Cow or Milk-Tree of Tropical America – is said to be usable as cow’s milk, and ‘Bread-nuts’ are the edible seeds of another member of this genus, B. Alicastrum (Swz.), of Jamaica. The famous deadly Upas Tree of the East Indies (Antiaris toxicaria, Lesc.) is a less useful member of this family.
The bast-fibres of many Moraceae are tough and are used in the manufacture of cordage and paper. The Paper Mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera, Vint.) is cultivated extensively in Japan. It is a native of China, introduced into Great Britain early in the eighteenth century and is a coarse-growing, vigorous shrub, or a tree up to 30 feet, forming a roundish, spreading head of branches. The young wood is thickly downy, soft and pithy, the leaves very variable in size and form, often shaped like fig-leaves, the upper surface dull, green and rough, the lower surface densely woolly. It is a dioecious plant, the male flowers in cylindrical, often curly, woolly catkins, the female flowers in ball-like heads, producing round fruits congregated of small, red, pulpy seeds. In Japan, the stems are cut down every winter, so that the shrub only attains a height of 6 or 7 feet, and the barks are stripped off as an important material for paper. B. Kajinoki (Sieb.) is a deciduous tree, wild in Japan, growing 29 to 30 feet high, similar to the Paper Mulberry and made use of in like manner, though inferior. The ripe fruits are beautifully red and sweet. Paper is also manufactured in Japan with the fibre of the bark of B. kaempferi (Sieb.), a deciduous climber. A good paper may be manufactured from the bast of the Morus alba, var. stylosa (Bur.), Jap. ‘Kuwa,’ but as this plant is used especially for feeding silkworms, the paper made from the branches after the leaves are taken off for silkworms is of a very inferior quality. Mrs. M. Grieve is a weel known herbalist from the 1930s Her two book herbal series is are well worn in many herbalists collections.

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farouk June 30, 2016 at 05:35

Hi Green, please let me further stress on the uses you’ve already mentioned about Paper Mulberry. For making paper, the plant has fibers distinguished for being very long compared to e.g. wood pulp or cotton which means even thin sheets from Paper Mulberry are extremely strong. Accordingly the authorities at the Brooklyn Museum (please refer to: http://brooklynmuseum.tumblr.com/post/127785985303/this-object-is-a-quranic-writing-board-or-tablet ) have used strips of Asian Paper Mulberry tissue paper to repair a cord tied around a Quor’anic writing board – a tablet, vernacular “loah”, from my country Sudan. According to the reference it was likely in the late 19th. to 20th. century. As children our ancestors (we too) used “loahs” far back before that date to study and memorise Quor’an. I’m pleased to say these days are the fasting days of “ Rumudan” also called the “Month of Quor’an” when Muslims celebrate the month and abide with all requirements – emphasis is on reciting Quor’an (a letter cited is heavily weighed in terms of worship). “The month of Rumudan is that in which the Quor’an is revealed, a guidance to people and clear proofs of the guidance and the distinction; whoever of you is present in the month, he shall fast therein, and whoever is sick or upon a journey, then he shall fast a number of other days;….” – holy verse.

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Carl June 27, 2016 at 14:38

You have a wonderful site! Regarding the paper mulberry I wanted to add that in my childhood growing up on my grandfather’s farm in Virginia, everyone called this tree by the name “cut paper” tree. I always assumed the name came from the various shapes of the leaves, like they were cut from paper – but am happy to learn that the tree is actually used for making paper.

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Thomas Bell January 4, 2016 at 05:57

I found 3 specimens of Mulberry in my country, nobody here knows the tree (white, red and black fruits).
Here it grows like giant. Good shadow for summer.
Santiago de Chile, South America.

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tessie November 21, 2015 at 18:19

There are tons of these trees here in Ocala, Fl and I have two on my yard doing well. Have to trim them very often, so that they will stay under control, they grow very fast! There is tall one nearby that produces the fruit every year and when it does next time, I am going to eat the fruit. lol. Also, after reading the history of this tree, I was truly amazed at the usefulness and how beneficial these beautiful trees are. Wow!

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Harold McMullen November 16, 2015 at 08:58

Hey Green,
i have lived in Gainesville (FL) since ’93 and have come across several fruiting trees. One was behind the Newberry Branch Library and one day when I went in to fix a computer, the staff asked me if I knew what kind of tree that was fruiting behind the library. (I thought it was kinda funny, librarians asking me, a network tech to identify a tree). But as soon as they led me to it I knew. I told them that it was a Paper Mulberry and gave them a short history of the tree.) i picked some fruit and we all ate it. They were delighted. (About a couple of months ago, the tree was cut down when they expanded the library. sad indeed).
Also, for the last 15 years, my dog (who recently passed) and I would walk every day through the woods in Gainesville near our house and forage for plants. I was always thinking to myself that there is so much food around growing everywhere that people just don’t see. (forest for the trees kinda thing) We would find tons of wild grapes, passionflower fruit (maypops…my favorite) and lots more edible stuff.
Anyway, I surely enjoyed your post on Paper Mulberry. ( I got to your site because I was explaining the tree to a co-worker and sent her a link to your site. ) Happy Foraging. -Harold

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Deb October 23, 2015 at 13:34

My father planted what he thought was a “weir maple” in the early 60’s in our backyard in CA, 60 mi from SF. At some point he “topped” the tree. It grew into a magnificent shade tree. The plant continuously shot up starts all over the yard and the lawn was rittled with roots. When I sold our family home in 1997, the tree had spread to the parkway next to us. I made bonsai’s out of two starts. They’ve made beautiful little trees with their crooked branches. Before I moved to NY, I asked the owner of Alden Lane nursery if she could identify it as her father had sold the tree to my father. Low and behold, it was a male paper mulberry. I lost one of the bonsai’s this year. Any one know where I can get another one or two?

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bluebird September 2, 2015 at 17:51

Thanks so much for the wonderful bio of the Paper Mulberry and the amazingly informative discussion.

I live in New York City and this tree pops up throughout the city. It overwhelmed my tiny back yard and I just had to cut them down. I was kinda sorry to do it, it’s such an interesting-looking tree. But, they just grew too big and too fast.

I have a much better understanding about their history and uses, now, from this discussion. I’ll have a better respect for them when I see them in vacant lots and parks around here….maybe even get a chance to taste some fruit, if my timing is good. LOL

Thanks for a great site!

Jess

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izhar neumann July 24, 2015 at 10:15

I studied paper making in Japan some 30 years ago and brought back to Israel 7 root cuttings of Kozo ( the Japanese word for paper mulberry) and ever since I grow them for my papermaking . to do so ,I cut the branches low every year to get young and flexible bark which makes beautiful paper. I have about 600 trees now.only male trees. the plant is called in Hebrew “Tut Neyar”

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Laura June 29, 2015 at 23:38

I have a lot of these in my yard, sprouting up like crazy from extended roots. The bark is stripped and strong and the trunk is very wet. The young leaves are like pictures above but adult leaves are heart shaped and fuzzy. I have been watching them since February this year. I have not seen fruit yet. I would like to keep some of the trees but the pop up everywhere and grow super fast, overtaking my entire yard. I have pulled roots 30 plus feet to try to contain grow area. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. Wish I could post pictures. Any other ideas on getting rid of them? I really don’t want to mow my yard every week to keep new ones down .

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Anonymous August 20, 2015 at 03:19

Paper mulberry is a invasive species, coppice easily. You can try the following:
Trees can be controlled through cutting and herbicide applications.
During the growing season, trees should be cut near ground level, followed by an immediate application of herbicide to the stump in
order to destroy the root system. Apply a 25 percent solution of
glyphosate mixed with water to cut stumps or girdle wounds. If cutting is not feasible and the tree is less than six inches in diameter, herbicide may be applied to the lower trunk.
From late winter to late summer, a solution of 20
percent triclopyr (such as Garlon® 4) mixed in oil may be applied in a 12-inch band around the base of the tree.
Foliar applications of 2 percent glyphosate mixed with water may be considered in areas where the risk to non-target species is minimal.
Apply to both female and male trees..

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cindy May 5, 2015 at 12:08

I would like to buy a paper mulberry. where can I get one? (I live in Maryland, but can also buy online)

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Boyd Pridmore April 21, 2015 at 21:22

I live in lakeland Fl . and the Paper Mulberry Fruits here in april an again in june – july . The leaves are good forage for Ruminants and people .

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Green Deane April 21, 2015 at 23:38

I’ve never seen it fruit south of Ocala. When you say fruit, what do you mean?

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Anonymous November 16, 2014 at 22:58

Do you think I could find this in the northern states? I live in Michigan and the climate can be fairly cold, especially now (we got 2 inches of snow today) If you have any knowledge, please tell, thanks 🙂

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Dave Cluster July 29, 2014 at 14:10

Hi, there is a tree in the back yard here in Baltimore that is fruiting right now, (late July). It looks to have been cut back/down numerous times, (I just moved in this past winter, so I do not know how old the plant is, but the leaves appear to be that of a younger tree), and is now about 18 feet/6 meters tall with 2 main trunks and 3 smaller ones and is sprouting leaves from the tip to the ground, with the fruit starting at about 7 ft high. I almost cut it down this winter because it’s appearance was that of most ‘trash trees’; scraggly, many times cut back, dead and broken branches and trunks. I decided, just for kicks and giggles just to prune the deadwood and see what grew. And I am glad I did, just to see the cool looking, (and sweet, I just ate one), fruit ‘balls’.
I am also glad I stumbled onto this post while trying to find out what it was. My first thought was sassafras, but (obviously) the leaves looked too sharp and angular. Take care, Thanks, and Good Foraging.

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Janet Robinson June 25, 2014 at 15:08

Thank you so much for clearing up my personal mystery. I am fond of foraging, even though I’m kind of limited here in Central Florida. I do, however, have (as I now know) huge paper mulberry trees in my yard. They fruited for the first time this year, I of course I wondered if they were edible. They have such a melon-like fragrance, I suspected they were but now you have solved the mystery. Thanks so much!

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del June 19, 2014 at 18:34

hi green dean enjoyed your ocala class and thanks for the purslane.i found something similar in my garden. the texture of the leaves are the same but ends or tips are pointed like a sword not rounded and the stem is red. Is this another kind of purslane and is it edible.

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Green Deane July 7, 2014 at 16:52

Hmmm. Might be Portulaca pilosa, not edible by my opinion.

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Boyd Pridmore January 26, 2014 at 16:33

I would like to talk with you in the future. I have worked with PMB for about 3 years ,and find it a fascinating tree. Please contact me .

Boyd

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LGC December 28, 2013 at 16:46

Chinese use yang paper muberry leaves tea for skin disease.

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Christopher Wanjek August 14, 2013 at 09:47

Ripe in Baltimore now. (It’s mid-August.) I’ve been tracking this for two years. I identified it in the fall of 2011, after the fruit dropped. I missed it in 2012, having gone to the tree in June and July to see very immature fruit formed and then later in August to find the fruit dropped.

I set a reminder on my calendar this time around. Worth the wait… and the nibble, because very little is edible. Extremely sweet. It reminded me of a cross between mulberry and kiwi. I collected about two points. Too much of the fruit was out of reach, unfortunately.

As Green Deane wrote, this is very fragile. I managed to keep this a day in the refrigerator to share with friends. This is certainly not anything substantial, not enough to add to yogurt or oatmeal, etc., but it is a fun, exotic-looking treat.

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Basil Gua July 9, 2013 at 20:12

I am interested in what is the best use of this species and so glad to come across this web. There is reasonable good stand of this species growing rapidly fast in Guadalcanal Island,in Solomon Islands and somehow people regard the species as weed or invassive. My interest is to find the best way I can utilise this resource and so glad to meet Dalani Tahany and Michael Adler who seem to attrach my interest.
Would it be possible to have more talk with these two people and find out if I can export the fibre or bark to them. Will be so happy to here from them. Many thanks

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Michael Adler July 7, 2013 at 05:06

The best thing about these trees in my opinion is their use for cordage. I don’t know how one would go about making paper or cloth from them, but the inner bark is exceptionally strong and makes a very good rope or twine. To do this, I’ll scrape the outer bark off with the back of a butter knife, then cut through the inner bark and pull it off in strips, which I’ll separate into small strips and hang to dry. Once they are dried, I can take two bundles of these strips, tie a knot at one end, and twist them opposite to each other so they will wrap around each other and hold a tight twist. As a bundle starts getting thin, I add in more strips to bulk it back up, and in this way, I can continue making a long rope.

These ropes are stronger than any other wild cordage I’ve come across, and the strips I can peel from the trees are much longer and of better quality than any other wild cordage I’ve encountered.

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Basil Gua July 9, 2013 at 22:54

Hi Mr Adler, are you not interested to buying fresh/dried fibre if I process them for you and send. We can negotiate on the best price.
Hear from you.

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Jaclyn June 25, 2013 at 11:30

Are there male and female trees and some don’t fruit? I have a tree I think is paper mulberry but I have never seen fruit or flowers on it like this.

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Green Deane June 25, 2013 at 16:38

There are he’s, she’s and clone males (which reproduce vegetatively, which was unexpected. They weren’t supposed to so they wouldn’t escape cultivation.)

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s.gunasekar May 1, 2013 at 11:52

This tree grown in my farm (coimbatore,tamilnadu,india) on its own . Today only i went to forest department to know the name of the tree.This tree grow n to height of 10m within in a short period of 12 months.

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Dalani Tanahy December 23, 2012 at 13:21

Aloha from Hawaii!
I am a cultivator and user of paper mulberry here, where I make the native tapa or kapa that was once the clothing, bedding, taxes, etc in Hawaii and Polynesia. I would be very interested in experimenting with the mulberry bark that grows throughout the US. Please feel free to contact me.

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Jenny Nazak October 17, 2012 at 12:29

I find the Paper Mulberry’s fast-growing wood to be a good source of twigs for use in a Rocket Stove.

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Tim September 17, 2012 at 18:47

As I was reading this I looked out the window and what do I see? A paper mulberry. I live in north brevard county and I have seen them fruit here and even tasted the fruit. There are more in the orange groves near my house. Do they ever start at just one trunk like normal trees or do they always branch out near the ground?

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Green Deane September 17, 2012 at 21:17

They will send up several trunks if they have been cut down. Normally they have one trunk.

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Keith August 26, 2012 at 13:47

Mr. Deane, you need to update your info somewhat. I have a volunteer tree in my back yard in Southern California! It is not available locally in any nurseries, so it is a true volunteer.
It DOES fruit here, and the fruit is tasty, although difficult to do anything with other than eat out of hand.

I’ve been a fellow forager for almost 50 years. Any idea where I could get dried serviceberries? The local ones are low quality.

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Green Deane August 27, 2012 at 13:49

Perhaps humidity also plays a rule. They will grow in California but until recenlty not well in Florida (they have a new species being established here.)

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Ruth April 25, 2012 at 23:22

Hello Mr. Deane. I was wondering if you could let me know if you could drink the extracts from the root bark of the paper mulberry as a tea and how is it prepared. How many cups can you take per day? Is the root bark poisonous or not? Can the root bark lighten the skin? I was told that it can lighten the skin.

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Green Deane April 26, 2012 at 06:47

With apologies, I know nothing about that. I forage for food. Your question is along herbalist/medicinal lines which I am not qualified to comment on.

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