Tuesday, 6 March 2018

White fruited mulberries

Mulberries are delicious, they are one of the greatest tasting and easiest to grow temperate fruit trees.  The mulberry trees are fast growing, high yielding, and reasonably hardy.  As well as being great to eat, they are very simple to grow and the tree is nice enough to look at and is great for shade.

Mulberry trees have a few problems though, the fruit does not transport or store well, the fruit also will not ripen once picked, for these reasons you never see them for sale in the shops.  Unfortunately for some reason you also don't see things like mulberry pies in shops.

Another problem is the mess and stains from the fruit.  White mulberry (Morus alba) often have dark fruit that stain everything.  You get stains from dropped fruit and on fingers while eating them, smushing unripe fruit takes away the stain from fingers.  More annoyingly birds eat the mulberry fruit and deposit stains on washing etc.  Luckily there are a few strains of white mulberries that are white fruited which do not stain.

A few years ago I bought a mulberry tree from Rodney's nursery in Pialligo.  It was a white mulberry (Morus alba) and I paid extra for a white fruited one.  It had a tag that was the same as the pictures below (which are not my pictures, they were found on gumtree).
White fruited white mulberry - picture from gumtree

White fruited white mulberry - picture from gumtree
Notice that the tag clearly states that it is a "white fruited form".  It is quite clear that the fruit will be white when ripe.  This is why I paid extra, I didn't want a normal white mulberry with dark fruit.

Unfortunately the tags must have been mixed up, and my tree produced dark, highly staining fruit.  I complained to Rodney's nursery and they were not interested as I had lost the receipt.  I still had the tag, and the pot with the sticker on the side that said "Rodney's" and "mulberry" but without the receipt they were not willing to accept any responsibility or even discuss it with me.  Poor form Rodney's nursery, very poor form.

The fruit tasted amazing, like most mulberries do, but was no good for growing in town.  Then we were about to move house to live on acreage so I took a small 10cm cutting.  I took my cutting and left the tree behind and hoped that the new owners would enjoy it.

The cutting grew roots easily, as white mulberries do, and we moved mid summer in early January.  We had rain that first year and a comparatively mild summer.  I planted the rooted cutting in the vegetable garden and by the following January that cutting had grown to about 6 foot tall and started fruiting.  As I didn't want a tree in the vegetable bed I dug it up in winter and planted it in a spare spot in one of my orchards.

The following summer was hot and dry.  My little mulberry tree died.  I didn't buy another one as it was just too arid for mulberry to thrive there.  The previous owners planted a black mulberry behind the shed and even though it was well established before we moved in it struggled to survive each year even with additional watering.

Now we have moved to a cooler and less arid climate I wanted to get another mulberry tree.  We are in town so I probably shouldn't grow a dark fruited one here.  This time, instead of getting another white fruited white mulberry I have bought a white shahtoot mulberry (Morus macroura) from Daleys Fruit Tree nursery.  Daleys seem to have a reasonable reputation and as the tree is grafted there is a high chance of getting what I paid for.
White Shahtoot Mulberry
White shahtoot are either a different species of mulberry to the white mulberry, or are an inter-specific hybrid of several mulberry species.  They are grow very long mulberries, about 10cm long.

The first year I grew this in a large pot of soil.  Apparently shahtoot are less cold hardy than white mulberry, so having it in a pot while it is small means that I was able to protect it from the frost.  We had a few nights below -8C this winter, and it snowed a few times, which would likely have been too much for the little tree without a little protection.  By protection I mean that I grew it near a hedge where ti would get a little less frost, I certainly didn't coddle the tree.

Mulberry graft site
Towards the end of winter I planted it in the ground.  When taking it out of the pot I noticed that the soil was absolutely riddled with grubs happily eating the roots.  Not great.

Not long after planting it the tree started to bud.  Unfortunately many of the branches died off from the grubs, but the tree is pretty fast growing and seems to have since come good so I am hoping that the grubs have disappeared somewhat.

White Shahtoot buds

White shahtoot - each bud had 3 or more fruits

Look how long these are, even before they have flowered they are longer than regular mulberries
My white fruited shahtoot mulberries went on to grow a lot of fruit for such a small tree.  Every place that leaves were growing also had several long mulberries developing.  The minimum was three but some grew half a dozen mulberries.  Each mulberry was roughly 10 cm long, some longer and some shorter.

I was expecting white shahtoot mulberries to ripen white but they ripened more of a green colour, similar to white grapes.  The difference between unripe and ripe was obvious so it was simple to pick them.  Like any other variety of mulberry, the ripe fruit drops off in your hand when you touch them, so picking these took no effort.  Perhaps it is because my tree is small, or perhaps it is the colour, but birds did not touch any of these.  Kids and bugs on the other hand...

The taste of white shahtoot mulberries is pretty sweet.  They can be eaten slightly unripe and are still sweet.  Depending on how ripe they almost taste like apricot or honey, it is difficult to describe, but they were well liked by everyone who ate them.  When over ripe they weren't fantastic, but still not horrible, the kids still enjoyed these.

I can hardly wait until next spring when I get to eat more!

White shahtoot starting to ripen
White shahtoot - very productive
I am told that shahtoot mulberry will not grow from cuttings and do not set viable seed.  My tree is still not large enough for me to experiment with so I have not tried air layering or anything yet.  I am told that the only way to propagate more is to graft them onto white mulberry rootstock.  Luckily white mulberries grow easily from cuttings, so getting rootstock is easy, and grafting is pretty simple.

I have since obtained a cutting of another supposedly white fruited white mulberry.  I got it as a tiny cutting, since planting it into a pot it is growing rather well.  I had planned to use it as rootstock and graft shahtoot onto it and have a second beautiful shahtoot tree.  I may let it grow a bit larger before I try that, plus I am curious to see if it is actually white fruited.  If it is white fruited, growing two different varieties of mulberry sounds nice and may extend the harvest season.

No comments:

Post a Comment