There are two types of mulberry along Shoal Creek, red mulberry (Morus rubra) and white mulberry (Morus alba). The white mulberry is from northern China, first introduced in the United States in hopes of supporting a silk industry. The leaves of the white mulberry are the preferred food of the silkworm. The silk industry never took hold, but the white mulberry has now spread throughout the eastern U.S. and in many places hybridizes with the native red mulberry.No one had to plant mulberries along Shoal Creek. The ripe fruit is quickly consumed by birds, and the seeds are spread in their droppings. Fortunately the fruit ripen in the spring at a time when many frugivorous (fruit-eating) migrant birds are passing through. In fact, a number of species (Baltimore oriole, scarlet tanager, indigo bunting, rose-breasted grosbeak) are known among birders as the “mulberry birds.”
Between now and mid-May keep a close eye on the mulberries along the creek. With patience you will see some of the most spectacularly colored birds in the U.S., a small compensation for the dark purple juice that now stains your clean white shirt.
But can you eat them? Of course. The white mulberry is practically tasteless, a flavor often described as “insipid.” The sweet red mulberry should be eaten when ripe (black), if you can keep the birds from getting them first. The black mulberry, closely related to our red, is prized in the Mideast where its fruits are used in sherbets, jams, and jellies. I love to snack on the red mulberries, but I see few other people joining me in eating this delight.There is another fruit that is common along Shoal Creek this time of year, the loquat (Eriobotrya japonica). The loquat originated in southeastern China, and it has been cultivated in Japan for over a 1000 years. Most commonly loquat is eaten in Asia as a fresh fruit. The loquat has never been popular for eating in the U.S., and a commercial market has never developed. However, loquat seeds are spread by wildlife (start with o’possums and raccoons), and this shrub is widespread along Shoal Creek.
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