Morus nigra

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Mulberry fruit
© French B.
Leaves and fruits.
© Arnoldo Mondadori Editore SpA

Local names:
Creole (mi), English (mulberry,small fruited mulberry,black mulberry,black Persian), French (Murier noir,mûres), German (Schwarzer Maulbeerßaum), Hindi (tut,shah-tut), Indonesian (murbei), Italian (gelso nero), Javanese (besaran), Spanish (mora negra,mor

Morus nigra is a deciduous tree, slender but with numerous branches. Grows to 6-9 m in height, but it tends to be a bush if not trained when young.

Leaves rough on upper surfaces and pubescent underneath, 7-12.5 cm long, often producing leaves of several different shapes, with 1 or more lobes, multilobed leaves often appearing on the same branches as lobeless ones; abnormally shaped leaves usually produced from stem shoots or sucker growths, and frequently by very vigorous young branches.

Flowers held on short, green, pendulous, nondescript catkins that appear in the axils of the current season’s growth and on spurs on older wood. The flowers appear in 1.3 cm scaly clusters, female flowers ripening quickly into 1.3-2.5 cm blackberry-shaped edible fruits.

Botanically, the fruit is not a berry but a collective fruit; the fleshy bases of pollinated flowers begin to swell and ultimately become completely altered in texture and colour, becoming succulent, fat and full of juice. In appearance, each tiny swollen flower roughly resembles the individual drupe of a blackberry. The colour of the fruit does not identify the mulberry species.

It has been suggested that the generic name of the mulberry, Morus, was derived from the Latin ‘mora’ (delay), from the tardy expansion of the buds. An alternative explanation is that it comes from the Celtic ‘mor’ (black), referring to the colour of the fruit. The specific name refers to the dark colour of the fruit.


M. nigra trees are highly favoured in areas with long hot summers or extended droughts. A rugged species, M. nigra is fairly resistant to cold but grows best at lower altitudes when sheltered from wind and in coastal areas.

Native range

Tree management

The tree can be grown in various forms: as a tall standard with 1.8 m stem, as a low standard on a 0.9 m stem, as a bush, or as a pyramid-shaped tree. It can also be fan-trailed against a wall and is a good subject for pot cultivation. Standard trees require no pruning except for removing dead wood and thinning branches. Most forms, especially pyramid trees, need to have the lateral growth shortened to about 6 leaves to form spurs. Wall trees need to have their branches trained 30 cm apart. It is not advisable to prune the trees heavily due to the plant’s inclination to bleed—cuts of more than 5 cm in diameter generally do not heal and should be avoided. The bleeding will be less severe if the tree is pruned while it is dormant.

Trees grow very rapidly, need full sun, adequate space (at least 4.5 m between each tree) and generally thrive with minimal fertilization. Although somewhat drought resistant, they need to be watered in the dry season; if the roots become too dry, the fruit are likely to drop before being fully ripened. Pot trees need repotting each year before new growth commences. 

They are not easily killed, and careful pruning and cultivation have rejuvenated old specimens. Broken, undetached branches usually take root if they touch the ground.

Seed storage behaviour is orthodox; storage in airtight hermetic storage at -20 deg. C is recommended.

M. nigra trees are highly favoured in areas with long hot summers or extended droughts. A rugged species, M. nigra is fairly resistant to cold but grows best at lower altitudes when sheltered from wind and in coastal areas.

M. nigra is somewhat difficult to propagate, as it tends to bleed heavily when cut. The best methods of propagation are by cuttings or layering and both are easy and successful. Grafts are also usually successful, although there may be incompatibility between white and black mulberries. Hardwood, softwood and root cuttings are also suitable methods.

The tree can also be raised from seeds, which should be sown as soon as extracted from the fruit.

 The purple-black berries are large and juicy, with a good balance of sweetness and tartness that makes them the best-flavoured species of the genus. The ripe fruit contains about 9% sugar, with malic and citric acid. Berries can be eaten raw or dried, or used in pies, tarts, puddings, conserves, jams, or sweetened and pureed as a sauce; slightly unripe fruit is best for pies and tarts. Mulberries blend well with other fruit, especially pears and apples. The fruit is sometimes pounded to a fine powder and mixed with the flour for bread.

Fodder: Although inferior to those of M. alba, the leaves of M. nigra are also used for raising silkworms and have been used as a feed for domestic rabbits. Both cattle and goats browse the leaves and shoots; therefore, young saplings need protection.

Pruned and dead branches are suitable for firewood.

Fibre: In Japan, a textile fibre is extracted from the bark. 

Timber: The wood is a rich yellow that darkens over time to a rich golden brown. The wood is not affected by water and, because of its hardness, is used in joinery for articles subject to wear, for lathe work, and in the manufacture of barrels, caskets, snuffboxes and cups.

Shade or shelter: The trees are fairly wind resistant with some cultivars being used as windbreaks.

Tannin or dyestuff: The leaves yield a yellow dye, used mainly for heightening the sheen on silk.

Medicine: The main use of M. nigra in modern medicine is for the preparation of a syrup obtained from the ripe fruit employed to flavour or colour other medicines. It is a dark violet or purple liquid, with a faint odour and a refreshing, sweet-acid taste. M. nigra leaves are used in pharmacy for their astringent properties. M. nigra has laxative and antipyretic properties. The bark is a reputed anthelmintic, used to expel tapeworms. A leaf, flower or root decoction can be gargled for diabetes; fever, sore throat and swollen vocal chords are treated with fruit juice. A parasitic fungus, known locally as ‘meshimakobu’, brown on the outside and yellow inside, grows on the old stems of mulberry trees on the island of Meshima, Japan, and is used medicinally there.

Ornamental: M. nigra is especially worth growing for its luxuriant foliage and picturesque form. Fruitless male trees are the ones most often planted near paved areas, as the fruit of female trees drops and can cause permanent stains. Pot cultivation for small indoor plants and bonsai trees is also popular.

When spaced correctly, the species can be planted as a live fence.

Alcohol: Fruits produce an alcoholic drink; for example, in Greece they are fermented for this purpose. In Devonshire, UK, they are sometimes mixed with cider during fermentation, giving the drink a pleasant taste and deep red colour.

Other services: Birds are so fond of the fruit that M. nigra is sometimes planted near more valuable fruit trees, such as cherries, to lure the birds away from the choice crop.