The Mulberry Tree in June.

I am joining in with Looseandleafy’ s tree watching meme on the 7th of every month.  My ancient mulberry tree takes life at a steady pace and not a great deal has changed since last month except that the flowers have got bigger. Mulberries don’ t ripen until the end of August so there is a way to go until we have nice dark red berries.
The tree is looking summery with its large heart-shaped leaves.
The buttercups in the meadow are nearly over and the red campion has finished. But there are ox -eye daisies looking very pretty.
Down the lane the froth of cow parsley has finished but there are still some dog roses in bloom.

As it is Midsummernight’ s Eve this month it seems a good time to remind you of the tragic way the mulberry got its red colour according to Roman myth told to us by Ovid in the  Metamorphoses. The version most of us are familiar with is the one acted out by the rustics in Shakespeare’ s Midsummer Night’ s Dream, with the role of the hero played by Bottom. The story of two young lovers kept apart by their parents and meeting  a  tragic end is a theme which Shakespeare returned to in Romeo and Juliet. Perhaps he got the idea for it from Pyramus and Thisbe.

In Ovid’ s version the young Babylonian couple who live in adjoining houses talk through a chink in the wall. As they are forbidden contact with one another they decide to escape their parent’ s vigilance and meet by the mulberry tree by the tomb of Ninus. Thisbe arrives first and is alarmed by a lion with its mouth all gory from its latest kill. She drops her veil as she runs away to hide. When Pyramus arrives on the scene the lion has gone and he sees the blood stained veil that the lion has mauled. Thinking that his beloved Thisbe has been eaten by the lion Pyramus does what any right -minded Roman would do on such an occasion and falls on his sword. Thisbe returns and finds her love dying and realising that he has killed himself because of his great love for her she takes the sword and stabs herself too. You can see why Shakespeare liked the story, he did like to end his tragedies with the stage littered with corpses.

Anyway the point of this story which you may not know from  a reading of Shakespeare’ s play is that the blood of the dying Pyramus spurted all over the white mulberries dying them red. And that is how we have red mulberries today.
Boch mulberry


















This lovely wood block engraving is the work of David Kandel who illustrated the Herbal of Hieronymus Bock, (not to be confused with Bosch) who was a German Lutheran minister and also a botanist. His Herbal; ‘Kreuterbuch’ first appeared in 1539. He classified 700 plants so the book was quite an achievement. The David Kandel woodblocks are charming and sometimes unintentionally funny.

Thanks to Lucy Corrander at looseandleafy for hosting this meme.






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54 Responses to The Mulberry Tree in June.

  1. lizard100 says:

    The mulberry is beautiful.

  2. Pauline says:

    What an amazing post! History as well as gardening. Your Mulberry tree is beautiful and will be even more so in a couple of months time.Shakespeare did like lots of blood and gore didn’t he, it’s amazing that so many stories have the same theme.

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Pauline, I like the fact that the mulberry tree has so many stories connected to it. It gives me something to research and write about. Better than just saying: ‘ Here is the mulberry tree with leaves and flowers.’

  3. You are extremely knowledgeable Chloris – and such a tragic story attached to this beautiful tree too. I echo Pauline’s sentiments Shakespeare liked a fair bit of tragedy, we don’t get too much Shakespeare at school here but I’m familiar with one or two but not Midsummer Night’s Dream.

    • Chloris says:

      As so often with Shakespeare he borrowed an old story and adapted it; in this case of the rustics putting on a play in Midsummer Night’ s Dream, it was to comic effect. He omitted the bit about the blood making the white mulberry red. But that is the point of the story in Ovid’ s version.

  4. Robbie says:

    oh my that is tragic:-) ” did like to end his tragedies with the stage littered with corpses.” love that comment:-) I was riding this morning along the river and mulberries were all smashed on the bike trail, but ours are more of a purple color + stain your mouth and everything around purple, but so yum! Is this a different type?

    • Chloris says:

      I think your native wild mulberries are the red mulberry; Morus rubra whereas this is the black mulberry; Morus nigra. I believe your mulberry seeds around freely whereas this one doesn’ t. I don’ t know why it doesn’t t as it bears so much fruit.

      • Robbie says:

        thank you, very interesting:-) I remember my middle daughter when she was about 5 yrs old ate tons of them and had a purple mouth which we took a picture of-lol. It sits on my mother’s desk to this day:-) They are YUM!

  5. Debra says:

    Thank you for this! I am really enjoying this series about your Elizabethan mulberry. Brava.

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Debra, I am glad that you are enjoying it, I hope that I don’ t run out of things to say about the mulberry before the year is out,

  6. Kris P says:

    Your mulberry and the surrounding area is beautiful, Chloris. They fit my mind’s image of the English country garden.

  7. coastcard says:

    Thank you for sharing so much fascinating material (not forgetting pictures) of the Mulberry. We had a Renga presentation on this species at the Suffolk Poetry Festival last week in Stowmarket!

    • Chloris says:

      I didn’ t realise that there was a poetry festival in Stowmarket.
      There is a story that Milton planted a mulberry tree in the vicarage garden at Stowmarket; he was a friend of the rector there.

  8. lizard100 says:

    The mulberry is fascinating.

  9. jenhumm116 says:

    Thanks Chloris – another really interesting post.
    I feel the pressure’s really on for my over-the-road oak post I’m just about to concoct!

  10. rusty duck says:

    Fascinating. And it just goes to show how much simpler life is with a mobile phone. Although, knowing my luck, if I needed to contact other half in a hurry under a mulberry tree there would be no signal.

    • Chloris says:

      Yes, a mobile phone would have helped the situation. That, and leaving his sword at home. I can’ t help wondering why he took his sword with him when he only went out for a little romantic dalliance.

  11. Julie says:

    Great post, I love journey to the Mulberry and such tragedy too.

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you. Julie, Yes, it is a tragedy but having seen it performed in Midsummer Night’ s Dream I can’ t help seeing the funny side of the story.

  12. Interesting story! We have mulberries here, too, but they’re not that common. The Romans were a dramatic bunch, weren’t they? Everything they did seemed to end in blood and death! At least the trees survived!

  13. Chloris says:

    Yes to be fair to Pyramus he was a Babylonian not a Roman, but as Ovid wrote the story he could have Pyramus fall on his sword in true Roman fashion. He could finish him off any way he wanted as it was his story. His Metamorphoses was supposed to be a chronicle of the world since time began. This was the bit about Babylon. Ovid obviously didn’ t know a great deal about Babylon. You’ d think he might have mentioned the Hanging Gardens. Or The Fall of Babylon. Or the fact that the Babylonians were good at maths. But no he wrote a silly story about two young lovers who weren’ t eaten by a lion. But then, to be fair, he had a lot of material to cover in 15 books.

  14. Alain says:

    In my old garden, mulberry seedlings were one of the most common weeds! The funny thing is that I never knew where the parent tree grew. Birds brought in the seeds. I have planted a few mulberries here (outside the garden proper) but they have not survived!

    • Chloris says:

      Were they Morus rubra trees? I believe they seed around a lot. For some reason the Morus nigra doesn’ t have seedlings. Not round here anyway.

      • Alain says:

        It must have been rubra. I did not realize that there was a North American mulberry. It certainly produced a lot of seedlings.

  15. Cathy says:

    It’s interesting to see how the flowers and then the berries form. I’ve never seen the berries before so it’s all new to me! The background myths are also lovely, and old botanical drawings fascinate me too. I think the artists had just as much a sense of humour then as we do now!

  16. The woodblock print is delightful and, indeed, funny! But whether I’ll be able to eat mulberries now I’ve read the story – I’m not so sure!

  17. Great story but can we have one with a happy ending next time please! Love the heart shaped leaves of your mulberry, it is a tree I have had on my wish list ever since testing fruit (unofficially) from the one at the old Bristol Botanic Garden. A wonderful and magically tree.

    • Chloris says:

      It is a lovely tree, but I can’ t promise a story with a happy ending.. In fact between you and me, I’ m running out of things to tell you about the Mulberry. So next month it might be just a case of – ‘ Here is the Mulberry tree. It has leaves and little unripe fruit.’

  18. Hollis says:

    I’m enjoying the mulberry stories! I don’t think there’s nearly as much legend or myth associated with my cottonwood, but I’m searching …

  19. Cathy says:

    Don’t you think that Pyramus is a little OTT in his dying pose on that wood block, Chloris – and it looks as if Thisbe agrees…. 🙂 Thanks for your informative post – I look forward to hearing more folklore about mulberries next month…

    • Chloris says:

      He does look as if he is hamming it up a bit and Thisbe looks as if she is impatient with him. All of the illustrations for Bock’ s Herbal are lovely and some of them are really funny.

  20. Alison says:

    Love your mulberry tree, sadly if lost mine last winter but it was only a young twig really. Reading your blog makes me think I must replace it.

  21. Chloris says:

    The mulberry is a lovely tree but your quince has fabulous blossom too.

  22. Anna says:

    Not only a most enjoyable post Chloris but most informative too. There is so much fascinating folklore out there around plants. I must investigate the willow more. I studied ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ for ‘O’ level English Literature many moons ago and have fond memories of Pyramus and Thisbe.

  23. A lovely post, Chloris – and I’m learning so much from them. My only pervious encounter with the mulberry, was the shelter they provided while we were at Olympia. Most welcome! I bet they were pretty ancient trees there!

    • Chloris says:

      Thanks Ali, it is great to study trees and learn all about them. I have never really looked at this mulberry properly before this year..

  24. Chloris thank you for telling the story of the fated lovers I had not heard it before, the ‘heart’ shaped leaves add to the love theme, I like the wild meadow, I am surprised that the dogwoods are in flower where you are, where are you ? far, far south of where I am, my dogwoods are hardly in bud yet, though my red campion is starting to fade and the oxeye daisies are in bud, Frances

  25. Chloris says:

    Hello Frances, it is not a dogwood but a wild rose or dog rose: Rosa canina. But I expect we are a lot further on than you are; I live in Suffolk and we have quite a gentle climate.

    • oophs I slipped up I meant dog rose, I have 5 in my garden, 3 really old ones that were here when I came and 2 from suckers, yes you are the opposite end of the UK, Frances

  26. Christina says:

    I didn’t know this story from the Metamorphoses; you are making this tree meme more interesting than most! Have you written already about being ‘caught red-handed’ which is also related to picking mulberries when you shouldn’t.

  27. bittster says:

    I hope you’re not meeting anyone out there by the tree….. at least leave your sword at home if you do!
    I do like the woodcarving. I suppose those are all silkmoths fluttering through the branches, and worms on the trunk. Botany, entomology, love, and tragedy… that’s a lot for a minister to take on in one carving.

  28. Chloris says:

    No I ‘m not meeting anyone by the mulberry tree. And in any case there are no lions about in Suffolk .
    I love the these images to illustrate the herbal, they are so quirky and full of character.

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