The Mulberry Tree. September. 2014.

Since March I have been joining in with Lucy ‘s tree following meme over at looseandleafy. The idea is to watch a tree and see what happens to it over the months. Last month I wrote about picking the luscious fruit. Now the Mulberry has just about finished fruiting and the wasps are lingering over the  last squashed  and withered  fruits.

So here the tree sits, or rather lies, resting after all the effort.  Its leaves are still not showing any hint of Autumn colour.
Several blogging friends have told me that the native American mulberry: Morus rubra is considered as a weed as it seeds around everywhere and becomes a nuisance. My mulberry: Morus nigra comes from Persia, although you might be forgiven for thinking that it comes from China, because like the panda it doesn’t breed in captivity. It never seeds around. You have to propagate it by taking cuttings.

The white mulberry: Morus alba comes from China and this is where silk was first produced. According to legend it was discovered by accident 5000 years ago when the  wife of the Emperor, Xi Ling Shi dropped a cocoon into a cup of hot water and catching it in her finger nail, she found that the silk could be unravelled. For centuries the secrets of sericulture were closely guarded by the Chinese and it was not until 550 A.D. that two Persian monks were sent to China as spies to learn the secrets of silk production. They smuggled out some cocoons in their bamboo staves and took them to Constantinople so that the Turks were able to establish a silk industry. Silk making was no longer a secret and the knowledge spread thought the Mediterranean. The crusades helped to spread the techniques.  By  the 12th century Italy was the silk capital of the West. The French were keen to develop their own industry and in 1594, Henri IV subsidised the planting of mulberry orchards. Provence and Languedoc became very successful centres of the industry and France soon  became the second largest producer of silk.  Seeing this success, James 1  was keen to introduce sericulture into England and he contacted the deputy lieutenants of all the counties in England instructing them to make sure that all landowners should plant mulberry trees.   In 1607 an English version of a French treatise on the care of silkworms was published.  This was de Serre’s ‘The Perfect use of Silk-wormes and their benefits.‘ There was also a translation of Surflet’s ‘La Maison Rustique‘ which was full of handy hints on  rearing ‘these prettie creatures‘. It seems they were not just pretty but  demanding too. They needed constant heat to survive, so houses had to be kept very warm. They were thought to  hate noise so children had to play quietly. Thunderstorms would put them off their food and so would strong smells. They were fussy about hygiene too. The worst thing from  a woman’s point of view though, was  the suggestion that the eggs should be hatched out ‘betwixt the breasts of women’. Just imagine getting all ready to go into silk production, planting the trees and waiting for them to mature and then being told you had to hatch the eggs out in your cleavage. You wouldn’t be able to wear low- cut dresses because of possible social embarrassment. And apart from that,  I am squeamish, the thought of it gives me the horrors.
Chloris Silkworms
It turned out that silkworms needed more warmth than this country could provide and they needed the leaves of the white mulberry to eat rather than the black mulberry which was planted here. I should imagine any women who had read the treatise would have have been extremely relieved. I would have been.

I am afraid I am a little late with this post as I have been away. I tried to keep up with other blogs whilst I was away but I sometimes had a very intermittent internet connection. I put up a couple of posts that I had prepared before I went away but I was very surprised one evening to find that I had reblogged a post on Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ written by I had only meant to like it so I don’t quite know how that happened. I prefer to write my own posts but the biking gardener is worth reading.
Many thanks to dear Betty for the picture of me hatching out silkworm caterpillars.

To see other tree -following posts please have a look at looseanndleafy. Thank you again for hosting this meme Lucy.


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56 Responses to The Mulberry Tree. September. 2014.

  1. Christina says:

    Love the picture of you hatching out the silk worms! I can’t think of anything so dreadful. I’ve just discovered that I have some caterpillars on the box which is a bit frightening as looking at the RHS site they can completely defoliate the plants. I will have to be very vigilant. Your tree posts are so interesting, I knew about James 1st instructing everyone to plant the wrong type. I don’t think my Mulberry is a true white variety, the fruits are pale, pale pink but the foliage looks just the same as the black one I’ve bought, anyway I won’t be hatching any silk worms any time soon.

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Christina.
      I thought the leaves on your tree looked a bit too small to be a white mulberry. It is a lovely shaped tree though. I have got a nice photo of it.

  2. snowbird says:

    Well, when I read it was to be a Mulberry post I settled back to enjoy it thinking you couldn’t possibly top the last one! How WRONG i was….I LOVED this, the pic is splendid, clever clever Betty, and the thought of hatching critters ‘twixt me boobies had my skin crawling, I’m a lover of the animal world but that is going too far….oh yes!!!
    Now if your tree doesn’t seed how does it propagate in the wild? It is an interesting tree isn’t it…

    • Chloris says:

      Actually it is not as bad as it sounds, they kept them in little pouches. Maybe you wouldn’ t mind that so much, you being an animal lover.
      I expect the tree seeds itself in its native Persia, but it doesn’t t seem to here.

  3. Cathy says:

    I await each episode of the mulberry saga with great anticipation and you have not failed me yet, Chloris – I need to start collecting snippets of witch hazel info so I can emulate your learned and amusing posts 😉

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Cathy. I must admit each month I wonder what on earth I’ m going to write about it. Trees don’ t really change a good deal in a month. And even if they do it’ s not very exciting to write about.

  4. Julie says:

    What a wonderful post Chloris – I have managed to miss your earlier writings on the Mulberry Tree so I will make sure to catch up. I have a very old mulberry tree in my garden – I assume a black one – it is always the last tree to come into leaf in the spring and the last to loose its leaves in the autumn. It is very interesting to read about the history whilst enjoying your imagery!

  5. Tina says:

    Ha ha!! So funny about the silkworms hatching. Funny or icky? Funny, I think. Thank you for this informative post because I learned something and you made me laugh–always a bonus.

  6. Kris P says:

    I’m continually amazed by what you manage to fit into your tree following exercise! And now you have a wonderful illustration too. I am left to wonder, however, how the author of the French treatise determined the efficacy of his proposed hatching method (and did his wife poison him soon after publication)?

    • Chloris says:

      I don’ t think this method was dreamt up by the French author of the treatise. If so it would be grounds for divorce. In fact it was common practice . They were kept between the breasts in little pouches because it was important to keep them warm.

  7. Debra says:

    I am not squicked ba caterrpillars normally but um I would definitely pass on the wearing of them hahaha
    The native red mulberry can spread like a weed but it is actually threatened by the white mulberry which was introduced in the 1700s in an ill-fated attempt to start a silk industry in North America. Personally, I am a big fan of any mulberry. The more, the merrier. =)

    • Chloris says:

      Strictly speaking it was the eggs they kept in the cleavage. But presumably they would hatch out and start wiggling. Yuck.
      James 1 tried to establish sericulture in Virginia as well as here in England.

  8. Julie says:

    Great post Chloris, love all of the background info, funny drawing by Betty too. Not sure if WordPress is having another moment with you as your comment today on the Duver Diary came through as a reply to me.

    • Chloris says:

      It was probably me pressing the wrong button, I am always doing that. That’s how I ended up reblogging someone else’ s post last week by mistake.
      Thank you for your nice comment Julie.

  9. rusty duck says:

    Stuff of nightmares, caterpillars running amok down one’s cleavage. Great picture though.. 😉

  10. A wonderful tree and how nice it is still green…hold onto summer as long as you can.

  11. Oh my, that would be … uncomfortable. Regarding the Mulberry tree, how nice that you’re still getting berries from it! We have a Mulberry tree up at our cottage, and I don’t know what species it is (I’ll have to do a little research). Anyway, it doesn’t seem invasive at all, and the berries are super tasty. But it only produces fruit in late June through mid-July.

  12. Lucy Corrander says:

    Another riveting post! But it would be really interesting if you were to say more about the person who painted it / created it . . . ???????

    Hope it’s ok but I re-entered your link in the Loose and Leafy box because it was directing to a non-page.

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Lucy. My son’ s lovely partner, Betty created the picture of me on her tablet. I can’ t imagine how. She is a very talented artist. They live on a converted barge and I wrote about their garden in my last post: The Jetty Garden.

  13. Cathy says:

    I love all the little stories you have told us about mulberry trees Chloris! That picture is so funny too – there were some very strange ideas when we look back in time!

  14. Pauline says:

    Such an entertaining story, its amazing what our ancestors got up to! Love the painting, the thought of it is just too too awful!!

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Pauline. The thought of it revolted me so much that I thought if would be fun to get Betty to do a picture of it. I knew she would come up with something good.

  15. Annette says:

    You make me giggle, Chloris, what an idea! As always I enjoy your witty, informative post – you should consider writing a book – I’ll buy it! Mulberries are planted widely in my part of France, usually trained into an umbrella shape so that people can sit in its shade. I like the berries but for seating they use non-fruiting varieties. I read a most fascinating book about the silkworms by Alessandro Baricco “Silk”. Very poetical.

  16. Chloris says:

    Thank you Annette, it is my greatest ambition to write a book because I love writing almost as much as I love gardening. When is yours due out? I shall be buying yours too.

  17. Welcome back, Chloris. What a wonderfully interesting post about the origins of silk. And I too am glad that women were never pressed to host the little darlings in their bodices. Yikes.
    Is it my imagination, or is silk more rare these days? I remember when silk was such an important thing to have in one’s closet.

    • Chloris says:

      In Italy in the sixteenth century it was common practice to keep the eggs between the breasts. I suppose it was difficult to keep them warm and at an even temperature any other way. I have just been to Lucca in Italy which was one of the centres of the silk industry.
      I don’ t know whether silk is rarer these days but I have several silk scarves which I love.

  18. Flighty says:

    An interesting, and informative, post and I smiled at the somewhat graphic illustration. I also enjoyed reading the other comments.
    One of my plot neighbours had a mulberry tree but sadly it toppled over one windy day earlier in the year. xx

    • Chloris says:

      Mulberry trees often seem to fall over, you see lots of old ones propped up. Even if they fall down, they often just carry on growing from a prone position like mine does.

  19. You are a mine of useful information – all interesting facts to boot! Hasn’t Betty done another masterpiece?

  20. Excellent post! And I absolutely love that picture!
    All the best 🙂

  21. Chloris says:

    Thank you, I love the picture too.

  22. Love the picture, but goodness what an horrific thought…

  23. Chloris says:

    I know, it gives you the shivers doesn’ t it? That’ s why I asked Betty to do the picture. They kept the eggs in a pouch, but what’ s to stop them wriggling out?

  24. bittster says:

    It’s not often I laugh out loud while reading… very unexpected! And then again in the comments; I’m an animal lover too but that would be quite the surprise when hugging the wife.
    You’ve almost convinced me to plant a mulberry.

  25. Chloris says:

    A mulberry tree would be great but perhaps you had better pass on the silk making, although I don’t think it is necessary to wear the eggs in one’s cleavage these days.

  26. Anna says:

    Oh what a brilliant picture from the oh so talented Betty but I do feel rather itchy now. Silkworms sound quite sensitive and demanding creatures. Interesting to see how green the mulberry looks – no signs of autumn yet.

    • Chloris says:

      It seems that they were very demanding but one has to wonder whether they really could be encouraged to spin by carrying fried onions round the room. I read this on a sixteenth century treatise. It makes you think they made it up as they went along.

  27. Hollis says:

    wonderful story! and thanks to “dear Betty” for the great image

  28. debsgarden says:

    This was fascinating and funny! I had no idea how the silk industry started or that silk worms needed the mulberry tree, Morus alba. I won’t forget; the image of nursing silkworms between your boobs is imprinted on my brain. Thanks!

  29. Chloris says:

    Thank you. I am glad you enjoyed it. From the comments here I rather gather that everyone is absolutely revolted by the thought of hatching out silkworms in their cleavage. I wonder how they got women to agree to do it.

  30. ROFL, silkworms down the cleavage, I’ll stick to stray crumbs thank you! Loved the information though and the illustration is fantastic.

  31. There is NO possible I way I would have hatched a silk worm from between my breasts! I love the historical info you add to your posts. :o) I checked Google and saw that it’s legal to send seeds to the UK. If you send me your address, I’ll gladly send you some mist flower seeds. I have zillions. 🙂

  32. Hello Chloris – love the pictures and your blog. I see you even got a recommendation in county living magazine gardening section – the big time! Thanks for the follow too, kind regards and happy gardening, Ursula

    • Chloris says:

      Thanks Ursula, I was surprised and delighted when a fellow blogger told me that I had a mention in Country Living. I wondered why there had been a spike in views. It’ s nice to know that people are reading you. I enjoy reading your blog too.

  33. roger holdaway says:

    I have read your article on pruning Mulberry trees, but am a little confused. I am planning to buy a non fruiting Mulberry tree for my garden in France, but all the pruning I have seen does not even mention a “flat canopy” prune. Any idea how this is carried out. This seems very popular in France especially along promenades etc. Roger

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