The Mulberry

I can’t recall when exactly and why I got besotted with mulberry. I like berries, except gooseberries which I can eat as a medicine, may be once annually, or powdered or candied.

And then somehow, recently, I started noticing mulberries more, the trees became visible, the excitement to spot them, and in general, my obsession to grow any plant that I like, and that looks like, it will be possible to grow them in a garden pot.

I can still clearly remember the mulberry shrub in a friend’s neighbourhood. We must have been around 12- or 13-years old. Being outdoors to play and to also pluck and eat seasonal fruits were the most loved activity. Mulberry and few other fruits were the tricky ones, as they gave away where we had been, the stained mouth and marks on the clothes.

There are about 68 species of the genus Morus. The majority of these species occur in Asia, especially in China (24 species) and Japan (19). Continental America is also rich in its Morus species. The genus is poorly represented in Africa, Europe and the Near East, and it is not present in Australia.

In India, there are many species of Morus, of which Morus alba, M. indica. M. serrata and M. laevigata grow wild in the Himalayas. Several varieties have been introduced belonging to M. multicaulis, M. nigra, M. sinensis and M. philippinensis. Most of the Indian varieties of mulberry belong to M. indica.

Though mulberry cultivation is practised in various climates, the major area is in the tropical zone covering Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu states, with about 90 percent. In the sub-tropical zone, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh and the northeastern states have major areas under mulberry cultivation.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Student days, when I was once visiting a Krishi Vikas Kendra (KVK), the agriculture research and extension centres and saw rows of mulberry trees. Some had fruit and I asked if I could pluck a few. “We are only interested in the leaves” said the sericulture researcher. Sometimes in the commuters’ trains between Anand to Ahmedabad I will find them being sold, and eat unwashed with much happiness.

After almost two decades of not really thinking of this fruit or the tree, it somehow came back again. It was easy to buy them in Hyderabad. One time at a Ratandeep store, late into the night just before closing, I could not find any mulberry. The kind store manager told me lets go and check as fruits and vegetable stocks are arriving just now. Sure, they were there and I greedily bought five packets!

Mulberries are delicate, they have short shelf life and can get squishy easily. We now have ice-creams and they are great. I have often wondered why with so much silk cultivation around us, we do not find this so easily in Bangalore.

On a trip to the handloom centre in Siem Reap, Cambodia, a guide with whom we did not have a common language, I pointed at mulberry trees in delight, took my phone out and showed him the tiny mulberries from our garden, his face lit up “same” he said, bringing some instant connect between us, and the two countries!

With this new found obsession, I started getting a branch to see if it would grow. A friend in Hyderabad gave me a cutting and I carried it as hand baggage but it did not make it. Then a cutting came from Gudalur which continues to live and give us few berries every now and then.

For reasons unknown to me, mulberry branches quite often get used as props to other plants, mostly flower saplings. So this time at Valparai, I found the prop next to a dahlia patch was sprouting a fruit similar like a mulberry. I chased the gardener. We had very little common language again, but he understood when I said fruit and said its black and took me to the tree. We agreed that the day I leave, he will give me few branches to take back with me. Over the next few days, we developed several sign languages around trees and plants.

The mulberry branch is sprouting fruits at home.

Here is to connections and languages around plants and other beings.