Morus alba, White Mulberry,
Hebrew: תות-עץ, Arabic: التُّوتُ

Scientific name:  Morus alba L.
Common name:  White Mulberry
Hebrew name:   תות-עץ
Arabic name:   توت
Family:  Moraceae, תותיים

Flora of Israel, wildflowers and native plants

Life form:  Phanerophyte,tree
Stems:  Can reach over 20 m. in height
Leaves:  Alternate, entire, ovate, rounded or cordate at base, dentate or serrate; usually smooth above, glabrous beneath
Inflorescence:  Axillary, pendulous; male flowers in a catkinlike raceme, with lax flowers; female flowers in a long or short spike
Flowers:  Greenish, inconspicuous, with 4 free imbricate petals; male flowers 4 stamens, pistillode top-shaped; female flowers ovary enclosed, 1-(2-) locular with a single ovule, style bipartite
Fruits / pods:  Juicy drupelets; peduncle about as long as syncarp
Flowering Period:   February, March, April
Habitat:   Disturbed habitats
Distribution:  Mediterranean Woodlands and Shrublands
Chorotype:  Med - Irano-Turanian, escaped from cultivation
Summer shedding:  Perenating

Morus alba, White Mulberry, תות-עץ ,التُّوتُ


Derivation of the botanical name:
Morus, the Latin name for mulberry.
alba, white, referring to its leaf-buds.
  • The standard author abbreviation L. is used to indicate Carl Linnaeus (1707 – 1778), a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, the father of modern taxonomy.
In the Mediterranean countries the white and the black mulberry have been cultivated. The morus alba (White Mulberry) is a native of China and are extensively grown for their leaves as food for silkworms.
The black mulberry, possibly a derative of the white mulberry, grows wild in Northern Iran, on the shores of the Caspian Sea, and in Colchis, an ancient region on the Black Sea south of the Caucasus Mountains (Colchis is where Jason, the legendary leader of Argonauts, traveled in search of the Golden Fleece ( the winged ram Chrysomallos)). Both species, the white and black mulberry, contain in every part a milky juice, which will coagulate into a sort of Indian rubber, and this has been thought to give tenacity to the filament spun by the silkworm.
The White mulberry a deciduous fruit tree and is so-named for the color of its buds, rather than the color of its fruit.
It is a small tree up to 12 meter tall, branches low and develops a wide spreading crown. The trunk can attain 60 cm in diameter. The leaves of the Morus alba are variously lobed even on the same plant. Some are unlobed while others are glove-shaped.
The flowers are small, greenish-yellow, in dense spikes to 2 cm long. The fruit Resembles blackberries, cylindrical, 1 to 1 1/4 inch long, fleshy multiple of drupes. White mulberries can produce white, lavender or black fruit.
The fruits are generally very sweet but often lacking in needed tartness. The fruits are ready for harvest in late spring.
Fruits may be eaten raw or cooked. Fruits are an ingredient of a particularly seductive drink known as Mulberry Wine.
Most of Italy's silk comes from the communities around the northern city of Como, where the white mulberry is raised for this purpose.
Pliny, Ovid and Virgil wrote about the mulberry, which was raised on farms throughout the Italian peninsula, but while the Romans associated silk with its leaves, they may not have understood that silk worms actually produced the substance.
  • Pliny speaks of its employment in medicine and also describes its use in Egypt and Cyprus. He further relates:
    'Of all the cultivated trees, the Mulberry is the last that buds, which it never does until the cold weather is past, and it is therefore called the wisest of trees. But when it begins to put forth buds, it dispatches the business in one night, and that with so much force, that their breaking forth may be evidently heard.'
    It has been suggested that the generic name of the Mulberry, Morus, has been derived from the Latin word mora (delay), from this tardy expansion of the buds, and as the wisest of its fellows, the tree was dedicated by the Ancients to Minerva, goddess of wisdom.
  • Ovid (43 BCE - 17CE), in Metamorphoses, tells the story of the star-crossed lovers Pyramus and Thisbe, who killed themselves beneath a fruiting white mulberry. When the dying Thisbe prayed to the gods that the tree would "always have fruit of a dark and mournful hue, to make men remember the blood we two have shed," the gods granted her wish and changed the white mulberry into the black mulberry, which stains the hands a reddish color
  • At the time of Virgil (70-19 BCE) silk was held to be a product of the Mulberry leaves, the work of the silkworms not being understood. Silkworm culture was first introduced by Justinian I, "Justinian the Great" (483-565 CE), Byzantine emperor.
    In Italy the Black Mulberry was employed for feeding the silkworm until about 1434, when Morus alba was introduced from the Levant, the eastern part of the Mediterranean, and has ever since been commonly preferred.
  • In 1608 James I (1566-1625), being anxious to promote the silk industry by introducing the culture of the silkworm into Britain, issued an edict encouraging the cultivation of Mulberry trees, but the attempt to rear silkworms in England proved unsuccessful, apparently because the Black Mulberry was cultivated in error, whereas the White Mulberry is the species on which the silkworm flourishes.
  • Charlemagne, Charles the Great (742-814CE), king of the Franks, enjoyed the trees in his private garden, planted circa 812.
  • H.B.Tristram(1822-1906) writes: "Both the white and Black Mulberry trees are common in Palestine, and their cultivation has, doubtless, increased since the introduction of the silkworm, fed on their leaves, and the rearing of which is the staple industry of the peasantry in the Lebanon.

The Mulberry is also grown for rearing silk about many of the villages between Jerusalem and Nablous (Shechem) and often covers the terraced hill-sides…"

Bible resources:
  1. Isaiah 40:20
    He that is too impoverished for such an oblation chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a skilful workman to set up a graven image, that shall not be moved.
  2. I Maccabees 6:34
    'They showed the elephants the juice of grapes and mulberries, to arouse them for battle'
  3. Luke 17:5-6
    The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
    He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.