Black Mulberry

Black Mulberry

Black Mulberry (Blackberry)

Morus nigra L.

Black mulberry’s original home is West Asia; it does not have a widespread presence in Palestine. White mulberry (Morus alba), originally from East Asia, is the prevalent species here. The scientific names of both include Morus, meaning mulberry, while one is nigra (black), and the other alba (white).

Black mulberry is also known to us as shami (Levantine) mulberry. The fruit is green at first, then turns dark red rather than black. Its lower leaf surface is distinctly fuzzy. In contrast with the larger white mulberry tree with its less fuzzy leaves, the black mulberry tree does not grow to be very tall. The white mulberry’s mature fruit is either white or red and is known by many names including toot baladi (local mulberry) or toot a’di (common mulberry). Despite these differences, both varieties have unisexual flowers, but the trees can be either monoecious or dioecious. Both species also release white sap when scraped.

Mulberry is known to have numerous health benefits, which have led Levantine peoples to cultivate it widely since ancient times. It is also known that its leaves are beneficial to domestic animals. Its wood is used to make kitchenware and meat-cutting boards. The mulberry is also useful as a shade tree. Further, it is used to raise silkworms for the production of silk from the proteinous substances that form the cocoon of the larva. These larvae prefer white mulberry. They are not worms, but rather the larvae of the silkmoth, Bombyx mori. They feed on mulberry leaves and spin their cocoons around themselves to complete their life cycle within. However, the raising of silkworms has decreased tremendously in the Levant, along with the cultivation of mulberry trees, because of Western competition in artificial silk manufacture.

Mulberry is eaten either fresh off the tree or collected on a sheet or mat placed under it. The fruit is then made to drop by shaking the tree or is left to fall on its own. A berry of normal size is called kabsh (ram) while a larger one is called jamal (camel).

Much is sung about the mulberry in Palestinian folklore, including:

Mulberry tree at home, endure the hard times if they come
We are sure to come home, wherever the journey makes us roam
Mulberry tree at home, you swore to me when we parted
Oh, let your fruit be like lava to drive the treacherous occupier from our home


Source: A Garden Among the Hills: The Floral Heritage of Palestine. © The Palestinian Museum 2019