Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Pakistan Mulberry Tree

The mulberry tree is one of controversy in the Old Pueblo. Yet it's seen all over town.  Many people ask about that "beautiful leafy tree" around the city and most people shrug because they don't know what it is.  I had to go to a garden center to get answers for my questions.  I ripped a leaf off and brought it in to the tree detectives. "That's a mulberry." Queue music. Banned from the city of Tucson since the early 80's, these trees are no longer sold at garden centers. This tree is also banned from Phoenix, Las Vegas, Alburquerque, El Paso, and Las Cruces. But why do you have one then? Aren't you going to jail sometime soon?  That thought actually makes me laugh.  "What was your crime sir?"  I answer," I planted a mulberry tree in my yard."  He gasps and shouts, "You're going to hell!" Queue music aaaaaaand commercial aaaaaaaand CUT!  Have I told all of you that I have an active imagination?  It comes from teaching too many years and growing up in a large Catholic family:)     
The Pakistan Mulberry from my Fruit Garden
So the question many of you ask is why is it illegal?  Many people move to the desert southwest to escape allergies only to discover that their allergies have intensified!  One of those major trees that contribute to our allergy count is the mulberry tree.  "Ever since the 1950s, the fruitless mulberry has been planted in great quantities because it is a shade tree that is very easy to grow in a region which has endless sun and heat. The problem is that only the male varieties were planted because it was the female trees which grew messy fruits. The male trees give off huge amounts of pollen."  Read more history here from the "Leave It To Beaver" times:

A weed really. Well not really but it sure grows like one ever since I put it in the ground last year.  This fruit tree is going to grow whether you like it or not.   It seems to take abuse well and will provide a tropical looking plant in your garden.  The leaves are large lush and green.  Water this plant and it grows.  Don't water it as much and it will still grow.....just not as fast.  It is also a relatively short lived tree compared to other trees in our area and can start showing decline after 25 years of age.  Currently, the city is has a lot of mulberry trees in decline.  People are trying to save them (and some from excellent care over the years, have prolonged the life on their tree) while others just have them cut down.  Some trees just stand lifeless as a reminder of a time past. I like to call them eyesores.
This thing is leafless now, but I swear it's still growing!
Today, this tree can be purchased in town if it  ONLY FRUITS as told to me from a master gardener at one of the local gardening centers.   I personally love the "berries" that grow on this tree.  There is a wonderful pruning technique known as "pollarding".  Sounds Polish.....

An example of pollarding in all see you know the term:)
"If the pruning is not completed, the tree can develop problems with weak crotches. They can allow moisture in and cause the branches to rot and fall off. This is one of the few problems with these trees as they are quite resistant to insect pests and diseases".
Another example, I took this one in Berkely, CA

The female trees don't create the pollen issues as the male tree does.  It's definitely a cool plant to have in the garden and it can grow to become one of the largest trees on your be careful where you place it:) And watch out for the Allergy Police:) 
PS.  I've gotten my hands on some information in town from an informant about an ancient Avocado Tree growing in a courtyard. AND it's in my neighborhood....I nearly %#$@ myself because everyone dreams of planting avocado trees here in the desert southwest.  People have heard of these legendary stories, but none have seen them....I will be going to investigate...stay tuned.  It's said to be VERY old!


  1. Great article. I started appreciating mulberry trees my first May in Abq, when it got too warm! They are all over SW cities, and they have great value for toughness, as well as forming the majority of the urban forest canopy.

    I only wish they did not shade out understory plants, or have such aggressive surface roots - i.e. severe damage to paving and outcompete nearby plants. They definitely become the king or queen of their space, and beyond another 25'-50', so perhaps some unique design techniques for their space is in order!

    Sounds like a blog post or article, after some driving around Abq. Let's talk on that!

  2. Ever since I was a little girl I played, slept and celebrated birthdays around my mulberry tree. My family bought a new house that was treeless and ever since I have been on a quest to find one here in Tucson with no success. I don't care honestly if the (as you called it) polen police comes after me. Can you please give me information as to where I can get one.

  3. Hi Heidi!!! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a message. Mulberry trees are beautiful!!!! And grow like weeds here.....this tree is legal as long as it produces fruit. I purchased mine from Mesquite Valley Growers and they have a really nice selection of them. Currently I have mulberrys forming on our tree and I can't wait to see how they taste in about a month or so......good luck getting started and the pollen police seem to occupied lately with cuts in their department!!:)

  4. I don't know if I have ever noticed mulberry trees here. I love learning about new trees so I will definitely look out for them. How do I identify them? Do they look like any other kind of tree? Is there anywhere specifically they can be seen?


  5. Hi Sam, thanks for stopping by. The Mulberry is quite unique in our desert. If you see a large tree with unusually BIG leaves, you are probably looking at a Mulberry. Right now it is fruiting so you will notice little green to red raspberry fruits on the trees. They are edible....very edible:) They are a fast lived tree in that they grow quickly and have a lifespan of about 25-50 years. You'll see many of these trees around the Tucson landscape....some are dying due to age. Overall, I think it's a great tree to have around...just keep it away from your sidewalk:)


Thanks for stopping by!