Geographical Distribution

When talking about Mulberry wood, we enter a zone of potential confusion.  Most all trees known by the common name of “Mulberry” belong to the genus Morus, although there are some notable exceptions such as the “Paper Mulberry.”  Paper Mulberry is properly known as Broussonetia papyrifera, closely related to Morus, but alas, not identical.  Within the Morus genus there are some 10–16 species of deciduous trees, most of which are native to eastern Asia, although there is one native to Iran, one native to Africa, and three native to the Americas, but only two which are native to North America.

Of the two native to North America, the first is Morus celtidifolia, also known as the Texas mulberry.  As the name implies, it is native to parts of western Texas, as well as New Mexico, Arizona, Mexico, and Central and South America as far south as Argentina.

The native Morus which is of primary interest to us because it is the one with the widest range and the one most likely to be encountered by the hobbyist wood turner, is Morus rubra, or the Red Mulberry.  The tree is so named because of the color of the fruit which it bears, although fruitless cultivars are widely cultivated as landscape plants.  M. rubra is native a very large swath of North America ranging from Massachusetts and southern Vermont west through the southern half of New York to extreme southern Ontario, southern Michigan, central Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota; south to Iowa, southeastern Nebraska, central Kansas, western Oklahoma and central Texas; and east to southern Florida. It is also found in Bermuda.  M. rubra reaches its greatest size in the Ohio River Valley.

Mulberry Interior

Mulberry Interior

It is possible, but not as likely, that Morus wood harvested for hobby purposes, trees of the Morus genus are rarely if ever harvested commercially, could belong to either M. nigra or M. alba, both of which are native to eastern Asia but which have been planted in North America to differing degrees.  M. nigra is known to have been introduced to Texas, Louisiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia as well as the island of Puerto Rico.  M. alba has been reported in all states with the exceptions of Nevada and Alaska.  M. alba has also been reported in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec.  M. alba is considered by some, in fact, to be an invasive foreign species and it readily cross-pollinates with the native M. rubra.

It is most likely that the Mulberry wood that I worked with was in fact M. rubra, although it could also be M. alba.  These species are most likely because the origin of the wood was the state of Missouri and those are the two Morus species known to be found within that state.  Without seeing the fruit from the tree in question, barring expensive and needless DNA sequencing, it is impossible to know for certain, but at any rate, the working characteristics of the wood are quite similar.

For sake of simplicity, I will simply refer to Mulberry from this point forward.

General Characteristics

The heartwood of Mulberry is of a golden brown color.  This color will darken with age to a medium reddish brown tone.  The Mulberry sapwood is of a pale yellowish white color.  In appearance, Mulberry can difficult to distinguish from Osage Orange or Black Locust.  However, Osage Orange tends to be considerably heavier by volume and while Black Locust and Mulberry are of quite similar density, they can be differentiated by using black light fluorescence;  Black Locust is highly fluorescent while Mulberry is not.