Our native red mulberry, Morus rubra—a fruit-producing tree with delicious, nutritious, complex flavored fruit, high production potential, innate pest/disease resistance, and rapidly growing commercial and home production interest—is slowly fading from its native range due to the rapid spread of the invasive Morus alba. Morus alba was imported in the 1600s and planted by the millions across the eastern seaboard in a failed attempt to create a domestic silk industry. Trees quickly escaped from these orchards and have since naturalized across the country. These invasive trees release large amounts of wind-dispersed pollen that readily pollinates the native trees, producing hybrid offspring that are steadily and irrevocably replacing pure Morus rubra.
In order to address this slow-motion extinction by hybrid replacement, we propose to find, propagate, and establish preserves and breeding orchards of high-quality, fruit-producing Morus rubra specimens with commercial potential. By holding a national mulberry Search and Rescue Contest, we plan to crowdsource the best Morus rubra trees growing wild, in orchards, and nursery rows across the country. Entries will be genetically tested, rated for potential as commercial cultivars, and the winning trees named and made available to farmers, nurseries, researchers, and fruit enthusiasts throughout the North Central region.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Hold a contest to find productive Morus rubra specimens with commercial potential and perform genetic testing of advertised "Morus rubra" cultivars (often mislabeled Morus alba trees that have red fruit) to establish verified native sources.
- Name and release several new Morus rubra cultivars suitable for orchard production.
- Propagate and establish three preserves and breeding orchards in order to provide verified native mulberry plant material to nurseries, farmers, conservation workers, researchers, and landowners throughout the North Central region.
- Promote the value, usefulness, and profitability of growing native mulberry trees through field days, website and social media promotions, and a scholarly journal.