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A deciduous tree 30 to 45 ft high, with a rounded head of branches and a trunk 6 ft in girth; young shoots downy at first, becoming more or less glabrous by autumn. Leaves broadly ovate with a heart-shaped base, usually pointed, sometimes rounded at the apex, frequently three-lobed, varying much in size, from 3 to 8 in. long and up to 6 in. wide, coarsely toothed, lightish green and only slightly roughened above, downy near the veins and midrib beneath; stalk 1⁄2 to 1 in. long. Flowers produced during May in the leaf-axils and at the base of the new shoots; females on stalked cylindrical spikes 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 in. long; male spikes longer. Fruit-clusters 1⁄2 to 1 in. long, white or pinkish, sweet, insipid.
Native of China, and possibly of other parts of temperate Asia; cultivated from time immemorial in many South European and Eastern countries. The white mulberry is the tree on which the silkworm is fed. It succeeds quite well in the south of England, but no success has ever been achieved in establishing the silkworm industry there in spite of several attempts, the first of which was made under the auspices of James I. The climate is considered to be too dull and damp. Nevertheless the tree is quite hardy at Kew; only succulent, over-vigorous shoots are injured by frost. The tree, however, lacks the quaint charm of the common mulberry.
There are three specimens of the white mulberry at Kew; one, near the rock garden, is 45 ft high, on two stems 61⁄2 and 5 ft in girth; and two in the Morus collection of 42 × 41⁄2 ft and 47 × 33⁄4 ft (1967). Others of note are: Shrublands Park, Ipswich, 40 × 73⁄4 ft at 1 ft (1968); Oxford Botanic Garden, pl. 1817, 45 × 63⁄4 ft (1970).
Many varieties of white mulberry are in cultivation, but those that differ chiefly in their influence on the silk produced by worms that feed on them have little interest to British arboriculturists. The following deserve mention:
specimens: Kew, 40 × 51⁄2 ft and 48 × 41⁄4 ft, and, pl. 1884, 48 × 6 ft (1979); Oxford Botanic Garden, pl. 1817, 45 × 63⁄4 ft (1970); Finborough Hall, Suffolk, 33 × 51⁄2 ft at 3 ft (1977).
M. alba var. venosa Delile
M. multicaulis Perrotet
M. alba var. latifolia Bur.
M. latifolia Poir. (?)
M. tatarica Pall