White Mulberry, Morus alba
China is well known for its silk and paper, and the country’s native white mulberry tree plays a key role in the development of each.
Silk is produced by the larvae of the Bombyx mori moth, which depend on mulberry leaves as their only source of nutrition. Legend has it that Lady His-Ling-Shih, wife of the mythical Yellow Emperor, invented silkworm rearing (sericulture) around 3000 BC, yet archeological discoveries—such as 6,000-year-old pottery bearing silkworm designs—show that sericulture has been a part of Chinese culture for thousands of years prior to that.
In 104 ce, Ts’ai Lun invented paper by combining the inner bark of a mulberry tree with bamboo fibers, adding water, and pounding the mixture with a wooden tool. He spread the mixture onto a flat woven cloth to let the water drain through. Once dry, he found he had made an easy and lightweight writing surface. Although paper today is made with a variety of different plants—from bamboo and hemp to rice—mulberry bark was the first fiber used.
The mulberry tree also factors in Chinese medicine. The twigs, berries, and root bark of the mulberry are used to clear the liver and relieve “wind-heat syndromes” such as fever, cough, eye irritation, and headaches.
It was through sericulture that the white mulberry tree was introduced to North America during the early colonial period. Over time, it hybridized with the red mulberry tree native to the eastern United States.
Sen Traditional Chinese Medicine. “Mulberry Leaf.”
Computersmiths.com. “History of Chinese Invention: The Invention of Paper.”
California Rare Fruit Growers. “Mulberry.”
The Silk Road Foundation: “The History of Silk.”