The R2D2 Prototype–Weeping Mulberry Trees

The mulberry fruit might be considered a nutritional powerhouse.

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Great backyard tree for hide and seek.

I ate mulberries for the first time three or four years ago. When I first saw them at the farmers’ market, I thought they were blackberries, which is pretty much what they taste like. I’ve looked every year since, but the person who was selling them hasn’t been back. The truth is, I didn’t even know they grew on trees. When I mentioned I’d love to have a tree, people in the know gave me horrified looks. “They’re messy.”  “They stain everything,” were common refrains.

There are ten species of mulberry tree, with three native to parts of North America.  Although I have memories of purple-black splots on sidewalks under trees, I don’t believe I knew these were from a fruit bearing tree. White Mulberries (Morus alba) were originally brought to this continent from China with the intent to start a silkworm industry. According to the USDA, the white tree has been introduced and grown in all of the lower 48 states except Nevada. The red mulberry (Morus rubra) is native to the eastern half of this continent. In some areas, the white mulberry may be considered invasive. One way to tell the two species apart is by the shiny leaves of the white mulberry.

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Shiny leave

Not only are mulberries yummy, they could be considered a nutritional powerhouse as they are relatively high in protein, contain high levels of Vitamin C and iron, as well as numerous other potentially beneficial nutrients. Compounds such as anthocyanins, may exhibit cholesterol lowering properties. Rutin, an antioxidant, may help guard against heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Myricetin, too, may play a role fighting some cancers. Other websites attribute even more wondrous properties to the mulberry fruit, such as an aid in weight loss, vision improvement, and bone building. Although this might be a property of a different variety of Morus tree, another source mentions the fruit is a source of resveratrol, that miracle compound of red wine much ballyhooed a few years ago.

The weeping mulberry tree, Morus alba Pendula, is a dwarf variety of the Chinese tree. Some of the gardening sites on the web discuss this tree as a good provider of shade, but except for fighting your way through the branches–which you might have to do to find the identifying tag–the versions in the park wouldn’t seem to provide much shade. Although I had not been paying close attention to the two specimens during the spring when they would have fruited, I have stopped and looked at these trees over the years and have never seen flowers or fruit. I suspect they may both be male specimens of the tree. Next year I will be sure to confirm the absence of the fruit.

To view the two in the park go to C190. If you spent time at the Tulip Tree, keep walking west along the diagonal. The two stubby trees are on the south side of City Park Drive, not far from the intersection with Sheldon Drive. If you are driving to the park, turn N off Mulberry onto Sheldon Drive and at the intersection of the two streets, take a right turn along the diagonal. The trees are West of Field 4 and across from the “permanent” latrine.

As an ornamental tree, the weeping mulberry is visually interesting without its leaves. If you are looking for this tree in late fall or winter, look for a form like an open umbrella with too many twisted spines and no cloth covering.

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What shapes can you see in the trunk?

Finding the Purple Smoke Tree

The Tree’s name comes from the clusters of flowers, which resemble puffs of purple smoke.

I had never heard of the Purple Smoke Tree.  It is listed as one of the more unusual trees in the park.  We didn’t take the map with us, as I thought I knew where it was located–behind the Maintenance Shop, not far from Shelter #8. Memory–or the map–was deceiving because we couldn’t find the tree!

What is shown as the Maintenance Shop on the drawing happens to also be the Parks Office. Luckily it was before five, so I asked after the tree at the front desk. Megan knew where it was and was nice enough to show me. With its bushiness, you might have to spend a bit of time locating the tag! Apparently this tree has been introduced to the North American continent.

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Megan by the Purple Smoke Tree

As you can imagine, the tree wasn’t at its prime this late in the year. The tree’s name comes from the clusters of flowers, which are said to resemble puffs of purple smoke. Even in the fall, some of the stalk clusters still have a purple tinge.

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Smoke Tree “puff”

The green leaves had a sheen and felt tough, like thin leather. Other leaves had a purplish cast.

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Unlike other trees reviewed so far, this one doesn’t have many uses other than as an ornamental. The tree produces a yellow dye and the wood has been used for fenceposts. (North American Trees, Preston and Braham, 2002)

LOCATION  To find E3 Purple Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggyrria) go to the most southwest area of the park, across from Sheldon Lake. Locate the fire station on N. Bryan Ave. There is an alley on the south side and you can walk or drive down this. The tree is then on the southeast corner of front lawn of the Parks building. You can also access this tree by taking the road to the Golf Shop. Turn between the fire station and Parks Building. The specimen is in the far corner of the lawn.