"Beside the house, shading it in summer, stood three mulberry trees"

The Mulberry Tree
Public DomainThe Mulberry Tree - Credit: Vincent van Gogh
Though red mulberries are native to North America, the white mulberry — which is now more common — is an import from Asia. Its history is made up of an almost Faulkneresque blend of doomed hope, clashing ideals and bathetic comedy. With its warm climate, the British entertained high hopes that their new colony, America, would prove a profitable site for cultivating silk. Since the silkworm feeds almost exclusively on that tree, James I insisted that all planters grow at least 10 mulberries for every 100 acres of land or face the punishment of a £10 fine. Under the ravages of disease, intemperate weather and the reluctance of farmers to invest themselves in so labour- and time-intensive a pursuit for small profit, his efforts failed, as would those of many others over the centuries. Intended as a symbol of the supreme magnificence of the empire, the white mulberry, a highly invasive species, has instead become a pest.