Red Mulberry (Morus rubra)

Red mulberry, often just called mulberry, is best known for its delicious sweet dark purple berries that ripen in midsummer. If you can beat the birds to the ripe berries, you are in for a special treat indeed. (My wife has a recipe for flat-pan mulberry pie that is fantastic.)

It is likely that grandmother hated the tree if it was within a couple of hundred yards, however, as ripe mulberries, when eaten by birds, result in dark purple droppings that the birds would deposit (in fact, seldom missing) on white sheets and other light colored clothes hung on the clothesline outside to dry.

The mulberry tree is widespread, ranging from Massachusetts to South Dakota to Texas, to Florida, up the Eastern Seaboard, and everywhere in between. However, due its small size (usually under 50 feet high) and because it is not found in thick stands, most sawmills will ignore these trees. Yet it is an outstanding furniture wood. Let the mills know that you want mulberry and you will have it on a regular basis, and probably for a very low price.

Because the wood is naturally decay resistant, it has been used in the past for boat building, tight cooperage (tight means that the barrel can hold liquids), and fences.

Processing Suggestions And Characteristics

Density. This is a fairly heavy wood; approximately the same density as red oak. The green specific gravity (SG) is 0.58; at 6 percent MC, the SG is 0.67. The weight, when dry, is 43 pounds per cubic foot or about 3.6 pounds per board foot.

Drying and Stability. The wood dries easily. It does not warp, as the grain is usually quite straight. End splits can be a problem, so end coating is suggested. Staining of heartwood is not a risk.

Overall shrinkage from green to 6 percent MC is estimated to be 7 percent tangentially (the width in flatsawn lumber) and 4 percent radially (the thickness of flatsawn lumber). Once dried, the wood will not move much even if there are large RH changes or if the MC is not matched to the environment’s EMC conditions. A typical final MC range is 6.0 to 7.5 percent, unless used in a humid location. It takes an estimated 4 percent MC change to result in 1 percent size change tangentially and 7 percent MC change radially.

Gluing and Machining. Mulberry machines quite well. No special issues or requirements exist. It turns well on a lathe,

This wood glues easily with conventional adhesives and conventional practices.

Strength. Mulberry is only moderately strong; that is, not as strong as ash or oak. It would be best not to use this species in high strength situations, such as chair or table legs unless the size is increased to develop more strength. It is not exceptionally hard. Specific strength data is not available.

Mulberry tends to split when nailed or screwed, so pilot holes should be used when fastening, especially at or near the ends of pieces of wood.

Color and Grain. The lumber will be mostly heartwood, which is pale orange in color, becoming slightly darker on long term exposure to light.

The grain texture is coarse, but without any fancy figure. The annual rings are noticeable and fairly straight, lengthwise. The wood is ring porous, so the earlywood pores in each growth ring are somewhat open, like white oak. A sealer may be required for even finishing.

There is a little ray fleck on a quartersawn surface, but mostly the wood is flatsawn.


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About the author
Gene Wengert

Gene Wengert, “The Wood Doctor” has been training people in efficient use of wood for 45 years. He is extension specialist emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.