Wild-Mulberry Time


Young Fiscal Flycatcher
Photo: Leonie Twentyman Jones

The most popular tree in our garden this summer, according to the birds, has undoubtedly been the Wild-Mulberry (Trimeria grandifolia subsp. grandifolia). This small, slender single-stemmed,
evergreen forest tree has hosted a wide variety of birds from early morning to last light. Even before its fruit had ripened, insect-eaters like the Fiscal Flycatcher and her two youngsters, as well as the Fork-tailed Drongo, spent most of their day there. But once the fruit started ripening – there were constant visits from hyperactive White-eyes, Streaky-headed Seedeaters, Cape Canaries,
Mousebirds, and recently clouds of Forest Canaries have also arrived. Flocks of young European Starlings dropped in like packs of hungry teenagers who raid the fridge and then head off leaving all the dirty dishes in the sink. Our resident Cape Robin initially seemed annoyed by all the activity and tried to chase the newcomers. But now he has accepted the inevitable and joined the feast.
This little forest tree is a member of the Kei-apple family. Its leaves and fruit have a superficial resemblance to those of the white mulberry tree (Morus alba). It has been suggested that this could
have been a factor in the attempt to establish a silk industry in Knysna in the 1880s. A small group of Italian immigrants, with their precious silkworms, was brought out and settled at Gouna. Their silkworms refused to eat the wild-mulberry leaves and died, cuttings of the white mulberry failed to grow and so the attempt failed miserably. Read the novel by Dalene Matthee called The Mulberry Forest to find out more about this curious event in Knysna’s history.

Forest Canary
Photo: Leonie Twentyman Jones

The Wild-Mulberry is fast-growing and is happy in partial shade as well as full sun as long as it has compost regularly. In late winter it loses all its leaves for a very short period, before the new growth emerges. The small greenish white flowers are rather inconspicuous and usually start appearing in November. The fruit is a tiny berry-like capsule resembling a mulberry, which turns from yellow to bright pinkish red in late summer. The fruit then splits to release tiny black seeds. It is at this stage that bird-lovers will find the tree at its most fascinating. It is an attractive tree and suitable for small gardens.

Leonie Twentyman Jones