Why are Mulberry Trees Illegal – In Some Places

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Mulberry trees, celebrated for their lush foliage and delectable fruits, have been a beloved presence in many landscapes for centuries. Their historical and economic significance is undeniable. Yet, in certain localized regions, these trees have become a point of contention, leading to their prohibition. While environmental, health, and practical concerns drive these bans, there are compelling counterarguments that challenge the restrictions. This article delves deep into the reasons behind the localized bans on mulberry trees, the counterarguments presented by proponents of the tree, and the broader implications these decisions have on urban planning and environmental stewardship.

Why are Mulberry Trees Illegal?

While mulberry trees have long been cherished for their numerous benefits, they have recently come under scrutiny in specific regions, leading to their prohibition. This section explores the multifaceted reasons behind these bans, encompassing environmental, health, and practical concerns

Environmental Impact

White mulberry trees have been classified as invasive in certain regions due to their rapid adaptability and potential to spread extensively. Such invasive species can quickly dominate and outcompete native vegetation, leading to significant disruptions in local ecosystems. A particular concern associated with the white mulberry tree is its ability to hybridize with the native red mulberry tree. This hybridization poses a direct threat to the native species, potentially diluting its genetic integrity. Birds play a pivotal role in the propagation of the white mulberry. Attracted to its ripe fruits, birds consume them and subsequently disperse the seeds over vast distances, further facilitating the tree’s invasive spread. This combination of rapid growth, hybridization potential, and seed dispersal by birds underscores the environmental challenges posed by the white mulberry tree.

Bird Eating Mulberries

Health Risks

Mulberry trees, especially the white mulberry variety, have been associated with several health and safety concerns. One of the primary health issues is the allergic reactions induced by mulberry pollen. Specifically, male cultivars of mulberry trees produce a significant amount of pollen, which can lead to severe allergic reactions in susceptible individuals. This allergenicity has been a driving factor behind the bans in cities such as El Paso, Las Vegas, Tucson, and Albuquerque.

In addition to pollen, the white mulberry tree has certain elements that can be harmful. Its sap is known to irritate the skin, and if ingested, can be mildly harmful. Furthermore, the unripe berries of the mulberry tree can pose health concerns when consumed.

Comparatively, while mulberry trees are known pollen producers, their allergenicity might not be as pronounced as some other tree species. For instance, in Albuquerque, mulberry trees are among the top pollen-producing trees, but the severity of allergic reactions can vary among individuals, with some being more sensitive to other types of pollen. These combined health risks have contributed to the tree’s controversial status in various regions.

Mulberry Male Flower

Aesthetic and Infrastructure Issues

Mulberry trees, while offering certain benefits, also present a range of aesthetic and practical challenges. One of the most noticeable issues is the staining caused by fallen mulberry fruits. The juice from these fruits can discolor sidewalks, streets, and other surfaces, leading to unsightly patches in urban and suburban settings. Additionally, for homeowners and city dwellers, the fallen fruits can create a sticky mess on the ground, especially when stepped on, and can stain shoes, clothing, and vehicles.

Beyond the staining, mulberry trees, known for their aggressive growth, have sprawling root systems. These shallow roots can pose threats to infrastructure, potentially undermining the foundations of buildings, destroying walkways, and lifting sidewalks. Furthermore, these roots are known to actively seek water sources, which can lead them to interfere with and damage underground pipework, including sewage and water lines.

The combination of staining from the fruits and the potential for infrastructure damage makes the mulberry tree a contentious choice for urban planting. These aesthetic and practical challenges have played a role in the decisions of various cities and municipalities to regulate or ban the planting of mulberry trees within their jurisdictions.

Mulberries Staining Sidewalk

Specific Regulations

The legality of planting and selling mulberry trees varies based on location, largely due to the concerns surrounding their environmental impact, health implications, and practical challenges. Several cities in the United States, including Albuquerque, El Paso, Las Vegas, and Tucson, have implemented bans or restrictions on the sale and planting of these trees. In Las Vegas, for instance, fruitless mulberry trees have been illegal to plant since 1991. Similarly, Albuquerque prohibits the planting of all mulberry trees within the genus Morus inside city limits.

These regulations often stem from concerns about the tree’s pollen production, which can cause severe allergic reactions in some individuals. In Albuquerque, the ban even extends to other male or bisexual wind-pollinating trees that release significant amounts of pollen.

Before planting mulberry trees in areas with sensitive ecosystems or protected habitats, environmental impact assessments may be required to gauge the potential effects on local flora and fauna. Violations of these ordinances can lead to penalties, emphasizing the seriousness with which some municipalities view the potential risks posed by mulberry trees. However, it’s worth noting that while new plantings might be targeted, older trees, many of which were planted in the 50s and 60s, often remain unaffected by these regulations.

Arguments Against the Local Bans

Benefits of Mulberries

Mulberry trees, despite the concerns leading to their prohibition in some areas, offer a range of benefits that have made them popular and valued for centuries. One of the most notable advantages is the nutritional value of their fruits. Mulberries are abundant in essential nutrients, antioxidants, and vitamins, making them a healthy choice for consumption. The taste of mulberries, often compared to blackberries, is enjoyed by many, and their long fruiting period makes them an attractive option for backyard growers.

Furthermore, it’s essential to highlight that fruiting cultivars of mulberry trees are female and do not produce pollen. This distinction is significant as these specific trees do not contribute to the pollen-related health concerns that have been a driving force behind some of the bans. By focusing on planting female cultivars, cities and homeowners can enjoy the benefits of the mulberry tree without exacerbating pollen-related allergies. This approach could be a potential solution or compromise in areas where the primary concern is pollen production.

In addition to their nutritional benefits and reduced allergenicity, mulberry trees enhance the aesthetics of landscapes with their lush foliage and vibrant fruit colors. Their presence can elevate the visual appeal of gardens, parks, and urban spaces.

Moreover, mulberry trees play a significant role in supporting local biodiversity. They attract a variety of wildlife, from birds that feed on their fruits to insects that thrive on their leaves. Birds, in particular, act as natural distributors of mulberry seeds, aiding in the tree’s propagation.

Harvesting Mulberries

Homestead Uses

Mulberry trees, beyond their aesthetic and nutritional appeal to humans, offer significant advantages to homesteaders, especially those raising chickens and pigs.

  • Natural Foraging for Chickens: Chickens naturally forage for food, and a mulberry tree provides them with an opportunity to exhibit this behavior. As the fruits drop, chickens can eat them directly off the ground. This not only supplements their diet but also keeps them engaged and active.
  • Cost-Effective Feed Supplement for Pigs: Feeding pigs can be expensive, especially when relying solely on commercial feeds. Mulberry trees, once established, can produce a significant amount of fruit and proteins rich, providing a cost-effective way to supplement the pigs’ diet. Pigs relish the sweet taste of mulberries, and the fruits can be a treat for them, especially in seasons when other food sources might be scarce.
  • Shade and Shelter: Apart from the fruits, the dense foliage of mulberry trees offers shade and shelter for livestock, especially during hot summer months. This natural canopy can help in reducing heat stress among animals.
  • Sustainability: For homesteaders aiming for a more sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyle, mulberry trees are a boon. Once planted and established, they require minimal care and can produce fruits for years, reducing the dependency on external feed sources.
Red Mulberry Fruit Morus rubra

Addressing Misconceptions

While concerns about mulberry trees are valid, there are misconceptions that need addressing. Firstly, not all mulberry species are invasive. The red mulberry, for instance, is less aggressive in its spread compared to the white mulberry. This distinction is crucial when considering bans or restrictions.

Another misconception is the allergenicity of mulberry trees. While they do produce pollen, they are not considered as allergenic as some other tree species. For instance, one person might be allergic to a small amount of mulberry pollen, while another might be more allergic to a different tree’s pollen, like ash.

The “mess” from fallen mulberry fruits, often cited as a nuisance, can be managed with proper maintenance practices. Regular clean-up and strategic planting can mitigate the impact of fallen fruits on sidewalks and driveways.

Economic and Historical Importance

Mulberry trees have deep economic and cultural roots, especially in regions with a history of silk production. The leaves of the mulberry tree are the exclusive food source for silkworms, which produce silk, a material that has been highly valued for its texture and sheen for millennia. This relationship underscores the tree’s economic significance, especially in countries like China and Japan.

Furthermore, the white mulberry was introduced into the US specifically for its potential in the silk industry. This historical context highlights the tree’s importance in shaping industries and economies.

Moreover, the fruits of the mulberry tree, while not easily shipped, are considered of high quality and are sought after in local farmers’ markets. Their unique taste and nutritional benefits make them a valuable commodity in local economies.

In conclusion, while there are valid reasons for the restrictions on mulberry trees in certain areas, it’s essential to consider the broader picture, including the tree’s benefits, misconceptions surrounding it, and its economic and cultural significance.

Mulberry Silk Worms

Mulberry Tree Overview

Mulberry trees, belonging to the genus Morus, are deciduous trees native to warm, temperate, and subtropical regions of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. They have been cultivated and cherished for their fruits and leaves for thousands of years.

  • Range of climates and soils where mulberries grow: Mulberries are versatile trees that can thrive in a wide range of climates and soils. Some varieties are native to China and the Midwest, indicating their adaptability to different environmental conditions. Their resilience and ability to grow in various soils, from well-draining to clayey, make them a popular choice for cultivation in diverse regions.
  • Aggressive nature of mulberry roots: Mulberry trees are known for their fast-growing and aggressive root systems. These roots can lift sidewalks, strangle drains, and even cause damage to underground pipework. Their roots actively seek water, which can lead to potential issues with underground infrastructure. This characteristic, while beneficial for the tree’s survival in challenging conditions, can pose problems in urban settings.
  • Characteristics of fruit-bearing mulberries: Fruit-bearing mulberries are prolific producers. The fruits, which can range in color from red to dark purple to black, are sweet and nutritious. However, these trees can sometimes drop more fruit than can be consumed, leading to a surplus of fallen fruits. This abundance can be a double-edged sword: while providing a bountiful harvest, the fallen fruits can stain sidewalks, shoes, and cars, and create a sticky mess when stepped on. Birds are particularly attracted to these fruits, and after consumption, they can further spread the seeds, aiding in the tree’s propagation.
Morus rubra Native range

Consequences of the Ban

The prohibition of mulberry trees in various cities and states has had a range of consequences, both intended and unintended.

  • Impact on older mulberry trees nearing the end of their life expectancy: Many mulberry trees, especially those planted in the 50s and 60s, are approaching the end of their life expectancy, which typically ranges from 30 to 50 years. As these trees age and eventually die, communities face decisions about replacement. The bans in place mean that in many areas, these trees cannot be replaced with new mulberries. This situation presents an opportunity to diversify urban forests by introducing different tree species that might be better suited to current environmental conditions and urban planning goals.
  • Evolution of urban forests due to the ban: The bans have indirectly encouraged the planting of a broader variety of trees. For instance, in El Paso, the prohibition on mulberries has led to a more varied urban forest. As cities move away from planting mulberries, they often turn to other species that might offer similar benefits without the associated drawbacks. This diversification can enhance the resilience of urban forests, making them less susceptible to diseases that target specific tree species.

However, the bans have also raised concerns and debates. Some argue that female mulberry trees, which do not produce the problematic pollen, could be beneficial as they can attract and remove more pollen and other pollutants from the air than they produce. There’s also conflicting information about the potential of female mulberries to occasionally produce male flowers and, consequently, pollen.

Morus nigra

Other Restricted Trees

Mulberry trees are not the only species that have faced restrictions or bans in various regions. Another notable example is the Callery pear, commonly referred to as the Bradford pear.

  • Bradford Pear and its Impact: The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture added the Bradford pear to its list of noxious weeds, effectively banning its sale and cultivation within the state. This tree, although initially introduced to the U.S. for its rapid growth and aesthetic appeal, has become a significant environmental concern. The Bradford pear, a non-native species, has a tendency to naturalize and spread aggressively from its planted landscapes. This spread results in the tree crowding out native plants and disrupting local ecosystems. Its introduction in the early 1900s aimed to boost fruit production, but the tree has since become a prolific invader, extending its reach into woodlands, pastures, fields, and other natural areas.
  • Regulation and Exemptions: To address the environmental concerns posed by the Bradford pear, a phased ban over two years has been implemented. This approach allows nurseries and landscaping businesses ample time to adjust their stock and transition to less environmentally threatening tree alternatives. Additionally, an exemption procedure has been established for certain sterile varieties of the tree that have been researched and proven not to pose the same invasive risks.
Bradford Pear in Bloom

Looking Ahead

The bans and restrictions on mulberry trees, rooted in environmental, health, and aesthetic concerns, have broader implications for urban landscapes and local ecosystems. As cities and states continue to evaluate the impact of non-native species, the focus is shifting towards sustainable urban planning that prioritizes both human well-being and environmental health.

The bans, particularly in cities like El Paso and Albuquerque, have already led to a more diverse urban forest. As older mulberry trees near the end of their life expectancy, there’s an opportunity to introduce a variety of tree species that are both ecologically beneficial and less problematic in terms of health concerns. This diversification can enhance urban biodiversity, potentially leading to more resilient urban ecosystems.

However, it’s essential to approach such bans with nuance. Not all mulberry species are invasive or problematic, and blanket bans might inadvertently eliminate trees that could be beneficial in certain contexts. Moreover, as seen with the phased ban on the Bradford pear tree, considerations must be made for businesses and homeowners, allowing them to adapt without undue economic strain.

In conclusion, the controversy surrounding mulberry trees underscores the challenges of urban planning in an ecologically sensitive era. As we move forward, it’s crucial to base decisions on comprehensive research, considering both the immediate concerns and the long-term implications for our urban landscapes and the ecosystems they intersect with.





Are mulberry trees illegal in Ohio?

No, Mulberry trees are not illegal in Ohio.

Are mulberry trees illegal in Texas?

There are local restrictions on growing White Mulberry trees in El Paso, TX

Are mulberry trees illegal in Texas?

No, Mulberry trees are not illegal in California.

Are mulberry trees illegal in Minnesota?

White Mulberry is classified as an invasive in MN and may have local bans

Are Mulberry Trees Illegal?

There are localized bans on White Mulberry trees in areas like El Paso, TX for example.

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