Mulberries have been grown in British gardens since the sixteenth century, the white mulberry primarily to feed silkworms and the black mulberry more for its luscious fruits. Now, a selection of a species not previously grown in Europe has won the award for Chelsea Plant of the Year for 2017.
Forty years ago a Japanese plant breeder, Hajime Matsunaga, resolved to develop a new mulberry that would fruit when the plants were still very young, would develop fruits over a long season, would produce fruits without another variety as pollinator, and would be happy in a patio container without any special care. The flavour, of course, had to be good too.
Instead of working with the two most familiar species, he chose to develop Morus rotundiloba, a rarely seen native to Thailand, and after thirty years work he selected the plant now known as Charlotte Russe (‘Matsunaga’). Charlotte Russe is not, as has been suggested, a hybrid between the white mulberry and black mulberry.
The achievement of his goals led to the Charlotte Russe mulberry being voted Chelsea Plant of the Year at this year’s show, the first edible to receive the award.
I was especially struck, looking at the 15cm (6in) high young plants being sent out to mail order customers, that even such very young plants carried immature fruits which would ripen after planting. Their tolerance of life on the patio, together with their May to September fruiting season, will ensure their popularity.
You can order plants of Morus rotundiloba Charlotte Russe (‘Matsunaga’) from Suttons.