RIGHT around the corner of Sector 7 C Market is a little spot occupied by a dhobi and his family. As the familiar smell of burnt coal fills the air around him, he laboriously irons piles of clothes lying on a rickety folding bed under a curtain of leaves of an old Mulberry tree. So dense and refreshingly green is its canopy that the whole family, including an old stray dog, huddle under it throughout the day.
“Hanji, yeh shahtoot hai…fruit abhi khatam ho gaya iska (yes, this is Shahtoot, but its fruits have just gotten over,” confirmed the dhobi. Across the road, near the Sector 7 Sampark Centre and Verka booth is another Mulberry tree, and this one just got over with white berries, the ones where silkworms are found on. There are green berries too, and if you move to Rock Garden, Sukhna Lake, Botanical Garden and Rose Garden, you will spot Morus Nigra or the Mulberry.
From the Moraceae family, it comprises 10 to 16 species of mulberries and are quite hardy and easy to grow.
There is a great variability in the genus morus — it can be colour, length of fruits, shape or size of the leaves. You will come across red, white, black or even green berries.
While Chandigarh doesn’t have many, Mulberries have quite a colourful history, one that dates back to the Tudor times, to Shakespeare, to Victorian England. Originally imported from China in the 1600s to kickstart the silk industry in America, the Romans introduced them to Britain and used it for medicinal purposes.
King James I, to gain monopoly over French on silk-making, decided to harvest mulberries (food of silkworms) and ordered thousands of trees. The story goes that instead of white mulberries, black ones were planted and the project failed. However, the mulberry garden tended by King’s Mulberry men survived for a while and now there is a street called Mulberry Walk, just off the King’s Road, Chelsea, in England.
From a Babylonian myth, the nursery rhyme “Here we go round the Mulberry Bush” to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, where Pyramus’s blood stains the white mulberries dark red to Vincent Van Gogh’s painting, the Mulberry tree has featured in all. So much is its popularity, that a couple of years back, an Amritsar-based NGO ran a mission to revive the Shahtoot because of its medicinal properties and save it from a fungal disease that was eating it away. Versatile trees, Mulberries or the Shahtoot, grow in any soil and conditions, but need to be pruned as they take a crooked and gnarly shape. It is the blackbird’s favourite tree, and if you have one, be sure you put a net under it during fruiting for the chirpy chatty birds loves the berries and the mess it makes.