When most people think of mulberry trees, visions of sticky sidewalks and driveways, black with a coating of pulverized fallen fruit come to mind. It may be hard to imagine any real use for them besides attracting wild birds or possibly as a shade tree. During the early 19th century, however, mulberries were some of the most highly sought-after fruit trees in the country.
Before the era of cheap feed corn in the 20th century, livestock feed was a hotly debated topic and hundreds of different plants and crops were used to this end. Thousands of acres of land were planted as feed orchards for animals like chickens and hogs.
This land was stocked with fruit trees such as native persimmons, as well as nut trees, and mulberries. Of course, the more food these orchards could produce, the cheaper it was to raise livestock.
Enter the Ever-Bearing Mulberries. There were three mulberry varieties known in antebellum America: the White, Downing’s, and the Hick’s.
Of the three, the Hick’s was widely known to be superior, not only in its ability to bear fruit from the end of April to the middle of July, but in the exceptional flavor it imparted to the meat of livestock.
The Hick’s Ever- Bearing has singular importance for South Carolina, as it was created by Nicholas Herbemont right here in downtown Columbia. Herbemont owned the entire block bounded by Bull, Gervais, Pickens, and Lady streets. It was here that, in an incredible garden including grapes and fruits of all kinds, Herbemont crossed the Asian White Mulberry ( Morus alba) with the native Red Mulberry (Morus rubra).
As a part of Historic Columbia’s contribution to the ongoing repatriation of heirloom crops and fruits to South Carolina, I joined an expedition to recover what is thought to be the last of the Hick’s Ever-bearing trees in the United States.
Led to the grove by fruit savant A.J. Bullard of Mt. Olive, N.C., the group was in awe of the massive and gnarled specimens. After repeated trips to secure more material, cuttings have finally taken root.
One of the most important fruit trees of the south will soon be seen growing in its hometown again.
The Hick’s Ever- Bearing Mulberry will be planted at the Robert Mills House and Gardens this fall. Come visit our gardens and grounds for free anytime to experience other heirloom fruits, vegetables, and ornamentals.
Is there any way to purchase a Hicks Mulberry tree? Thank you!
Looks like they’re available at Walmart and BB Barns (formerly Woodley’s).