Unusual Fruits for Philly Orchards: The Benefits of Being Different

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, Orchard Care, Plants, POP OrchardsTags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

On February 10th 2018, more than 20 people gathered at Awbury Agricultural Village to learn about some of the “unusual” fruits that POP plants and why. There were some great takeaways from this workshop including learning more in depth about some of the less common options available to Philadelphia-based orchards. The most important piece from my perspective, was understanding that these “unusual” fruits were not just exciting because they were less common, but because they are also generally a lot easier to care for compared to common fruits.

Apples and peaches were highlighted as being among the most challenging to grow in our climate because of intense pest and disease pressure.  They and all of the other common fruits are closely related members of the Rosaceae family and are prone to a variety of growing challenges, resulting in greater need for pruning, spraying, and other maintenance requirements. 

By contrast, figs, paw paws, persimmons and other “unusual” fruits are less commonly planted, more distantly related, and much easier to grow and maintain. How much easier?  This depends on the specific plant, but most have very few pest and disease challenges and many approach our idyllic vision of fruit growing as “plant, water, and then harvest year after year”.    

So it’s one thing for certain fruits to be easier to grow, but what about the other benefits? Well, with more than 30 fruits discussed, plus a handful of nuts and some zone 8 possibilities, there’s a great variety and selection to choose from, and by incorporating a diverse array of them into your growing space, you can continue to lessen the impact of pests and diseases, which favor targeting large stands of singular plantings  (or ‘monocultures’) rather than having to scavenge through mixed plantings all over the city.

Another benefit from planting more unusual fruits is the opportunity to increase your window for harvestable fruit – beginning in May with the goumi berry, a sweet-tart berry that can be used for jellies or syrups. The goumi is a medium sized shrub that is self-fertile (meaning you only need one to produce fruit); partial-shade tolerant; and nitrogen fixing (meaning it absorbs the important nutrient nitrogen from the air and adds it to the soil near its roots, thus feeding itself and other neighboring plants).  An ideal plant for food forests!  

Native to East Asia, the goumi fruit is an early-spring producer with tart-sweet berries that have small pits and richly speckled coral-red skin.

Come June, there are many harvest options among the unusual fruit set —  including the aforementioned goumi; the mulberry, beloved by birds as the sweetest fruit; honey berry, a small shrub with blueberry like fruits; alpine strawberries, which produce crops in both June and in September/October and grow low to the ground, tolerant of partial-shade, and in addition to producing sweet berries, are also quite attractive; and of course juneberries, which get their name from the their ripening month. A true POP favorite, juneberries (also known as serviceberries) have a widespread presence in Philly as a native planting that is frequently featured as a street tree throughout the city.  

As the native Juneberry tree ripens, the berries turn from magenta into a deep blue-purple and their flavor develops with its signature blueberry-almond-cherry notes.

If you’re interested in getting a more hands-on experience with juneberries, keep a look-out for POP’s 3rd annual Juneberry Joy week in Spring 2018.  We’ll be harvesting juneberries from throughout the city with volunteers and then partnering with local businesses to feature some delicious juneberry products.

In July at the peak of summer, your options are a’plenty! Nanking cherries, black, clove, red and white currants, gooseberry, jostaberry, and beach plum are all in fruit this time of year. These mostly small and medium shrubs offer a variety of tasty, healthy fruits; nanking cherries are quite productive and ornamental; and currants are especially shade tolerant.  

2016 intern Lucia Kearney harvests Nanking cherries at Awbury Arboretum.

From August through November, another 15+ shrubs and trees enter their prime blossoming and fruit period: figs, paw paws, persimmons, jujubes, cornelian cherry, elderberries, and hardy kiwis, to name a few! 

Jujubes (aka Chinese red date) at the SHARE orchard.  This fruit has been cultivated for four thousand years and features vitamin C-rich fruit that are easy to grow and very productive!

By working with a diversity of plants, POP orchards are able to meet a wide range of needs, whether it be producing fruits for specific times of the year (useful to consider for school orchard sites) or throughout the entire year, providing benefit to the community as well as to pollinators, offering a variety of food crops that can be used to make value added products, frozen, dried, or of course eaten fresh!

One of the first trees to flower in late winter/early spring, cornelian cherry of the Dogwood family provides fodder for early pollinators like birds and bees!

It’s exciting to know that there are so many options for low-maintenance fruit-bearing shrubs and trees that provide so many different benefits to the orchard.  If you’re interested in learning more about these easy-to-grow options, below is a list in order from most recommended (for both ease of care and deliciousness) to least recommended.

Also, I would be remiss not to mention the AMAZING paw-paw pudding Phil provided at the end of the workshop – which was a real treat!

UNCOMMON FRUIT TREES (most recommended to least for ease of care and deliciousness):

  1. Fig
  2. Paw-paw
  3. Asian Pear (although a common fruit, pretty pest and disease resistant)
  4. Juneberry
  5. Asian Persimmon
  6. American Persimmon
  7. Mulberry
  8. Jujube
  9. Crab Apple
  10. Che fruit
  11. Cornelian Cherry
  12. Kousa Dogwood
  13. Trifoliate Orange (Only citrus hardy to the region)
  14. Medlar
  15. Quince

UNCOMMON FRUITING SHRUBS (most recommended to least):

  1. Nanking Cherry
  2. Goumi
  3. Red & White Currants
  4. Jostaberry
  5. Black Currants
  6. Clove Currants
  7. Gooseberry
  8. Elderberry
  9. Beach Plum
  10. Black Chokeberry
  11. Rugosa Rose (aka Rose Hips)
  12. Flowering Quince
  13. Honey Berry

UNCOMMON FRUITING VINES (most recommended to least):

  1. Hardy Kiwi
  2. Arctic Beauty Kiwi
  3. Maypop


  1. Alpine Strawberry
  2. Prickly Pear


  1. Hardy Almonds (almond x peach crosses)
  2. Chestnuts and Chinquapins
  3. Hazels and Filberts
  4. Pecans and Hickories
  5. Walnuts and Heartnuts

ZONE 8 FRUITING PLANTS (require winter protection):

  1. Pomegranate
  2. Olive
  3. Chilean Guava
  4. Pineapple Guava
  5. Loquat
  6. Yuzu

NOTE: The lists above are not exhaustive- so many options!  Here is a link to the workshop slides for more details:

Unusual Fruits for Philly 

This POP blog was written by 2018 Events & Education Intern Alex Zaremba. 

Support us! 

If you find this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate

Plant Spotlight: The Plucky Mulberry (Morus)

Posted on Categories Blog, Harvesting, Home, Plant Profiles, Plants, POPharvests, Propagation, Recipes, Wild EdiblesTags , , , , , , , , ,

Written by 2016 POP Intern, Lucia Kearney. 

Despite their reputation as a weed tree, many people in both urban and rural environments have very fond childhood memories of mulberries!  My own past is filled deliciously with mulberries. When I was a kid, my parents worked in Manayunk. On days when there was no school, I’d go to work with them, and in the summertime I was always happy to see the mulberry tree growing by the parking lot. At their office picnic in Chestnut Hill, there was mulberry tree in the front yard where my brother and scores of other office kids and I would stuff ourselves full of fruit. There was a mulberry tree in our neighbor’s yard when we moved to the suburbs, and mulberry trees by Henderson Field. Needless to say, mulberries are something that I look forward to and thoroughly enjoy every year.

Behold, the wonderful mulberry!
Behold, the wonderful mulberry!


Mulberries are a temperate and subtropical group of trees and shrubs – just walking around Philadelphia, you’re sure to encounter several different species. White or Common Mulberries (Morus alba) originate from China, Black Mulberries (Morus nigra) from Western Asia, Russian Mulberries (Morus alba ‘Tatarica’) from Northern China, and Red Mulberries (Morus rubra) come from the Eastern United States.  Many of the mulberry trees found in the city are wild seedlings that are a cross between White and Red Mulberry species.

Mulberries and people have been pals for a long long time; they actually figure prominently in a Babylonian myth about the tragic lovers Pyramus and Thisbe. In a story of forbidden love very similar to that of Romeo and Juliet, Pyramus and Thisbe, forbidden by their families to marry, agree to meet beneath a mulberry tree. Thisbe arrives first, but flees after seeing a lioness, mouth bloody from a recent kill, accidentally leaving her veil behind. Pyramus, arriving later, sees veil and bloody-mouthed lion and, assuming that Thisbe has been eaten, kills himself. Thisbe returns to the scene to find the body of Pyramus, and kills herself out of grief. Their blood is said to have stained the previously white fruit red.

Thisbe & Pyramus
Thisbe & Pyramus

Mulberries are generally irregularly shaped, bushy-headed trees, with trunks that often lean. Size depends largely on the species – White Mulberries are usually 30 to 50 feet in height and Red Mulberries can reach as high as 70 feet. Black Mulberries tend to be much smaller, occasionally reaching 30 feet in height. Longevity varies as well; while Black Mulberries can bear fruit for hundreds of years, Red Mulberries rarely make it past 75 years. Leaves are alternate, heart-shaped, or lobed, with what looks like serrated edges and pointed tips.

Different Kinds of Mulberry Leaves
Different Kinds of Mulberry Leaves

Flowers often go unnoticed unless you’re looking for them – they are small and feathery and roughly resemble the fruit that they’ll go onto produce. Some varieties are dioecious (meaning that trees are either male or female) while others are monoecious (meaning trees have both male and female parts). Trees are wind-pollinated, no cross-pollination is necessary, and some cultivars will set fruit without any pollination at all.

Flowers from a Red Mulberry Tree
Flowers from a Red Mulberry Tree

Fruits also vary in color, size, and ripening time. Confusingly, the color of the fruit does not reliably identify the species; White Mulberries (in spite of the story of Thisbe and Pyramus) can have white, lavender, or black fruit; Red Mulberries are deep red to almost black, and Black Mulberries are usually large, dark, and juicy. Berries tend to resemble raspberries and blackberries in form, though they are generally longer and narrower. The Himalayan Mulberry – which I’m dying to try – produces berries that can reach several inches in length! White and Red Mulberries ripen in late spring, while Black mulberries ripen in summer to late summer. All mulberries ripen over a period of around six weeks rather than all at once, which is good news for us mulberry lovers.

White and Lavender Mulberries
White Mulberries can bear white, lavender, or even black fruit!
Red Mulberries
Red Mulberry fruit can be red or black.
Black Mulberries
Black Mulberry fruit is usually aptly named!
Morus macroura, also known, amongst other things, as the Himalayan Mulberry
Morus macroura, also known, amongst other things, as the Himalayan Mulberry


Mulberries are actually the sweetest of all fruit!  Fruits can be eaten raw or cooked, and can also be made into wine, cordials, jams, tarts, cobblers, or tossed onto oatmeal or cooked into pancakes. Fruits can also be dried, and made into fruit leather if combined with other, more fibrous fruit. The possibilities are endless; an image search for ‘mulberry recipes’ comes up with dazzling results, I promise you. Be aware that the fruit doesn’t keep long raw – once picked, it should be eaten or cooked within a few days (this is one reason why you don’t generally see mulberries in grocery stores). Also take care while picking black mulberries as their juice will stain hands and clothing (and whatever else you get on them) purple; as such, mulberry juice can also be used as a natural dye. In China, mulberry juice is produced commercially on a large scale and is quite popular; the juice stays fresh for several months without preservatives.

A Black and White Mulberry Ricotta Tart
A Black and White Mulberry Ricotta Tart
Almond and Mulberry Tart
Almond and Mulberry Tart
Mulberry Ice Cream
Mulberry Ice Cream

The leaves – when prepared properly – can also be eaten (please read disclaimer at the bottom of this article before consuming any mulberry leaves). In the Middle East, mulberry leaves are stuffed with ground chicken or lamb. Check out a recipe for chicken stuffed mulberry leaves here. Take note that raw, white mulberry leaves contain toxins that can irritate the stomach and skin, and are said to be slightly hallucinogenic. However, once steamed, the leaves can be safely eaten and used in pies, lasagnas, and salads. Dried mulberry leaf powder – which is high in protein and carbohydrates, and has a distinct, fragrant smell – is used as an additive in buns, bread, cakes, and biscuits in China. A tea can also be made from the dried leaves.

Chicken Stuffed Mulberry Leaves
Chicken Stuffed Mulberry Leaves

Famously, mulberries (usually White Mulberries) are cultivated as food for silkworms; silkworms exclusively eat the leaves of certain species of mulberry (they don’t, for example, eat black mulberries), and in China and Japan, many mulberries are grown solely for this purpose. One of the reasons that White Mulberries and their hybrids are so common in the United States is that they were originally imported to try to start a silk industry in the 1830’s. It takes around 33-40lbs of fresh mulberries to produce just 2.2lbs of fresh cocoon.uses,

 Silkworm Feeding on a Mulberry Leaf + Cocoons

Silkworm Feeding on a Mulberry Leaf + Cocoons

The stems and stem powder are also a good medium for mushroom production; wood ear mushrooms and the medicinal fungus Ganoderma lucidum are produced on mulberry logs or powder.

All parts of the mulberry contain a milky sap that can be used to make a type of rubber, and several species have fibrous bast fibers beneath the bark that can be used to make rope or paper. The wood is a deep yellow, hard, strong, durable, flexible, and coarse grained and is valued for carving, inlays in cabinet work, and for the crafting of musical instruments.

A Bowl Made from Mulberry Wood
A Bowl Made from Mulberry Wood

Birds adore mulberries, so some orchardists plant mulberries as a trap crop to tempt birds away from whatever fruit they’re producing.  In particular, mulberry fruit season overlaps with that of cherries and blueberries, which are the crops most often lost to birds.  Russian mulberries – which are hardier and whose blossoms are not as easily damaged by high winds – are often used as windbreaks.

Nutritional Information/Medicinal Uses

NOTE: The following information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Please read our full edible/medicinal use disclaimer at the end of this article and seek medical advice from a qualified professional before using a new plant in your diet. 

Mulberries are rich in carotene, and in vitamins B1, B2, and C. In fact, one cup of raw mulberries contains 85% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C! They are also high in iron, vitamin K1, potassium, and vitamin E. Mulberries also contain anthocyanins, a family of antioxidants that may help to lower cholesterol prevent hard disease, and rutin, a powerful antioxidant that may help to protect against cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

Traditionally, mulberries have been used as a mild laxative. The USDA reports that leaves from the white mulberry tree have been used to treat sore throats, eye infections, and colds. Mulberry leaves are rich in gamma-aminobutylic acid, which is effective in reducing high blood pressure, as well as in alanine, which is useful in easing hangovers. The American Diabetes Association has also noted that mulberry leaves may help to reduce blood sugar levels in people suffering from type-2 diabetes.


Considered by some to be a weed tree, it’s not surprising that mulberries are often disease-free and tend to thrive in challenging conditions and poor soils. All species prefer full sun in cooler climates, but will tolerate partial shade. While mulberries prefer moist soil, they are drought resistant once established, and require little to no fertilization. They are also tolerant of groundcover and can grow well with grass beneath.

There are named varieties of all species of mulberry selected for their fruit quality.  The Philadelphia Orchard Project has primarily planted the variety ‘Illinois Everbearing’, which is known for its large, tasty, seedless fruit and long season of harvest. Although Black Mulberries are the species most commonly grown for their fruit around the world, they are only marginally hardy in Philadelphia (zone 7).  POP is now experimenting with planting some dwarf varieties of Black Mulberry in more protected locations.

Mulberries can also be propagated via seed – which requires 16 weeks of stratification – or by hardwood cuttings made in the winter, grafting/chip budding, layering, or air layering. Some species can also be propagated from softwood cuttings in the summer. Using mycorrhizal fungi spores as a cuttings dip reportedly increases the success rate of propagation.

Young trees should be planted between 25-35ft apart in the spring or fall. Some formative pruning can be done in the first few years to establish a strong 4-5 branch framework; otherwise, pruning should only be done to remove dead or crossing branches. Pruning should be done in the wintertime while trees are dormant. If trees are being used as a windbreak, they should be planted 8-20ft apart, and can withstand clipping if needed. White mulberry leaves can also be grown as a vegetable crop. To do this, trees are planted densely in rows and coppiced annually at a height of 2-3 feet. Fresh leaves can then be picked throughout the growing season.

Coppiced White Mulberries Interplanted with Nitrogen-Fixing Acacias in Las Canadas, Mexico
Coppiced White Mulberries Interplanted with Nitrogen-Fixing Acacias in Las Canadas, Mexico

And so this year let’s give thanks for the hardy and abundant mulberry! I’m looking forward to making many more mulberry memories, and I hope you all are too.

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate.


The Philadelphia Orchard Project stresses that you should not consume parts of any wild edible plants, herbs, weeds, trees,​ or bushes until you have verified with your health professional that they are safe for you. As with any new foods that you wish to try, it is best to introduce them slowly into your diet in small amounts.

The information presented on this website is for informational, reference, and educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as a substitute for diagnosis and treatment by a health care professional. Always consult a health care professional or medical doctor when suffering from any health ailment, disease, illness, or injury, or before attempting any traditional or folk remedies. Keep all plants away from children. As with any natural product, they can be toxic if misused.

To the best of our knowledge,​ the information contained herein is accurate and we have endeavored to provide sources for any borrowed​ material. Any testimonials on this web site are based on individual results and do not constitute a warranty of safety or guarantee that you will achieve the same results.

Neither the Philadelphia Orchard Project nor its employees, volunteers, or website contributors may be held liable or responsible for any allergy, illness,​ or injurious effect that any person or animal may suffer as a result of reliance on the information contained on this website nor as a result of the ingestion or use of any of the plants mentioned ​herein.















  1. http://www.countryfarm-lifestyles.com/mulberry-trees.html
  2. https://prezi.com/s4abuj_nq8s_/pyramus-and-thisbe/
  3. http://tcpermaculture.com/site/2015/06/02/permaculture-plants-mulberries/
  4. http://www.rnr.lsu.edu/plantid/species/redmulberry/redmulberry.htm
  5. http://www.familylearningadventure.com/2015/07/breaking-my-own-rules-and-discovering.html
  6. http://www.tellmeallaboutyourday.com/2011/05/10/red-mulberries/
  7. http://www.specialtyproduce.com/produce/White_Mulberries_8902.php
  8. https://typicalgardener.wordpress.com/2014/09/30/mulberry-red-shahtoot-or-morus-macroura/
  9. http://www.growplants.org/growing/morus-macroura
  10. http://the3foragers.blogspot.com/2011/06/mulberry-recipe-black-and-white.html
  11. http://foodformyfamily.com/recipes/mulberry-almond-frangipane-tart-contentment
  12. http://firstwefeast.com/eat/2015/04/alice-waters-chez-panisse-career-changing-dishes
  13. http://www.greenprophet.com/2012/11/iraqi-stuffed-grape-leaves-recipe/
  14. http://cityfurnitureblog.blogspot.com/2013/02/mulberry-tree-facts.html
  15. http://www.woodworking.org/InfoExchange/viewtopic.php?t=31273
  16. http://www.perennialsolutions.org/cuba-mass-planting-moringa-and-mulberry