1. Family: Moraceae Gaudich.
    1. Genus: Broussonetia L'Hér. ex Vent.
      1. Broussonetia papyrifera (L.) L'Hér. ex Vent.

        John Sims, a British taxonomist and editor of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, wrote rather brutally in 1822: ‘The Paper-Mulberry tree is a shrub of but little beauty; but, both in Japan and in the South-Sea islands, is of the utmost importance for economic purposes’. Despite the comment by Sims, Broussonetia papyrifera has been appreciated by plant-lovers, and grown in Asian and European gardens for many years. Peter Collinson, a keen English amateur gardener, raised plants from seed sent from China as early as 1751, and distributed them among his friends. However, paper mulberry had already been cultivated in Asia and the islands of the Pacific Ocean for many centuries before this – primarily as a source of fibre, food and medicine.

    [KSP]

    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description

    A shrub or tree, with mulberry-like leaves, paper mulberry is important as a source of fibre for cloth and paper.

    John Sims, a British taxonomist and editor of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, wrote rather brutally in 1822: ‘The Paper-Mulberry tree is a shrub of but little beauty; but, both in Japan and in the South-Sea islands, is of the utmost importance for economic purposes’. Despite the comment by Sims, Broussonetia papyrifera has been appreciated by plant-lovers, and grown in Asian and European gardens for many years. Peter Collinson, a keen English amateur gardener, raised plants from seed sent from China as early as 1751, and distributed them among his friends. However, paper mulberry had already been cultivated in Asia and the islands of the Pacific Ocean for many centuries before this – primarily as a source of fibre, food and medicine.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Native to China, Japan, Korea, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma and Assam (India), but cultivated extensively elsewhere in Asia and the Pacific, and naturalised in parts of southern Europe and the USA.

    Description

    Overview: A deciduous shrub or tree, 10–20 m tall (although exceptionally up to 35 m).

    Leaves: The rough leaves (which are covered in soft hairs when young) are about 15 cm long, borne on a stalk, toothed at the margins, dark green on the upper side, and paler and woolly beneath. The leaf shape is variable. Some leaves are deeply lobed, while others (even on the same shoot) can be unlobed.

    Flowers: The male and female flowers are borne on separate plants, the female flowers being greenish and held in round heads, the male plants bearing catkins (paper mulberry is wind-pollinated).

    Fruits: The edible fruits are orange-red, round or pear-shaped, and split into three parts to reveal a spongy, white inner surface.

    A true mulberry?

    Broussonetia papyrifera was first thought by botanists to be a kind of mulberry ( Morus species), but was later placed in the genus Broussonetia , which was named after Pierre Broussonet (1761-1807), a French naturalist and Director and Professor of Botany at Le Jardin des Plantes de Montpellier (the botanic garden at Montpellier).

    Uses

    Paper- and cloth-making

    Paper mulberry played a significant role in the development of paper-making, and is one of the plants mentioned in the Chinese classic Shih Ching (‘Book of Poetry’), which contains a collection of folk songs, odes and sacrificial psalms composed between 1,000 and 500 BC, and is said to have been edited by Confucius. For centuries, the fibre from the inner bark of paper mulberry has been used to make paper in Japan and textiles throughout the Pacific. In both cases the raw material is the soft, inner bark. For paper-making, the inner bark is pounded and mixed with water, and the resulting paste then spread evenly on a mesh to make ‘washi’ (Japanese handmade paper). Paper-making with paper mulberry fibre was established in China by around 100 AD, and reached Japan by about 600 AD.

    In contrast, in the Pacific region textiles are made by beating together strips of inner bark. This tapa cloth is used for various items of clothing, such as sarongs, scarves and hats, as well as for making bags and other items such as bedding. Until relatively recently, tapa cloth was the main source of clothing worn on Pacific islands such as Fiji, Tonga and Tahiti. Tapa cloth is still worn on ceremonial occasions, during festivals and for traditional dances. The bark fibres (and indeed the roots) can also be made into rope and cord. The wood is light and easily worked, and is used for making cups, bowls and furniture.

    Other uses

    The fruits of Broussonetia papyrifera are edible, as are the young leaves, when steamed. The leaves, fruit and bark have a variety of traditional medicinal uses. In China the leaves are fed to silk-worms.

    Paper mulberry is a vigorous pioneer species, which can rapidly colonise forest clearings and abandoned farmland. Its ability to colonise degraded lands may make it suitable for reforestation programmes in some situations, although it can become invasive when both male and female trees are present, followed by pollination and seed set. Paper mulberry is frequently planted as a shade tree. It tolerates air pollution, making it suitable for planting along roadsides and in urban settings. It is also grown as an ornamental in parks and gardens. The tree is widely coppiced for tapa and paper production, with the young trees cut every 12–18 months. 

    Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

    The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life worldwide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

    Description of seeds: Average 1,000 seed weight = 2.1 g

    Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: One

    Seed storage behaviour: Recalcitrant

    Composition values: Average oil content = 30.1%. Average protein content = 18.5%.

    Cultivation

    Paper mulberry is a fast-growing tree, which often produces suckers from its roots. It is grown in many subtropical and warm temperate regions. It will grow on any well-drained soil, and performs best in a sheltered place in full sun. In England, paper mulberry usually grows into a large shrub or small tree, but can grow into a large tree in areas with long, hot summers. It can withstand temperatures down to at least -5°C. When grown for paper-making, it is coppiced (regularly cut at near ground level) to produce a shrubby bush. Propagation is by seed, cuttings or root suckers.

    This species at Kew

    There is a small grove of paper mulberry trees to the north of King William's Temple at Kew; other specimens can be seen in Westwood Valley at Wakehurst.

    Pressed and dried specimens of Broussonetia papyrifera are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment. The details of some of these specimens, including images, can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.

    Specimens of paper mulberry wood, bark, and paper and cloth products (including fans, envelopes, a bowl, kite, parasol, coat, cloak, hat, dresses and shoes) are held in Kew’s Economic Botany Collection, where they are available to researchers, by appointment.

    Items of particular importance are the paper products collected by Sir Harry Parkes in the 19th century and examples of tapa cloth from Polynesia (one of which was made by the wife of one of the mutineers of the HMS Bounty, the vessel captained by William Bligh in order to collect breadfruit plants, Artocarpus altilis , and take them to the Caribbean). Some of the garments made from paper mulberry are on public display in the Plants + People Exhibition in Museum No. 1.

    Collections made by Sir Harry Parkes

    Many of the items made from paper mulberry in the Economic Botany Collection were collected in Japan by Sir Harry Parkes (British Consul in Japan from 1865 to 1883, and pioneer of Anglo-Japanese relations). Parkes had been requested by the then Foreign Secretary, Earl Clarendon, to gather information on paper-making in Japan (after Prime Minister William Gladstone had heard of the exceptional quality of the paper products made there). It was hoped that British manufacturers could gain valuable knowledge from Japanese expertise. Kew’s Director at the time, Sir William Hooker, also requested Parkes to collect specimens for scientific study, and over the next few years Parkes collected over 400 examples of paper and paper products. Some of the items in the Parkes’ collection, including garments made from paper mulberry, are on public display in the Plants + People Exhibition in Museum No. 1.

    Distribution
    Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand
    Ecology
    Mixed deciduous and evergreen woodland, forest margins and secondary vegetation; a pioneer of disturbed sites.
    Conservation
    Not known to be threatened; it has become an invasive weed in some areas of the USA.
    Hazards

    The pollen can cause allergic reactions.

    [KSP]
    Use
    Cloth- and paper-making, medicinal, ornamental.

    Images

    Distribution

    Found In:

    Bangladesh, Cambodia, China North-Central, China South-Central, China Southeast, Hainan, India, Korea, Laos, Malaya, Myanmar, Sulawesi, Taiwan, Thailand, Tibet, Vietnam

    Introduced Into:

    Alabama, Argentina Northeast, Austria, Bulgaria, Easter Is., Fiji, France, Greece, Illinois, Italy, Japan, Kriti, Nansei-shoto, New Caledonia, Ogasawara-shoto, Romania, Sardegna, Sicilia, Society Is., Solomon Is., Spain, Tennessee, Tonga, Uganda, Vanuatu, Wallis-Futuna Is.

    Common Names

    English
    Paper mulberry

    Broussonetia papyrifera (L.) L'Hér. ex Vent. appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    Jun 1, 2010 Nguyen Van Du et al. [HNK 1725], Vietnam K000612071
    Sep 27, 2005 Korea 74216.000
    Parry, D.E. [11], Thailand 7695.000
    Gamble, J.S. [22611], India K000357632
    s.coll. [s.n.] K001050001 Unknown type material
    s.coll. [s.n.], Japan K001050002 Unknown type material
    Tsai, H.T. [53462], Yunnan K001050004 holotype

    First published in Tabl. Règn. Vég. 3: 547 (1799)

    Accepted in:

    • [1] (2016) Phytologia Balcanica 22: 429-467
    • [2] Bailey, C. & al. (2015) Guide to the Vascular Plants of Tennessee . University of Tennessee press
    • [3] Chang, C.S., Kim, H. & Chang, K.S. (2014) Provisional checklist of vascular plants for the Korea peninsula flora (KPF) . DESIGNPOST
    • [4] Mohlenbrock, R.H. (2014) Vascular Flora of Illinois. A Field Guide , ed. 4: 1-536. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale
    • [5] (2013) Index synonymique de la flore d'Afrique du nord 5: 1-451. Éditions des conservatoire et jardin botaniques, Genève
    • [6] (2013) Phytologia Balcanica 19: 267-303
    • [7] Dimpoulos, P., Raus, T., Bergmeier, E., Constantinidis, T., Iatrou, G., Kokkini, S., Strid, A., & Tzanoudakis, D. (2013) Vascular plants of Greece. An annotated checklist . Botanic gardens and botanical museum Berlin-Dahlem, Berlin and Hellenic botanical society, Athens
    • [8] (2012) Stapfia 97: 53-136
    • [9] Kalema, J. & Beentje, H. (2012) Conservation checklist of the trees of Uganda . Kew Publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [10] Kral, R., Diamond, A.R., Ginzbarg, S.L., Hansen, C.J., Haynes, R.R., Keener, B.R., Lelong, M.G., Spaulding, D.D. & Woods, M. (2011) Annotated checklist of the vascular plants of Alabama . Botanical reseach institute of Texas
    • [14] Flora of China Editorial Committee (2003) Flora of China 5: 1-505. Science Press (Beijing) & Missouri Botanical Garden Press (St. Louis)
    • [17] Dy Phon, P. (2000) Dictionnaire des plantes utilisées au Cambodge . chez l'auteur, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
    • [18] Govaerts, R. (1996) World Checklist of Seed Plants 2(1, 2): 1-492. MIM, Deurne
    • [19] MacKee, H.S. (1994) Catalogue des plantes introduites et cultivées en Nouvelle-Calédonie , ed. 2: 1-164. Museum national d'histoire naturelle, Paris
    • [20] Tutin, T.G. & al. (eds.) (1993) Flora Europaea ed. 2, 1: 1-581. Cambridge University Press
    • [21] (1991) Palmarum Hortus Francofurtensis 3: 1-108
    • [22] (1988) Research Bulletin Dodo Creek Research Station 7: 1-203
    • [23] (1987) Ogasawara Research 13: 1-55

    Literature

    • [11] The Plant List (2010). Broussonetia papyrifera.
    • [12] Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (2008). Seed Information Database (SID). Version 7.1.
    • [13] Berg, C.C. (2003). Broussonetia papyrifera (L.) L’Hér. ex Vent. In: Plant Resources of South-East Asia No. 17. Fibre Plants, ed. M. Brink & R.P. Escobin, pp. 91-95. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, the Netherlands.
    • [15] Barker, C. (2002). Broussonetia papyrifera. Curtis's Bot. Mag. 19: 8-18.
    • [16] Phillips, R. & Rix, M. (2002). The Botanical Garden, Volume 1: Trees & Shrubs. Macmillan, London.
    • [24] (1985) Bulletin du Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle. Section B, Adansonia 7: 259-329
    • [25] Hsuan Keng (1974). Economic plants of ancient north China as mentioned in “Shih Ching” (Book of Poetry). Econ. Bot. 28: 391-410.
    • [26] (1959) Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin 220: 1-283
    • [27] (1948) Annales de l'Institut Botanico-Geologique de Marseille , VI, 5-6: 1-56

    Sources

    Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2017). Published on the internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp
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