Mulberry trees have been important in cultures worldwide for centuries. The genus has been used for wood, textiles, food, drink, and aesthetics. Though there are 16 genera of mulberries that can be found across the globe, there is only one mulberry native to North America, including Canada. Morus rubra, the red mulberry tree is Canada’s only native mulberry species and is threatened in Ontario. It is a small tree that grows 6-18 meters tall. The leaves are quite large and heart-shaped. The bark of mature trees is reddish in colour and flaky. The fleshy fruit is deep red and matures in mid-July.
Red mulberry occurs in eastern North American forests. In Canada, it is only found in the Carolinian Zone (the small area of Ontario southwest of Toronto to Sarnia down to the shores of Lake Erie) near rivers, the shores of Lake Erie, and the slopes of the Niagara Escarpment. It is often found in areas where the forest canopy is quite open and allows lots of sunlight to reach the forest floor, but it will tolerate some shade.
Red Mulberry is considered endangered, and there are fewer than 300 red Mulberry trees remaining in Ontario. Red mulberry is hardy to sub-zero temperatures and is relatively hardy to drought, pollution, and poor soil, although its close relative, white mulberry, is hardier. Unfortunately, Red Mulberry is often outcompeted by the non-native White Mulberry and easily hybridizes with its relative, causing a loss of genetic purity in the native species.
Mulberry leaves are the preferred food for silkworm caterpillars, which produce silk cocoons. Red Mulberry fruit is delicious and edible to humans when ripe and is quickly eaten by birds and small mammals in the summer. Unlike most species that are pollinated by insects, Red Mulberry is pollinated by wind.
Some First Nations tribes used an infusion of red mulberry bark as purgative. Infusions of the red mulberry root were used to treat weakness and urinary ailments. The sap was applied to the skin to treat ringworm. Choctaw people wove clothing from the inner bark of young red mulberry and similar shoots. Powhatan tribes consumed mulberry berries as part of their diet.
The first English colonists to explore eastern Virginia in 1607 mentioned the abundance of both mulberry trees and their fruit, which was eaten (sometimes boiled) by the native Powhatan tribes. Today, mulberries are eaten raw, used in the fillings of pastries, and fermented into wine.
University of Guelph’s Arboretum is one of the few conservational sites paragoning Red Mulberry's preservation and recovery efforts. The specie recovery strategy itself (hosted on the government of Canada website) was initially drafted by notable Guelph scholars and preservation enthusiasts including John Ambrose (independent consultant and former Chair of the Red Mulberry Recovery Team), Henry Kock (former Interpretive Horticulturalist, University of Guelph Arboretum), Kevin Burgess (former Ph.D. candidate, University of Guelph), Brian Husband, Peter Kevan and Steve Stewart (Professors, University of Guelph).
One of the most interesting facts I have learned about Red Mulberry is that the tree is pollinated by wind instead of insects. This fact inspired me to shape the composition around space and “airiness”. It is one of the more ambient tracks from the collection and to give this composition brightness and spaciousness, I made soundscapes and vocal harmonies the main focus. Operatic vocalizations were recorded in multi-layered harmonies and produced with significant use of reverb and delay to create a cathedral-like effect. I mainly used cello on a more textural level, letting the listener dissolve into the music.
This composition is produced (mixed) in a binaural fashion to add perception of space and depth. A binaural beat is an auditory illusion perceived when two different pure-tone sine waves, both with frequencies lower than 1500 Hz, with less than a 40 Hz difference between them, are presented to a listener dichotically (one through each ear). Although the benefits of binaural music are not scientifically proven, some of the claimed benefits may include reduced stress and anxiety, and increased focus and concentration. Binaural music is popularly used for deep meditation.
As I was working on this track, I was thinking about wind not only as a natural phenomena but also as "communication". Wind serves an essential role in the lives of trees. Not only trees are shaped by wind and reproduce via wind, but also wind, essentially, makes trees into acoustic instruments. When you take a walk through a park and hear calming, comforting, soft rustle of leaves it is wind that plays primary role in creation of the acoustics.
I imagined mysterious night sky deep blues and firefly glow yellows as I kept working on the track. Maybe next time when you take a night-time windy walk in the summer, you can hear a soft rustle of the canopies and they will remind you of this composition.