White Mulberries in Red Hook: a legacy of Competition with China, 18th Century

White mulberries were imported to feed silkworms!

American competition with China goes back centuries.

To compete with China’s silk industry, white mulberries were imported into the American colonies because silkworms only eat white mulberry leaves. It is possible, however, that, to protect their silk trade and trade secrets, the Chinese provided dud Mulberry cultivars to the Jesuits who were trying to buy it on black market; because the ones that were imported were the wrong kind. The seeds were rapidly distributed via bird poop.

A major shipment into this region was in 1774 by William Prince who sold plants in Flushing. At that time, the East River was the main travel route between Flushing, Manhattan and Brooklyn in boats, canoes and pirogues (native canoes). 

The effort to breed silkworms failed, but Red Hook and NYC now have many mulberry trees.   The native mulberry is red. The white is invasive and hybridizes with it.



  • To be sold by William Prince, at Flushing Landing on Long Island, near New York a large collection as follow of fruit trees and shrubs, Henry G. Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalog Collection, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library, 1793.  Archive.org

    Klose, Nelson “Sericulture in the United States.” Agricultural History, vol. 37, no. 4, 1963, pp. 225–234. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3739985. (accessed June 2021)

    White Mulberry
    , Central Park Concervancy, centralparknyc.org (accessed 2019)

Share this Item