In his new book, Mulberry, Peter Coles, CUCR Visiting Fellow and tutor on the Photography and Urban Cultures (PUC) MA degree course, shares his passion for this humble tree. As the sole food for the silkworm, the mulberry is the (often silent) partner in a multi-billion, global silk industry, accompanying the secret of silk-making on its long journey from Neolithic China to almost every continent on the globe, over the past 5000 years.
But, as the book shows, the mulberry species is so much more than a leaf factory for feeding silkworms. The dark purple fruit of the black mulberry has been used for millennia to treat ailments, ranging from intestinal worms and sore throats to baldness and diabetes. The amber-coloured wood is used for musical instruments in Central Asia while, in Japan, timber from a few rare, ancient trees was long reserved to make tea ceremony utensils and exquisite furniture exclusively for the Imperial family.
In a surprising twist, though, Peter’s book also shows how surviving old mulberry trees in London (and beyond) are proving to be a valuable (and little-known) marker for hidden layers of urban history, buried under decades and even centuries of change and development. This discovery became the basis for the Morus Londinium project that Peter started in 2016, with the Conservation Foundation, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Mulberry is published by Reaktion Books
Please join Peter to celebrate the launch of Mulberry:
Location : West End Lane Books, 277 West End Lane, West Hampstead London NW6 1QS
Date : 26th November
Time : 7-9 pm.
Please RSVP to Peter here.
This ancient black mulberry in Sayes Court Park, Deptford, is what first got Peter Coles interested in mulberry trees. On the site of the house and garden of the 17th century diarist, John Evelyn, the tree is one of several historic mulberry trees across Britain that are the only survivors of gardens which have long disappeared.
Unlike the white mulberry, which is often grown around the world in groves or plantations to feed silkworms, the black mulberry, a native of Central Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean, is more solitary, best known for its juicy black fruit and shade. It was brought to England by the Romans and often featured in medieval and monastery gardens.
Peter Coles is a fine art photographer, journalist and editor and has been a Visiting Fellow at Centre for Urban and Community Research, Goldsmiths, University of London since 2007.