By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

IMGP4390 cropped smallI looked behind me.

Vlad had disappeared.

Both those things were somewhat unexpected. Normally Vlad paddles slightly ahead of me, or we keep pace. But the sun was high and he was uncharacteristically lagging behind, and I thought maybe the  heat was getting to him.

He was on the far side of the Harlem River, over to the East.  And last I’d checked, he’d been paddling away from me, towards the low, almost insignificant, pedestrian bridge that connects Wards and Randalls Islands.

Now he’d disappeared under the bridge. I followed across the Harlem River to see where he was headed. In the several dozen times we’ve circumnavigated Manhattan together, we’ve never gone under that bridge. Never even discussed it. I wondered what had prompted him to do so today.

When I caught up with him, he was stopped, looking curiously at the reeds and marshland in the little cove that opened up past the bridge.

“What made you decide to come in here?” I asked.

“There’s a place where mulberry trees grow right down to the water. You can pick mulberries right from a kayak,” he said. “Erik Baard has been writing about it for years.” (Most recently here.)

Mulberries? From a kayak?

I looked around. Sure enough, I’d passed several green trees whose branches nearly touched the water. But none of them looked like berry trees.

I paddled closer to Vlad. He explained that we were in the remnants of what used to be Little Hell Gate. It was the strait between Wards and Randalls Islands that, just like “big” Hell Gate still is today, was once an open passage, with fierce tidal currents. But when Robert Moses built the Triborough—now the RFK—Bridge in the 1930s, he joined Wards and Randalls Islands together by blocking off Little Hell Gate at one end to turn it into the placid backwater that we’d entered today.

But what about those mulberries?

We paddled closer to the green trees and inspected them. It didn’t seem like there was anything much… but wait…  what was that?

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A splotch of white against the foliage. Sure enough: White mulberries!

And ripe, too. And surprisingly sweet.

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Laughing with delight, we plucked and ate the berries. There were plenty of them—because who else could reach those berries except for kayakers?

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“Erik mentioned there were some red ones, too,” Vlad said. We looked at some of the other trees. Wait… what was that? A flash of pink?

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We paddled closer, and sure enough, caught sight of some dark-purple mulberries against the green. (The pink ones were semi-ripe).

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More mulberries!

And there are more to come, judging from the quantities of unripe and semi-ripe berries. We hope to be back in the next few weeks to repeat the experience, when the tides are once again right.


58 responses to “Mulberries!

  1. What a pleasant yummy surprise!


    • Johna Till Johnson

      Thanks, Franz! And thanks for posting.

      Quite an interesting site concept you have over at trailblazerguide. I have a few thoughts/ideas that might interest you if you want to touch base offline.


  2. What a happy face :-)!


  3. Wonderful!!!!! Now that’s what kayaking is all about. Love your adventures!!


  4. Aren’t you glad there aren’t any monkeys in your country. You could have been in for a bit of a fight. *grin*

    How cool, being able to feast from your kayak.


    • Just half an hour before we got to this cove, it looked like we were in for a fight with dozens of gulls when we got too close to “their” island, Mill Rock. We can usually fight off gulls. Not so sure about monkeys…


  5. adventure n fun trip :)


  6. Love this.
    There are mulberries over a bridge in Central Park as well. (Took photos of them a few weeks back!) NYC is full of surprises!


    • And some of the trees in NYC streets are mulberries. There is one close to where we live. Unfortunately it’s a big tree and the mulberries are too high to pick. But the ground is beginning to be littered with squashed fallen mulberries…


  7. Oh, the places you go!


  8. Now you’ve found your secret cove to snack on mulberries. How wonderful!


  9. Such a better way to get berries than just going to the store. We love finding berries on our hikes. I have to say we have never found them while paddling- tubing down a river once.


  10. An amazing adventure, thanks for sharing!


  11. I love mulberries… I forgot all about them! I used to have a tree in my yard as a kid and we ate them all the time. :)


  12. Yum right from the tree, best taste :-)


  13. Hard to believe that was NYC!


  14. What a great treat to find on the river. Yummy mulberries that sound like they’re as good as the indigo-colored berries called blueberries.


  15. I’ve never eaten mulberries (that I know of). What a sweet find!


  16. I once had a mulberry tree in the back yard of my once beautiful home. The song birds came in droves during the Spring! How wonderful to find such a pleasant little reward on your paddling journey. Next time you get the chance to visit this secret place watch for some amazing birds.


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  18. what a treasure trove…I am very jealous right now


  19. Livin’ off the land!


  20. Amazing! I haven’t seen a mulberry tree in years, although they were pretty common when I was growing up in Brooklyn. They were the purply kind, of course — have NEVER EVER seen or tasted white ones.
    The unexpected rewards of kayaking?
    (Like your summer get-up, Johna!)


    • Mulberries are pretty common in NYC still. I think the white ones are sweeter, but considered to lack a certain subtlety.

      As far as the get-up goes, we are covering up more and more to avoid the sun. Hence the gloves. Johna just couldn’t find a long-sleeved shirt…


  21. A tasty fun find! Any silkworms? ;-)


    • Didn’t examine closely enough. But I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a whole cottage industry making silk somewhere in Queens, established by some enterprising Chinese immigrant :-)


  22. How precious, to come across some wild food, free for the picking! I am currently coddling two little mulberry trees along hoping for some fruit in a few years!


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  24. Never had a white mulberry. Do they taste like the dark ones? Love your post and photos. :)


  25. Enjoyed reading this! I came across a black mulberry tree last year in a park. It looked as though a murder had been committed underneath it, from all the squashed berries that people had walked over. Gruesome!

    I don’t think I’ve eaten white mulberries though. I planted a black mulberry tree earlier this year, in a local community orchard – it’ll be a few years before we get any fruit off it, but worth the wait.


    • Yes, there is a mulberry tree near where we live, and it’s the same story—the sidewalk is absolutely covered with dark squashed berries. Unfortunately the tree is too high to pick any of them before they fall :-(

      Black (red) mulberries are better, that appears to be the general concensus… enjoy yours when they come!


  26. Even the birds had not found them – lucky for you! ;-)


  27. WOW! My “Fresh” weekly photo challenge included Berries this week too… But just from our backyard.. No history in that lol! Fantastically “Fresh” Finds Thanks for all the inspiration! J9;)


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