The Mulberry Bush

mulberry bush

Eeeeeuuwww! It´s that time again, the one that comes every year in Spain but which you will never discover (lucky you) unless you are:

  • (a) a parent
  • (b) a teacher or, particularly unpleasantly
  • (c) both.

Because it´s gusanos de seda time!   Silk worm time!


silk wedding kimono


Just imagine it, that fine, sensual oriental fabric on dewy, perfumed skin.

What could possibly be objectionable about that?

Nothing, of course, unless the silk worms are Made in Spain and emphatically not required to spin the miraculous fibres that become the kimono but are instead amassed wriggling in a plastic box in a primary school science lab as an example of the miracle of metamorphosis.


Again, fine.  Biological metaphors for human transformation, especially in the case of awkward children (as in The Ugly Duckling) are necessary and welcome.

But why do I, and other parents, well-grown and successfully transformed into jaded cynics, need to keep these worms at home? Year after year after year?

To be honest, I lie.  I only “did” the gusanos de seda thing a quite-sufficient-once.  One spring, a seven-year-old Malassie brought home a box of these fat, proto-insects which could surely double as maguey cacti worms at the bottom of Mexican mezcal bottles in these times of economic crisis.

Gusanos de seda, silk worms


“You need to feed them,” she said, as we housed them in the trastero on the terraza next to the rusty tools, dried-up paint pots and that heavy pair of expensive curtains I keep saying I´m going to sell on Ebay.

“What do they eat?” I mused, planning to hit-and-run the Mascotería pet shop.

Morera leaves.”

“And where do I get them? Not to mention what are they?”

“They´re leaves.  You get them off the tree.”

“What tree?”

“The morera tree.”

So, to the Collins Spanish-English I went.  Our new, soon-to-cocoon pets ate only of the mulberry tree.

Whatever that was. I grew up in the urban blight of the East End Glasgow tenement. I wouldn´t know a mulberry tree if it fell on my corns, though I did sing the “here we go round the mulberry tree” playground rhyme as a wee lassie.

So, I endeavoured to find a mulberry tree. (Hey, I´ve a research degree, I pride myself on finding stuff!).

So, I put it about among my neighbours. “Psst”, I said, “I´m after a mulberry tree. Any chance?” And my wonderful neighbours, either still “tied to the earth,” as one of my students put it a long time ago, or having gone round the mulberry tree a number of times themselves, came up with the goods.

“Parque O´Donnell.”  So off I went – to the bar in the park run by a couple of Romanians.

“Morera, sí, sí, da, da,” the young man behind the bar affirmed, running out the door and starting to climb onto the roof of the bar.

“What the ….,” I thought, but then a sweet rain of mulberry leaves landed softly on my head and I gathered them up and ran home, the sound of my voice lilting multumesc, gracias gratefully behind me.

And we fed them.  The cocoons accumulated dirty, yellow candy-floss as the smell of rotting filth emanated from the box. Most of the worms died – a poignant lesson in life for Malassie – and eventually, when the stench of death was utterly vomit-provoking, a fey couple of moths struggled airborne to be wafted (by me) over the balcony railing.

I disposed of the stinking mess soon after and Malassie never spoke of silk worms again.

Until today.  The American teacher brought in some gusanos de seda and will be feeding them the mulberry leaves from the bush/tree outside the classroom window.

I hope they´ve got air-freshener.  Or tequila.

So, expat parents, get ready for entomology (the study of insects) to take precedence over etymology (the study of the origin of words) as the fun activity in the Spanish Spring.  Your kids will bring all this ugliness home.

Don´t say you haven´t been warned!














  1. Was out walking with a friend last week and we came across gardens full of mulberry trees. The ground was covered with fallen fruit, red and black. We plucked some of these mulberries and ate them – they were quite sweet. So now I´m beginning to see what those worms were after!

  2. Oh joy !
    Just when I though’t I had got rid of all the silkworm shit in from all my discarded shoeboxes in the bottom of my wardrobe for another year.

  3. Mr. Hubby says:

    Thanks for the update on Malassie’s school activities!

    • Yes, I should´ve told you in person but I put the thought of those worms right out of my mind – until I wrote the post.

  4. Ah yes I had a very similar experience with my three boys…….the worms,the discovery of what a mulberry looked like,keeping the worms supplied wth the only leaves they will eat,the box with holes in the lid,the death and the disposal! All good fun. I live next to Xativa which was supposed to be the biggest producer of silk in Europe during the 13th to 18th century so they must have had a lot of mulberry trees and worms back then too!

    • Three boys …. three times the worms? Aaaah!!! Interesting point about Xativa, I´m not sure I ever thought that Europe produced silk. And I´m not sure if there´s a difference between a mulberry bush and a tree – maybe the UK has bushes and Spain has trees…..Thanks for leaving a comment Paddy.

      • Yep thre times the worms and some years ago now as they are all grown up! No I am not sure about the difference between bushes and trees. I have a mulberry tree in my patio and it is a tree everything I have seen in Spain have been trees but I dint even know if they exist in the uk!
        Xativa was also one of ,if not, the first place(s) to make paper in Europe!
        According to my wife she also had silk worms as a kid at school..and that was a while ago .

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