Broussonetia papyrifera 'Golden Shadow'
When I first came to Swarthmore in the summer of 1986, I used to frequent the Taco Bell on Baltimore Pike (what can I say, I was an intern). One day I was parked in the back where the dumpster sits, and growing along the fence-line was a plant which had leaves similar in appearance to our native sassafras, Sassafras albidum. Some of the leaves were entire, others three lobed, and some had a mitten-shape. However, these were fuzzy, almost velvety to the touch. My new discovery was the paper mulberry, Broussonetia papyrifera, which is rarely found in cultivation, but considered an opportunistic and invasive weed. Later that summer on another culinary expedition I found one at the rear of the Burger King, also on Baltimore Pike!
Eighteen years, 6,000 Whoppers and 3,000 Burrito Supremes later I am thumbing through my favorite plant catalog, Heronswood Nursery when I discovered an entry for my old friend that had thrived on the fatty fumes of every fast food chain in Delaware County. However, this time it was a golden foliage selection, Broussonetia papyrifera ‘Golden Shadow’.
Plantsmen are notorious for finding special and coveted selections of plants most normal people would consider pernicious weeds. I remember visiting the J. C. Raulston Arboretum about 5 years ago and walking through the ‘special’ hoop house which held all their treasures. Then Assistant Director, Todd Lasseigne got noticeably excited when he parted the packed-in plants and found a little variegated selection of crabgrass! Yes, the same crabgrass that major Fortune 500 companies have made billions creating herbicides to eradicate from your yard.
Suffice to say, I too got a little excited. Over the years I have grown a green and white variegated pokeweed; was smitten with a variegated plantain until it seeded all over the Terry Shane Teaching garden; and I’m still regretting ever putting a beautiful, purple, self-sowing (that is an understatement) member of the carrot family, Cryptotaenia japonica ‘Purpurea’ in my yard. So, why not try a golden foliage paper mulberry?
Perhaps it will turn out to be a mistake like the others, but 4 years into this experiment and the results are impressive. In March of each year I cut the main structure of this small tree/large shrub back to a twiggy structure of five feet. In the spring and through the summer large golden, felted leaves are produced. Many other golden-foliaged plants like Sambucus, Catalpa, Cotinus and Robinia lose the color intensity of their golden foliage as the summer progresses and the intensity of the sun increases. However, ‘Golden Shadow’ remains vibrant, lush and stunning.
I have heard that it has a propensity to sucker and colonize. I have noticed a sucker here and there, but nothing else yet. So far this bold-foliaged shrub has impressed all those who have walked by it. If you are looking for a bold plant for the garden with a distinctively tropical effect then ‘Golden Shadow’ might be worth your consideration.