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Right now autumn colors are just hitting their brilliant peak in Brooklyn. Today, while I was running an errand, I saw a tree which had turned a perfect combination of bright orange, rich pink, and crimson. Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of the lovely tree (since I didn’t have my camera phone on me) but the color of its leaves was sublime. I ran home to look at the big list of color names to find this exquisite otherworldly hue—which seemed like it came from some paradise or celestial realm—and I was appalled when I discovered the name was “outrageous orange.”

Outrageous Orange

Outrageous Orange

The mystery to why the name was so jejune was promptly solved when I looked over at the source of the name: “outrageous orange” was a name conceived by Crayola in 1972. Crayola crayons are magnificent products, but they are marketed to children. The silly alliteration and facile name are thus explained. In fact, the color was renamed “ultra orange” in 1990 (which hardly seems like an improvement).

I feel like I remember this crayon from my own 70's childhood

I feel like I remember this crayon from my own 70’s childhood

Whatever the name, the color is exquisite, and perfectly evokes sunsets, autumn leaves, and slowly cooling magma. We need more words for beautiful bright orange tones other than “orange” but I’m not sure I am going to go around talking about “outrageous orange.”

The Sidewalk Beneath the Mulberry Tree on Ditmas Avenue, Brooklyn

Whenever I have walked to or from the subway this last week, a particular patch of pavement stands out because it has been dyed a ghastly blackish purple.  This is where the sidewalk runs beneath a mulberry tree, a medium sized deciduous fruit tree which produces copious quantities of black multiple fruit.  Ten to sixteen species of trees are accepted by botanists as true mulberries. The three most commonly known species are black mulberries (Morus nigra) which were exported in great number from Southwest Asia to Europe, the red mulberries (Morus rubra) which grow wild in Eastern North America, and the white mulberry (Morus alba) which has been domesticated since ancient times in China as food for silkworms. The different species readily hybridize into fertile hybrids so I have no idea which sort I am walking under every day.  The Mulberry trees give their name to the Moraceae, the mulberry family, which includes figs, banyans, breadfruits, and Osage-oranges.

Mulberries

Mulberry foliage is the preferred food for silkworm larvae (although the caterpillars will also tolerate foliage of the Osage-orange and the tree of heaven).  An ancient Chinese legend relates that Lei Zu, the wife of the Yellow Emperor (himself the mythical progenitor of Chinese culture), discovered silkworm cultivation as she was drinking tea beneath a mulberry tree.  A silkworm wrapped up in a cocoon fell into her tea.  She removed the cocoon from her beverage and was amazed at how the fiber unwrapped around her fingers as a lovely thread.

Mulberries on a Tree

Mulberry leaves, sap, and unripe berries contain 1-Deoxynojirimycin, a polyhydroxylated piperidine, which acts an intoxicant and mild hallucinogen (and produces nausea).  However when mulberries ripen they turn black and become edible.  Mura nigra and Mura rubra allegedly have the tastiest fruit which is said to resemble blueberry in taste and appearance when cooked into pies and tarts.  Cooked mulberries are rich in anthocyanins, pigments which are useful as natural food colorings and may have medicinal value.

Mulberry Pie Made By Anita Marks

Mulberry also gives its name to a lovely purple pink which resembles the color of mulberry jams and pies.  The word mulberry has been used to describe that particular shade since the 1770’s.  I remember it fondly as a Crayola crayon which I always used up before the others (although apparently the color was discontinued in 2003–so today’s children will have to make do with less poetic purple pinks).

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