Our office has worked on many LAUSD projects throughout the years, and it always brings a smile to my face when we find a special place for a mulberry tree. The district’s School Design Guide stipulates each project must “provide at least one mulberry tree on each Primary Center or Elementary School Campus.”
Why a mulberry tree? One of the science experiments conducting during elementary school is the silk worm experiment, which introduces students to the lifecycle of the silkworm, following its development from egg to caterpillar to moth. I remember this elementary school experiment as the most memorable and my favorite science project: taking home silk worm eggs, watching them hatch and evolving into their larval state the silkworm, spinning a cocoon, emerging as an adult moth, mating, and then beginning the life cycle anew. I vividly remember plucking leaves from the mulberry tree on campus to feed my precious silkworms. Of course, I released my silk moth back into the mulberry tree at the end of experiment. As a kid, I believed they’d survive to continue the cycle again.
The silkworm (Bombyx mori) is believed to have been first domesticated for silk production in China 5,000 years ago. Over generations of selective breeding, the larvae are especially adept at producing cocoon and silk for industry. A shocking revelation is that the cost of this domestication – including tolerance to human presence and handling – is the silk month has lost all ability to fly and also lacks a fear of potential predators. These characteristics has made the silkworm entirely dependent upon humans for survival! I guess the silk moths that I released didn’t survive after all!
The good news is that there are still wild species of silkworms in the world. A few of these wild species are used for sustainable “wild” silk foraging, a.k.a. Peace Silk. The “wild” silk is harvested after the moths have left their cocoons, versus the domesticated production method, which kills the silkworm before harvesting the cocoons through boiling with the insect still developing within the cocoon.
The LAUSD elementary school I attended as a child was an asphalt jungle featuring very little landscaping. But I do remember my school’s mulberry tree, an integral part of my educational experience. It’s inspiring as a landscape architect today knowing LAUSD schools is actively integrating landscape into the curriculum with the inclusion of vegetable gardens, outdoor classrooms, and demonstration gardens where students can learn about Southern Californian native habitats, plant communities, and storm-water management.
It’s nice to think all across Los Angeles, somewhere out there, there’s another generation of children learning about the lifecycle of the silkworm, weaving memories similar to the ones I still cherish today.