If you’ve seen hackberry trees, you’ll know that it can make any landscape look beautiful, not just because of their deep emerald foliage and their pearl white flowers that invite butterflies towards them, but also due to the crimson fruits beckoning birds in their cool shelter.
Call it by Any Other Name
These are some alternative names for the common hackberry―American hackberry, beaverwood, Celtis canina, Celtis occidentalis ssp. tenuifolia, Celtis pumila, Celtis tenuifolia, false elm, nettle tree, northern hackberry, and sugar berry.
Hackberry trees are large deciduous trees that are often confused with other elms, sugar hackberry, and English elm.
These trees have a fast growth rate, and live a hardy and long life. They are flood-resistant, drought-tolerant, rugged, and able to withstand acid, sand, high salt, clay, and alkali levels in soil. These trees can also tolerate air and soil pollutants related to the urban areas, thus making them one of the top choices to be used as street trees.
Genus: Celtis L.
Species: Celtis occidentalis L.
Characteristics of the Hackberry Tree
These trees can grow up to the height of 60 feet and have a spread of around the same. They are broad crowned and often have an erratic shape.
The foliage of the common hackberry is asymmetrical, rough, and dull green in color. They are ovate in shape and around 4 – 6 inches long with a toothed and pointed tip.
The bark of these trees is warty and covered with ridges all over the trunk. They are often seen in shades of light gray.
Fruits of the common hackberry are small but fleshy bearing a single seed in them. They are found in an array of colors ranging from green to red and at times a gorgeous dark purple, attracting many birds and animals to gorge on them. The fruits are safe for animals, birds, and humans alike.
In fact, the Native Americans crushed these berries in order to extract their flavor to add to their animal fats, corn, and other foods.
The hackberry flowers grow in clusters in the spring. Their beautiful white colors in contrast to the dark green hues of the leaves attract many butterflies and birds towards them.
Pests and Diseases
With winged and four-legged companions come other pests such as insects, fungal infections, and parasitic plants. The hackberry trees are prone to insects and fungal infections, which feed off them. Most common of the insects that the tree attracts are the hackberry bud gall maker, hackberry petiole gall psyllid, hackberry blister gall psyllid, and hackberry nipple gall maker.
Fungi that mostly affect this tree are the witches’ broom disease, which causes rosette formation on the branches. Another such problem of infestation is the oak fungus, which causes the roots to rot.
Parasitic plants like the mistletoe use the tree’s good colonizer and kill the tree over a period of time.
Butterflies and Animals
If butterflies are what you seek, then these trees are ideal for attracting Leila hackberry butterfly (Asterocampa leilia). The caterpillars of these butterflies resemble the green leaves with thorns, similar to those on the trees. On maturity, the caterpillars morph into gorgeous orange butterflies with black spots.
These trees also play host to the Snout butterfly (Libytheana bachmanii) which lays its eggs among the foliage.
Apart from butterflies, these trees also attract fauna, viz., ring-necked pheasant, quail, wild turkey, prairie chicken, robins, cedar waxwing, deer, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and other small mammals. The tree relies on these little critters to eat and then disperse the seeds in order to reproduce.
These trees are deep-rooted and often used to bring erosion under control. Their long and widespread branches often work well as windbreakers, while the roots prevent the soil from eroding.
Hackberry Tree held special medical value for the Native Americans, who used the bark of the hackberry tree for problems, viz., curing sore throat or venereal diseases, regulating the menstrual cycle, or even for inducing abortions. The berries were often used to add flavor to food, while the wood from these trees were also used for their prayer ceremonies.