chinese hackberry tree
Celtis sinensis, Chinese Hackberry. (Geographer/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0)

Hackberry is a tree with an elm-like form and is, in fact, related to the elm. The wood of hackberry has never been used for lumber. That is primarily due to its softness and an almost immediate propensity to rot when in contact with the elements.

However, Celtis occidentalis is a forgiving urban tree and is considered tolerant of most soil and moisture conditions. It is a tree you will find in many parks in the United States.

Hackberry forms a rounded vase reaching a height of 40 to 80 feet, is a rapid grower, and transplants easily. The mature bark is light gray, bumpy and corky and its small berry-like fruit turns from orange-red to purple and is relished by birds. The fruit will temporarily stain walks.

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Description and Identification of Hackberry

Chinese hackberry leaves and fruit
(KENPEI/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Common Names: common hackberry, sugarberry, nettletree, beaverwood, northern hackberry.

Habitat: On good bottom-land soils it grows fast and may live to 20 years.

Description: Hackberry is planted as a street tree in midwestern cities because of its tolerance to a wide range of soil and moisture conditions.

Uses: used in inexpensive furniture where a light-colored wood is desired.

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The Natural Range of Hackberry

map of hackberry distribution
Map of hackberry distribution in North America. (U.S. Geological Survey)

Hackberry is widely distributed in the eastern United States from the southern New England States through central New York west in southern Ontario to North and South Dakota. Northern outliers are found in southern Quebec, western Ontario, southern Manitoba, and southeastern Wyoming.

The range extends south from western Nebraska to northeastern Colorado and northwestern Texas, then east to Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina, with scattered occurrences in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

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The Silviculture and Management of Hackberry

common hackberry tree
Common hackberry. (Marija Gajić/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Hackberry grows naturally in moist bottomland soil but will grow rapidly in a variety of soil types from moist, fertile soils to hot, dry, rocky locations in the full sun. Hackberry is tolerant of highly alkaline soil whereas Sugarberry is not.

Hackberry is wind, drought, salt and pollution tolerant once established and is considered a moderately tough, urban-tolerant tree. Skilled pruning is required several times during the first 15 years of life to prevent formation of weak branch crotches and weak multiple trunks.

Hackberry was extensively used in street plantings in parts of Texas and in other cities as it tolerates most soils except extremely alkaline, and grows in sun or partial shade but branches may break out from the trunk if proper pruning and training is not conducted early in the life of the tree.

Even slight injury to the trunk and branches can initiate extensive decay inside the tree. If you use this tree, locate it where it will be protected from mechanical injury. Best for low-use areas such as along the edge of woods or in an open lawn, not for along streets. The tree is very susceptible to damage in an ice storm.

One especially nice cultivar is 'Prairie Pride,' a quick-growing tree with a uniform, upright, compact crown. Prune and thin the canopy to prevent the formation of weak, multi-trunk trees.

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Insects and Diseases of Hackberry

hackberry tree bark
Hackberry bark. (Marija Gajić/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Pests: One common insect on the tree causes Hackberry nipple gall. A pouch or gall forms on the lower leaf surface in response to feeding. There are sprays available if you care to reduce this cosmetic problem. Scales of various types may be found on hackberry. These may be partially controlled with horticultural oil sprays.​

Diseases: Several fungi cause leaf spots on Hackberry. The disease is worse during wet weather but chemical controls are seldom needed.

Witches broom is caused by a mite and powdery mildew. The main symptom is clusters of twigs scattered throughout the tree crown. Prune out the clusters of twigs when practical. It is most common on Celtis occidentalis.

Powdery mildew may coat the leaves with white powder. The leaves may be uniformly coated or only in patches.

Mistletoe is an effective colonizer of Hackberry, which can kill a tree over a period of time. It appears as evergreen masses several feet in diameter scattered about the crown.

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Your Citation
Nix, Steve. "Hackberry." ThoughtCo, Oct. 27, 2017, thoughtco.com/hackberry-tree-overview-1343168. Nix, Steve. (2017, October 27). Hackberry. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hackberry-tree-overview-1343168 Nix, Steve. "Hackberry." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hackberry-tree-overview-1343168 (accessed March 17, 2018).