The Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), also called Northern or Common Hackberry, is a medium to large sized deciduous tree with upright-arching branching and a rounded spreading crown. This tree is common throughout the East and Midwest. The silver gray bark of mature trees looks has pronounced ridges and a warty texture. The female flowers turn into round fleshy berry-like drupes maturing to deep purple. They taste sweet and are loved by birds. Ovate rough-textured leaves are alternately arranged on the branchlets; they are uneven at the base and have a pointed tip. Leaves turn an unremarkable yellow in the fall. The Northern hackberry is common and often afflicted with witches’ brooms, a disfiguring disease likely caused by a combination of a fungus and small mite that results in hackberry twigs to become clumped. C. occidentalis may grow as a tree or shrub. Cultivated in Europe since the 17th century. Hackberry was used in Europe as early as 1656 as a decorative tree. Its genus name comes from the Greek name of another tree and its specific epithet means “Western”.
Common name: Hackberry, Northern Hackberry, Common Hackberry, American Hackberry, Nettle Tree, Hack Tree, Sugarberry, False Elm.
Species Origin: North America
New Jersey Status: USDA Native
Habit: Up to 50 – 80’ tall and 70’ wide; bole 1 – 3’. Medium sized, broadly columnar. Overall shape suggests Ulmus.
Habitat: Zones 2 -9.
Trunk/Stem: Straight trunk; broadly columnar to rounded crown of stout spreading and arching branches. Bark light gray, smooth when young developing linear wart-like excrescences with age. Young bark many lenticels.
Leaves: Deciduous, Simple, Alternate; oval to ovoid, 4 ¼” long x 2 ½” wide; three veins palmate at base; pointed at tip acuminate to acute; margin serrated; blade asymmetric like Ulmus (only more so). Blade upper surface glossy green; blade lower surface lighter green, hairy. Leaf stalk very short.
Flowers: Polygamo -Monoecious. Flowers borne in stem axes and are apetalous; they are single, 1/8” wide, 4 – 5 lobes in very small clusters in leaf axis; each flower on long pedicel. Flowers bloom as the leaves appear. Male and female flowers separate but on the same plant; some perfect flowers also found in the same plant (polygamous).
Fruits and seeds: Fruit a drupe, 3/8 “ across, borne singly on a long pedicel (3/8 – ¾” long), ripening from green to red to purple-black; fruit skin is tough and its pulp thin to slightly dry. The dark colored fruit is plentiful in autumn; fruit becomes wrinkled when dry. It contains one very hard seed.