Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hackberry: A great wildlife tree

Celtis, celtis occidentalis

Common Hackberry leaves and fruitLeaves and fruit of common hackberry (celtis occidentalis). Berries are indicated with arrows. Image from Wikipedia.
The small berries of hackberry trees are relished by many songbirds in fall and winter, including the bluebird, cedar waxwing, yellow-bellied sapsucker, mockingbird and robin. The reference book, American Wildlife and Plants,* lists over 25 different songbirds who include hackberries in their diet.

The berries are also eaten by gamebirds such as wild turkey, quail, doves and pigeons. And as you might expect, squirrels eat the berries, and so do beaver, possum, raccoons, skunks, gray fox, wood rats, and (in Texas) the ring-tailed cat.

Some species of hackberry trees are called sugarberries or honeyberries which helps to explain why the berries were used by the Native Americans and why people still use hackberries for jelly and wine.

One or more of the eight species of hackberries are found in nearly every state from the Rocky Mountains east. In western Kentucky where I live, our hackberries are celtis occidentalis or common hackberry.

For us, common hackberry is usually a medium to large tree, but in less hospitable conditions, it may not attain such size. It's a versatile tree that tolerates many growing conditions from wet to dry, but it doesn't like permanently swampy areas and it doesn't like acidic soil.

Forestry guide Steve Nix at cautions that common hackberry produces surface roots that can interfere with lawn mowing and raise sidewalks. Think carefully about where to plant the tree, but do consider it because of its great wildlife value.

Cultivars are available from nurseries, or you can transplant a seedling from the wild in early spring or late fall. Starting them from seed requires some patience -- if planted outside, the seeds germinate in 1 to 2 years.

Hackberry information page in the USDA Plants Database
Hackberry Emperor butterfly

* American Wildlife and Plants by Alexander Martin, Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson, published by McGraw Hill Book Company in 1951. The book is out of print, but it's often available from used book dealers.

Common hackberry in summer, Hopkinsville, KY

1 comments -- please add yours:

Eastcoastdweller said...

There are so many great, wildlife friendly native trees and I appreciate you introducing me to another one.

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927)

Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

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