Kudos for the Common Hackberry

First, I have to say that I am heartsick over yesterday’s election. Heartsick, and worried about what the future has in store. However, I don’t want to write about the election. I spend a lot of time on politics, and one of the reasons I started this blog was to get my mind onto other things.

Also, I believe that in dark times we need our gardens, and all the things that give us joy, more than ever.

So for today’s post I’m going to extend some recognition to the Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis). Not one of your glamour trees, the Common Hackberry. The name itself sounds rather blunt and utilitarian. However, this is a tree with some important virtues.

Common Hackberry in front of our house, showing its fall color.Β 

We have a C. occidentalis planted in the parkway in front of the house. I chose it from the list of approved street trees provided by our town. The primary reason was that it is a host plant for at least five kinds of moths and butterflies.

Since the tree was planted, I’ve seen two of those butterfly species in the garden: the Mourning Cloak and the Question Mark. Of these, we only have pictures of the Mourning Cloak.


2015-06-14 15.09.08.jpg
Mourning Cloak feeding on orange peel

Common Hackberry is also a pretty tough customer. It can tolerate poor soil, dry and wet conditions, and city pollution.

When our Hackberry was first planted it looked a little strange. It was suffering from witches broom, which is a common but harmless problem with this tree. However, over the last couple of years it has developed a nice pyramid shape. And the leaves turn a pleasant yellow in autumn.

So give the Common Hackberry some consideration if you are considering a new shade tree or two. It may not be the most elegant or beautiful of trees, but it pays its dues.

64 Comments on “Kudos for the Common Hackberry

  1. There was a hackberry tree across the street from us for years. It is now gone. I would love to have one if I had the space. It is so pretty and as you say the butterflies love it as well as the cedar waxwings.

    • Yes, I forgot to mention the berries! Although I believe only the female trees bear fruit. Ours has not done so yet, but maybe when it’s a little older.

  2. When I first became a gardener, I had no respect for the Hackberry. My opinion has taken a 180 degrees turn over the years. As you’ve mentioned, there are many insects that use the Hackberry as a food source including Central Texas walking sticks. One of the biology professors I worked with did walking stick research and would forage for fresh Hackberry leaves on a daily basis to feed them. Ditto on the outcome of the election. Will spend more time than ever hiding in my garden.

  3. My mother always quoted this one ”when the world wearies, and society does not satisfy…there is always the garden”….. I think this is a very good time to be in the garden.
    I love your Common Hackberry and, in summer I must do a post on my front garden tree, the Chinese Tallow.

  4. Love your Common Hackberry tree and its beautiful autumnal colour, I also love that the wildlife love it too.
    I think the world is holding its breath after your election result, the garden would seem to be the best place to be.

  5. Things that give us joy. I like that Jason, and must remember these wise words when life seems bleak. I also like that little tree – it seems valiant. And any tree that draws butterflies, well…! But I didn’t know that cities let people only plant certain trees. That amazed me! Enjoy your haven today, as I will mine!

    • The Hackberry usually grows 40-60 feet, so eventually it becomes moderately big. The City of Evanston has a list of approved trees for parkways (which belong to the City) – but you can plant whatever you like on your own property.

  6. I like your celtis, it is a good shape and lovely autumn colour. It is not seen very often here.
    The whole world is worrying about what horrors will be unleashed now. As you say, we can only keep on gardening and hope for the best.

  7. We watched TV yesterday, Jason and are disappointed the result as well. I agree ‘in dark times we need our gardens’
    Have a nice weekend in your garden!

  8. It’s a nice shape and a lovely autumn colour, and if it provides shade, food and a haven for various creatures then it’s a winner. πŸ™‚

  9. It is a very pretty tree; we don’t often think of trees as butterfly & moth attractors (or at least I don’t). Even though we are only political neighbours, I join you in your sadness. We gardeners are lucky to have such a wonderful distraction at our doorstep.

  10. Your hackberry makes a fitting addition to your front garden–pretty enough to earn its keep and good for wildlife too. Regarding the “rough beast, its hour come round at last,” I’m bracing for the worst. What is the world coming to?

  11. Your hackberry has a lovely shape and fall colour. There is a tree line of hackberries at the back of my garden that marked the boundary to the farmland that is now another subdivision. They have been a wonderful presence.
    As to the election, the president remarked that the sun will come up tomorrow. And we? We can find solace and joy in our gardens.

  12. Not sure I’ve seen any hackberry growing around here. As for politics, having spent 20+ years as an elected official, these last eight years of retirement have allowed me to enjoy my garden to the fullest. When i was working, i would come home and mow the lawn while imagining the heads of my political opponents being chopped off. It was cathartic. Now I just sit back and enjoy the view.

    • For me it’s pruning that lets me carry on my fantasy revenge. At this point in my life, I yearn for retirement, but I’ve got years to go.

  13. I’ve decided I’m not going to read the papers any more. I can do nothing and it is all so depressing. Our gardens are our refuge from the crazy world we are now living in. I’m glad your tree is now firming it’s proper shape.

    • I’m trying to gradually go back to reading the news without inducing depressive paralysis. Unfortunately, my job kind of requires familiarity with current events, particularly politics.

  14. The tree is very beautiful. I was very upset yesterday. I didn’t really believe anyone would vote for him. It was such a shock. Today I have realised that I will not change the way I think and behave. I will not let hate win. I’ve bought an apple tree- and am planting it today.

  15. Good point, things that bring us joy! Looks like a fine and beneficial tree. As Emily Litella once asked on Saturday Night Live, “What’s all this talk I’ve been hearing about the presidential erection?”

  16. I am heartbroken over the election results –thank goodness there is still nature to nurture us. We have a lot of hackberry trees on our property. I would guess they are all between 30 to 50 years old, and they tower above our house. They are such a dependable tree. I didn’t know they were host to those butterflies, but I have seen both the ones you mentioned in our garden as well. The only problem we’ve encountered is the tinier-than-screen-mesh gnats they host in leaf galls. With so many trees, when they hatch, our windows and doors are covered with the gnats. However, the finches love to eat them, so I guess it’s worth it πŸ™‚

  17. Not familiar with hackberry, but you’ve given it a good promo so will have to be on the lookout. Like your Mourning Cloak–appropriate for this time.

  18. Your Hackberry looks like a great addition to the front view. I like the shape that it has achieved and its autumn colour. Since it is working to attract those butterflies, it sounds well worth planting. Enjoy your refuge!

  19. I, too, am heartbroken over the election. And scared. I shared this on another blog, and I’ll share it here as well. It’s from Wordsworth: “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” Thanks so much for sharing Nature’s beauty.

  20. If I had room for another tree on my tiny lot I’d plant a Hackberry. I have a short story tucked away somewhere that I wrote about a woman who planted a Hackberry, I may have to revisit it. You may have inspired me to rewrite it to reflect today’s concerns!

  21. Great tree, Jason!

    As one of your other commenters mentioned, I’m loathe to plant a tree that will eventually tower above my house. Here in Tennessee, the championship hackberry (C. occidentalis) is 73 feet tall … a bit too lofty for me!

    But there is another species – C. tenuifolia – that stays much smaller and shrubbier. The Tennessee champ is only about 22 feet tall. My kinda tree! Hope to plant one (or more) in the next year or two. Other than size, I think it’s supposed to have all the other benefits of a common hackberry – toughness, support for insects (and thereby birds) and berries that are also good bird food!

    Here’s more on C. tenuifolia – http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=CETE

  22. That was a dreadful election. I simply cannot believe so many people in the country feel that way. Actually I don’t think they do. The ones I spoke with turned deaf ears to everything and just wanted change. Yikes. That is almost worse.
    At any rate I’m very fond of hackberry trees. Beyond all the benefits to wildlife, I adore the bark πŸ™‚

  23. I too have changed my opinion on this tree 180 degrees. It is quite common out here in the prairie of Lee County, along with Black Walnut and Burr Oak. ( Oh yes, Mulberry and Box Elder – ugh) I have let quite a few volunteers develop and am grateful for the fast growth. It is quite picturesque as a mature tree, aided, I suspect, by that distinctive corky bark.

    And thank you also, Jason, for the solace of the garden in these times.

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