Hackberry. It’s name doesn’t hold a lot of promise, but this is one tree you should include in your landscape. Botanically speaking, it does not bear berries, but drupes. A drupe is a fruit with an outer fleshy part surrounding a pit with a seed inside. Well-known drupes are walnuts, almonds, pecans. Hackberries have a thin, very sweet purple skin surrounding a crunchy shell with a tiny nut inside. Whether you call it a berry or a drupe, it has top-notch wildlife value.
Soil – Wet to dry Tolerant of alkaline soils
Size – 30-70 feet high at maturity
Sun – Sun to part shade
Hackberry in the Early Days
Pioneers used hackberry wood for barrel hoops and flooring. But the use of berries dates even further back — the hackberry is one of the first known foods that humans have eaten and stored. Caches have been found in ancient cave sites. They are high in fat, protein, carbohydrates, and vitamins. Today, some people use them in jellies, wine, and other foods.
Hackberry leaves are a light greenish yellow, turning yellow in fall. Its gray, warty bark is one of its most handsome features. The tree can grow to 50 feet or so with an equal width. It can put on anywhere from 12”-24” of growth a year, growing to about the same height as hickories, beech, and persimmon. It is similar to elm in its form with a broad crown and arching branches.
This adaptable tree is best grown in moist, organically rich, well-drained soils in full sun. It also tolerates a host of other situations such as drought, wind, urban pollutants, alkaline soil, shade, wet, dry, clay, poor, sterile, or alkaline soils. Hackberry grows on limestone soils in Pennsylvania. Its presence is considered an indicator of high pH soils (7.2 or higher).
Uses in the Landscape
Because it is tolerant of a wide range of conditions, Hackberry is a good landscape choice. The unique bark provides winter interest, and its fine branching structure stands out against the dull winter sky. In summer, it is a good all purpose shade tree.
Many cities have chosen to plant them because of their ability to withstand drought and flooding. For those who are opposed to ‘messy’ trees, this is a great choice. The berries are picked by birds before they hit the ground.
Hackberry directly supports a number of insects and pollinators such as the American Snout, Hackberry Emperor, Mourning Cloak, Question Mark, and Tawny Emperor butterflies. It also supports psyllids and aphids which rarely cause severe damage and help maintain numbers of lady beetles, lacewings, parasitic wasps and other beneficial insects.
Birds including cedar waxwing, mockingbird, robins and game birds relish it’s sweet fruits. Because the fruit remains on the branches throughout thee season, it provides food for a long period of time. It’s narrow branching structure is an attractive place for birds to build their nests.
This little known tree has been around a long time and has supported generations of humans, birds, and small mammals. Give one a home in your landscape today!