The common hackberry is a particularly hardy, deciduous tree that is easy to identify by its whitish-gray, stucco-like bark. Also called northern hackberry because of its northern native habitat, it grows fairly quickly in a wide range of soils, temperatures, moisture levels, and even in standing water. It's commonly found throughout much of Ohio. Hackberry is one of the best food-and-shelter plants for wildlife—it hosts 47 Lepidoptera species, and birds consume huge quantities of the small, round fruits, which are also edible to humans. The fantastic texture of the trunk is formed by irregular, ridged bumps of cork that protect the tree from the elements and insects. This tough tree can act as a windbreak on the plains, a shade tree in a park, a pollution-defying street tree, and a water-conserving plant that offers cooling shade for homes. It thrives in areas with pollution, and its rate of growth makes it a good candidate for erosion control or quick shade. Consider planting it 20 feet away from buildings and sidewalks because the roots can be strong and invasive. Note that the fruit, twigs, and foliage will add some litter to surrounding areas. Hackberry is prone to several harmless cosmetic diseases, including witches’ brooms and hackberry nipple gall.
Native habitats include banks of rivers and streams, floodplains, fencerows, rocky hillsides, sand barrens, fields, wastelands, and drainage ditches.
Grows 60-100’ tall and 25-45’ wide at maturity.
Grows best in full sun, but tolerates part shade.
Prefers rich, moist soil but adapts well to dry, clay, rocky, and poor soils. In limestone, growth will be slower and diminished. Withstands flooding and drought.
Small green flowers in April or May develop into rounded green fruits in summer, changing to orange-red or purple fruits by late fall.
Green, triangular leaves with coarsely serrated margins and pointed tips emerge at the same time as the flowers, turning lemon yellow in fall.
Single trunk divides into several huge branches to form a spreading canopy. Bark is whitish gray with distinctive, year-round corky projections and ridges. With age, the lower part of the trunk becomes plated.
Host to 47 species of Lepidoptera, including the question mark and mourning cloak butterflies and at least 7 specialists whose larvae can only feed on leaves of the hackberry tree, such as hackberry emperor butterfly and American snout moth. The fruit is relished by cardinals, flickers, robins, cedar waxwings, and brown thrashers. The trunks often have hollow portions that make excellent homes for birds and small animals.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
Native Americans decocted the bark to treat sore throats, induce abortion, regulate menstrual cycles, and treat venereal diseases.
The sweet, crunchy berries are highly nutritious and have been consumed by humans since ancient times. They may be mashed--seeds and all--into a paste and mixed with ground nuts or other ingredients, dried to use as a spice, or processed into wine or jelly.
While not considered valuable as a timber tree, hackberry wood is commonly used as firewood or to make inexpensive furniture.
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