Common Hackberry (Occidentalis)

The Common Hackberry (Occidentalis) is generally described as a perennial tree or shrub. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the mid spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Common Hackberry (Occidentalis) has a moderate life span relative to most other plant species and a rapid growth rate. At maturity, the typical Common Hackberry (Occidentalis) will reach up to 70 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 26 feet.

The Common Hackberry (Occidentalis) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, cuttings, seed. It has a moderate ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have medium vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -43°F. has medium tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Wildlife: Birds use the mature trees for nesting sites and feed on the fruit. Young stands also provide shelter for game birds, rabbits, and deer.

Erosion control: Hackberry has been used as an ornamental tree and in multi-row windbreaks.

Livestock: Grazing understory species can be helpful in reducing weed competition, however if young seedlings are grazed tree defects could occur resulting in low quality timber.

Timber: Hackberry has limited value in the manufacture of paneling and furniture.

General Characteristics

Celtis occidentalis L., common hackberry, varies in size from a shrub to a tree in excess of 100 feet tall. It is widespread in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. Hackberry grows best on moist alluvial soils, and occurs only as scattered trees mixed with other hardwoods. The leaves are 2 ½ to 4 inches long, and 1 ½ inches wide, oval to lance-shaped, and resemble those of the elm but are more sharply pointed. The bark is grayish brown, with characteristic corky warts or ridges becoming somewhat scaly. The fruit is 1/4 inch to 1/3 inch in diameter, oval to somewhat round, dark red or purple, ripening in September and October, but remaining on the tree for several months

Required Growing Conditions

Hackberry is commonly found on rich, moist sites along stream banks or on flood plains, but will perform well under more adverse conditions. It tolerates alkaline or acid soil conditions, full sun, and wind. It grows in winter hardiness zones 2 through 8. New growth is subject to spring frost injury. Common hackberry requires at least 14 inches annual precipitation.

Hackberry is distributed throughout the eastern and midwestern United States.

Cultivation and Care

Bareroot seedlings of hackberry grown under standard nursery practices exhibit a degree of dormancy. Planting material should be spring lifted followed by sweat treatments for one week at 60 (F, just prior to planting. The sweating procedure involves placing the seedlings in moist sand or peat moss and covering with plastic. Conservation grade stock can be either 1 or 2 years old and 12 to 24 inches tall, with a caliper of 3/16 to 1/2 inch.

General Upkeep and Control

Grazing should be controlled during establishment. Without protective netting, deer and rabbits will severely damage the young seedlings. Weed competition should be controlled by grazing or by using approved herbicides.

Mature seeds can be hand-picked in September and October. Hackberry seeds exhibit dormancy which can be overcome with stratification in moist sand at 41 (F for 90 days or by fall planting. Fermenting the fruit for 3 days and de-pulping before stratification improves germination.

Pests and Potential Problems The most common diseases found on hackberry are nipple gall and witches broom gall. These diseases are not fatal, but do affect the appearance and vigor of the plant.

Cultivars, Improved, and Selected Materials (and area of origin) Seedlings are available at most hardwood nurseries. ‘Oahe’ (South Dakota) is recommended for use as farmstead, field and wildlife windbreaks in the Northern Great Plains. ‘Prairie Pride’ was selected in Illinois and is not known to develop witches broom gall.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Rapid
General Type Tree, Shrub
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Moderate
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Mid Spring
Displays Fall Colors Yes
Shape/Growth Form Single Stem
Drought Tolerance Medium
Shade Tolerance Intermediate
Height When Mature 70
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color Green
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Fall
Seed Spread Rate Moderate
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Cuttings, Seed
Moisture Requirements Low
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -43
Soil Depth for Roots 36
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing Yes
Growth Requirements
pH Range 6–7.8 pH
Precipitation Range 14–14 inches/yr
Planting Density 170–300 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Fine, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 36
Minimum Frost-Free Days 120 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance Medium
CaCO3 Tolerance Medium
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Medium
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA