Common Hackberry
Celtis occidentalis
Elm family (Ulmaceae)

Description: At maturity, this tree is typically 40-80' tall, forming a straight central trunk and an ovoid crown. Trunk bark is gray to brownish gray, forming warty irregular ridges. With age, the bark becomes increasingly scaly and rough-textured. Branch bark is gray and relatively smooth, while twigs are green to dark reddish gray and smooth. Young twigs are usually glabrous, but sometimes they are pubescent. Both twigs and young branches are covered with small white lenticels. Alternate leaves about 2-5" long and 1-3" across occur along the twigs; they are narrowly to broadly ovate with serrated margins. The base of each leaf is cordate (indented), truncate, or rounded, and it is usually asymmetrical. In addition, the central vein and two lateral veins radiate from the base of each leaf. The upper surface of the leaves is yellowish green, light green, or medium green; it lacks conspicuous hairs and its surface is smooth to rough-textured. The lower surface of the leaves is dull pale green and largely hairless, except along the veins. The slender petioles are about 2/3" (16 mm.) long and glabrous to pubescent.

Common Hackberry is polygamo-monoecious, producing male (staminate), female (pistillate), and perfect flowers on the same tree. Individual flowers, regardless of type, are about " across and predominately yellowish green; each flower has 4-5 oblong sepals that are connected together at the base. In addition to these characteristics, individual male flowers have 4-5 stamens with yellowish brown anthers, while individual female flowers have a green superior ovary that is ovoid in shape and tapers into 2 beaks. Originating from these beaks, is a pair of large brownish stigmata. Individual perfect flowers have both a superior ovary with a pair of stigmata and 4-5 stamens. These flowers are produced individually or in small clusters of 2-3 from the axils of the leaves; their slender pedicels are about 2/3" (16 mm.) long. The inconspicuous flowers are wind-pollinated. Female and perfect flowers are replaced by single-seeded drupes about 1/3" (8 mm.) across. These drupes are globoid to ovoid-globoid in shape; their color at maturity is either purple-black or orange-red to brown. The flesh of mature drupes is thin, firm, and sweet; it has a flavor that resembles dates. Each drupe has a large bony seed that occupies most of its interior. The root system consists of woody lateral roots that are wide-spreading and moderately deep. This tree spreads into new areas by reseeding itself. The deciduous leaves become greenish yellow to yellow during the fall.

Cultivation: The preference is full or partial sun, moist to mesic conditions, and rich loamy soil. This tree will adapt to other kinds of soil, but its ultimate size at maturity will be smaller. Growth and development are fairly rapid. Longevity of individual trees can extend to 150-200 years. The foliage and twigs are often disfigured by psyllids and mites.

Range & Habitat: This common native tree has been found throughout Illinois (see Distribution Map); it occurs in every county. Habitats include moist to mesic floodplain woodlands, mesic upland woodlands, disturbed open woodlands, moist to mesic savannas, riverbanks, and fence rows. Common Hackberry is cultivated occasionally as a landscape tree.

Faunal Associations: Common Hackberry is a host plant of several butterfly caterpillars, specifically: Asterocampa celtis (Hackberry Emperor), Asterocampa clyton (Tawny Emperor), Libytheana carinenta bachmannii (Snout Butterfly), Nymphalis antiopa (Mourning Cloak), and Polygonia interrogationis (Question Mark). Some moth caterpillars also feed on this tree: Acronicta rubricoma (Ruddy Dagger Moth), Isogonia tenuis (Thin-Lined Owlet), and Heterocampa subrotata (Small Heterocampa). The larvae of several wood-boring beetles are known to feed on this tree (see Wood-Boring Beetle Table). Other insect feeders include Corythucha celtidis (Hackberry Lace Bug), Taedia celtidis (Hackberry Plant Bug), and several Pachypsylla spp. (Hackberry Psyllids). These psyllids form small galls on the leaves, and they often disfigure them. Common Hackberry is often infested with one or more Eriophyes spp. (Hackberry Mites), which cause the twigs to proliferate in rosette-like patterns. This distortion of the twigs is commonly referred to as 'Witches Broom.' Among vertebrate animals, some upland gamebirds and songbirds eat the fruit of this tree (see Bird Table for a listing of these species), spreading its seeds into new areas. The Fox Squirrel, Gray Squirrel, and Northern Flying Squirrel also eat the fruit to a limited extent (possibly to get at the large seeds). While it is not preferred browse because of low protein and poor palatability, deer, rabbits, and cattle occasionally browse on seedlings and saplings of this tree. A turtle, Trachemys scripta (Slider), has been observed to feed on the leaves after they have fallen on the water surface

Photographic Location: The photographs were taken at various locations in Urbana, Illinois.

Common Hackberry is a rather variable species and some authorities, including Mohlenbrock (2002), recognize different varieties. Generally, these varieties are defined by such characteristics as leaf texture, leaf shape, color of fruit, and overall height of the tree. Because most of these varieties often intergrade with each other in the field, their value to taxonomic classification is dubious. One possible exception is Celtis occidentalis pumila (Small Hackberry), which is a straggly shrub about 2-15' tall. In many ways, this variety is similar, if not identical, to another species, Celtis tenuifolia (Dwarf Hackberry). Both Small Hackberry and Dwarf Hackberry are shrubs less than 20' tall, their leaves lack teeth or they have only a few teeth, their nutlets are nearly identical in size, and their mature drupes have similar colors (see Hill, 1900, for a description of Small Hackberry growing among the sand dunes near Lake Michigan). They differ from Common Hackberry by having 1) fewer or no teeth along their leaves, 2) slightly smaller drupes and seeds, 3) slightly smaller leaves, and 4) the growth habit of a shrub. Small trees or 'shrubs' with many teeth along their leaves and larger black-purple drupes may be depauperate specimens of Common Hackberry that result from local growing conditions. Another species in this genus that is found in Illinois, Celtis laevigata (Sugarberry), is a medium-sized tree that has more narrow leaves (lanceolate in shape) and smaller drupes (about " across) than Common Hackberry. Its leaves have margins that are smooth or they have only a few teeth, while the leaf margins of Common Hackberry are serrated with abundant teeth.