Common Hackberry

Celtis occidentalis

Description & Overview

Common Hackberry is a large, Wisconsin native shade tree with a vase shaped canopy. It tolerates tough sites and excels in urban plantings. Hackberry has characteristic wart-like bark and dark red to purple fruits, lending itself well to bird-centric landscapes.

Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 40-60 feet
Mature Spread: 40-60 feet
Growth Rate: Moderate
Growth Form: Upright vase-shaped
Light Requirements: Full Sun
Site Requirements: Tolerates a wide range of soil and moisture conditions.
Flower: Polygamomonoecious, insignificant small green flowers
Bloom Period: Late May
Foliage: Medium Green
Fall Color: Sometimes yellow
Fruit Notes: Drupe, dark red to purple when ripe, consistent annual production

Suggested Uses:

As it tolerates soils that are light to heavy, wet to dry, Common Hackberry is an ideal street tree. Urban pollution, temperature fluctuations, and heavy winds are not a problem for this tree. It can also be used as a specimen plant, in a tree border, or to naturalize an open space.

Salable #20 Container trees. Pictures take late August.

New growth and corky bark on salable #20 Container trees. Pictures take late August.

We also grow Hackberry in larger, field-grown sizes (harvested as B&B) and in #25 Containers

Salable 1.75-inch Caliper field grown (B&B) trees and #25 Container trees. Cover crops between rows improves soil fertility.

Wildlife Value:

Birds love Hackberry fruit! Hermit and Swainson’s Thrushes, Cedar Waxwings, American Robins, Starlings, Northern Mockingbirds, Bobwhite Quail, pheasants, Wild Turkey, wood ducks, Northern Flickers, and more gobble up the fruit.

Squirrels will also eat the seeds, possibly to get at the seeds and eat the galls. Deer, rabbit, and cattle will occasionally browse on seedlings and saplings. Pond sliders have been observed feeding on leaves after they’ve fallen onto the water surface.

Hackberry is a host plant to the Hackberry Emperor butterfly (Asterocampa celtis), Tawny Emperor (Asterocampa clyton), Wild Cherry Sphinx (Sphinx drupiferarum), Mysterious Olethreutes moth (Olethreutes mysteriana), American Snout (Libytheana carinenta), Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis), Thin-lined Owlet (Isogona tenuis), Hackberry Dagger (Acronicta rubricoma), and Io Moth (Automeris io).

Maintenance Tips:

Common Hackberry should be pruned by a trained arborist every 7-10 years for structure. Deformed branches (Witches Broom) can be removed if they are unsightly. As with all trees, maintaining a good mulch ring around the base will maintain good vigor.

We invite you to check out the Arborist For Hire lookup at the Wisconsin Arborist Association website to find an ISA Certified Arborist near you.

Hackberry is an excellent Wisconsin Native option as a street tree, specimen, and in natural park settings.


Common Hackberry often gets nipple gall, a deformed growth on the leaves caused by insects. This is a purely cosmetic issue and should be considered an ornamental disease.

Witches Broom, a deformity in new twig growth, is caused by the Gall Mite (Eriophyes spp.) and Powdery Mildew. Like Nipple Gall, this disease may be unsightly but will not kill the tree.

Leaf Lore:

Common Hackberry is classified in the same family as Hops (Humulus spp.) and Marijuana (Cannabis spp.).

Hackberry is a corruption of the Scottish word ‘Hagberry,’ the name for the Bird Cherry (Prunus avium) found in Britain.

The berries of the tree are edible and ripen in early September. Both the flesh and the seed can be eaten. Timber from Common Hackberry is weak and has poor rot resistance but is sometimes used for crates and fencing.

Companion Plants:

Common Hackberry is a great addition to a bird garden and can be combined with Serviceberry, Eastern Redcedar, Coneflowers, and Glossy Black Chokeberry to provide food and cover year-round.

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