Hackberry (Celtis Occidentalis)

Plant: Table of Contents

All About Hackberry (Celtis occidentals)

What is Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)?


Hackberry, scientifically known as Celtis occidentalis, is a deciduous tree native to North America, particularly the central and eastern regions. It is a member of the Elm family (Ulmaceae) and is characterized by its distinctive warty, cork-like bark and small fruits. Hackberry trees can grow up to a height of 40 to 60 feet with a spread of 35 to 50 feet, creating a broad, rounded crown. The leaves are alternate, simple, and serrated, typically showcasing a yellow color in the fall.


Celtis occidentalis thrives in a wide range of environments, growing well in various soils and adapting to different climatic conditions. It is commonly found in woodlands, along streams, on hillsides, and in open spaces. The tree’s versatility and resilience make it a valuable asset in both natural and cultivated landscapes.

Wildlife Benefits

The hackberry tree contributes significantly to the local ecosystem, providing food and shelter for a variety of wildlife. Its fruits serve as a food source for birds and small mammals, and the tree’s dense foliage offers nesting sites for birds. Additionally, hackberry supports biodiversity by attracting butterflies and other pollinators, making it an essential component of wildlife habitats.

Key Takeaways – Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)

Before delving deeper into the characteristics and care requirements of Celtis occidentalis, let’s highlight the key takeaways about this remarkable tree.

Benefits and Uses

  • Environmental Benefits: Hackberry supports diverse wildlife, aids in erosion control, and assists in carbon sequestration and air purification.
  • Cultural Significance: The tree has historical and folklore significance, signifying resilience and strength in various cultural contexts.
  • Ornamental Value: It provides shade, has attractive foliage, and holds aesthetic appeal across different seasons.

Growth Requirements

  • Sunlight: Prefers full sun to partial shade.
  • Water: Adaptable to different moisture conditions but requires adequate watering during the establishment phase.
  • Soil Preferences: Tolerant of various soil types but thrives in well-drained, fertile soil.


  • Pruning: Regular maintenance pruning is beneficial to enhance tree structure and remove dead or diseased wood.
  • Propagation: Can be propagated from seeds or cuttings, offering opportunities for expansion in gardens and landscapes.

Resilience and Adaptability

  • Drought Tolerance: Exhibits tolerance to drought conditions once established.
  • Stress Tolerance: Demonstrates resilience against urban environmental stressors.

Throughout this blog post, we will explore each of these aspects in detail, providing comprehensive insight into the culture, uses, growth requirements, care tips, and the ecological value of the hackberry (Celtis occidentalis).


Historical and Folklore Significance

The hackberry tree carries cultural significance across various traditions and communities. Often regarded as the “tree of life,” it symbolizes strength, longevity, and adaptability. In Native American folklore, hackberry is associated with resilience and acts as a symbol of survival and endurance. The tree’s historical importance and enduring qualities make it a revered presence in landscapes and narratives.

Landscape Design and Urban Gardening

Due to its adaptable nature and ornamental features, Celtis occidentalis is a sought-after choice in landscape design and urban gardening. Its ability to thrive in diverse urban environments, including parks and street plantings, positions it as a valuable addition to green spaces. Furthermore, hackberry’s capacity to attract wildlife and contribute to environmental benefits enhances its appeal in urban settings, promoting biodiversity and ecological sustainability.

Seasonal Aesthetics

Hackberry exhibits a captivating transformation throughout the year, offering seasonal appeal in landscapes. In spring, the tree adorns itself with delicate blooms, contributing to the overall beauty of the surroundings. During the summer, its dense foliage provides cooling shade and creates a lush, green ambiance. As autumn arrives, the leaves transition to vibrant shades of yellow, adding a delightful splash of color to the landscape. Even in winter, the distinctive bark texture and the tree’s overall structure contribute to the visual interest of the surroundings.


Wildlife Habitat Enhancement

Celtis occidentalis plays a vital role in enhancing wildlife habitats through its provision of food, shelter, and nesting sites. The tree’s fruits are a valuable food source for birds, including robins, cedar waxwings, and northern flickers, as well as various small mammals, contributing to the sustenance of local wildlife populations. Furthermore, the dense foliage and sturdy branches create a protective environment, offering nesting and resting places for numerous bird species.

Ornamental Value

Hackberry’s ornamental value extends from its distinctive bark and foliage to its seasonal transformations. The warty, cork-like bark serves as a year-round point of interest, adding unique texture and visual appeal to the landscape. Additionally, the tree’s foliage transitions through vivid colors during the fall, displaying shades of yellow that contribute to the overall aesthetic of gardens and natural settings.

Timber Properties

While predominantly valued for its ecological and ornamental attributes, Celtis occidentalis also possesses timber properties. The wood of hackberry is moderately heavy, strong, and durable, making it suitable for various woodworking and crafting applications. Its versatility and workability have led to its utilization in producing furniture, wooden tools, and decorative items.

Growth Requirements

Understanding the specific growth requirements of Celtis occidentalis is essential for successfully nurturing and incorporating it into different environments. Let’s delve into the key factors that contribute to the thriving growth of hackberry trees.


Typically, hackberry is adaptable to different moisture conditions, displaying tolerance to both drought and occasional flooding. During the establishment phase, providing adequate water is crucial to facilitate the tree’s root development and promote its overall vigor. Once established, Celtis occidentalis can withstand periods of reduced water availability, making it a suitable choice for landscapes subjected to varying moisture levels.


Celtis occidentalis thrives in full sun to partial shade, demonstrating an adaptable nature in diverse light conditions. When positioned in a location that receives ample sunlight, the tree exhibits robust growth and develops a well-formed, expansive crown. However, it also displays tolerance to partial shade, making it a versatile choice for different landscape settings.


Hackberry is characterized by its adaptability to various soil types, reflecting its resilience and versatility as a tree species. While it can tolerate different soil compositions, Celtis occidentalis thrives in well-drained, fertile soil that promotes optimal growth and development. Ensuring adequate soil drainage and fertility contributes to the overall health and vigor of the tree, enabling it to flourish in diverse soil environments.


Nutrient Requirements

Hackberry generally thrives in nutrient-rich soil, benefiting from the presence of essential elements that support its growth and vigor. While it exhibits adaptability to different soil conditions, it can benefit from supplemental nutrients, particularly in instances where soil quality is suboptimal. Understanding the tree’s nutrient requirements and providing appropriate fertilization can contribute to its overall health and resilience.

Key Nutrients

  • Nitrogen: Promotes leafy growth and overall tree vigor.
  • Phosphorus: Facilitates root development and supports flowering and fruiting.
  • Potassium: Contributes to overall plant resilience and stress tolerance.

Application Method

When considering fertilization for Celtis occidentalis, it is essential to employ an appropriate application method that ensures effective nutrient uptake. Depending on the soil condition and the tree’s specific requirements, fertilizers can be applied through the following methods:

  • Surface Application: Applying granular fertilizers on the soil surface around the tree, followed by gentle incorporation, ensures gradual nutrient release and uptake by the roots.
  • Liquid Fertilization: Utilizing liquid fertilizers enables efficient nutrient absorption, particularly in instances where rapid nutrient uptake is essential for the tree’s health and development.


Fertilization timing is crucial in optimizing the benefits of nutrient application and supporting the tree’s growth cycles. Generally, the following timings are recommended for fertilizing hackberry trees:

  • Early Spring: Applying a balanced fertilizer in early spring provides essential nutrients to support the tree’s initial growth and development as it enters the active growing season.
  • Late Fall: Supplemental fertilization in late fall enhances the tree’s nutrient reserves, contributing to its overall vigor and resilience through the winter months and preparing it for the following growing season.


Pruning Objectives

Pruning plays a crucial role in maintaining the health, structure, and aesthetic appeal of hackberry trees. By understanding the objectives and techniques associated with tree pruning, individuals can effectively manage and enhance the growth and form of Celtis occidentalis within different landscapes.

Key Pruning Objectives

  • Structural Enhancement: Pruning assists in shaping the tree’s structure, promoting balanced growth and canopy development.
  • Deadwood Removal: Removing dead, diseased, or damaged wood supports the tree’s health and overall vigor, reducing the risk of disease and pest infestations.
  • Canopy Management: Thinning the tree’s canopy through selective pruning fosters improved air circulation and light penetration, benefiting the tree and the surrounding landscape.

Pruning Techniques

When implementing pruning practices for Celtis occidentalis, it is essential to utilize appropriate techniques to achieve the desired objectives while minimizing stress on the tree.

Seasonal Pruning

  • Dormant Season: Pruning during the dormant season, typically in late winter or early spring, is beneficial for Celtis occidentalis, as it allows for structural adjustments and promotes healthy regrowth as the tree enters the active growing phase.
  • Minor Pruning: Mitigation of minor growth irregularities or removal of small branches can be accomplished throughout the year, ensuring ongoing maintenance and tree health.

Pruning Guidelines

  • Sterilization: Using sterilized pruning tools minimizes the risk of disease transmission and promotes clean, precise cuts that aid in the tree’s healing process.
  • Proper Cut Placement: Employing correct cutting techniques ensures minimal damage to the tree and supports efficient wound closure, reducing the likelihood of disease entry points.


Methods of Propagation

Celtis occidentalis can be propagated using various methods, providing opportunities for expansion and cultivation within diverse landscapes. Understanding the different propagation techniques and their associated benefits enables individuals to propagate hackberry trees effectively.

Seed Propagation

  • Harvesting Seeds: Collecting ripe hackberry seeds from existing trees or procuring them from reputable sources is the initial step in seed propagation.
  • Seed Preparation: Scarifying or stratifying hackberry seeds, depending on their specific requirements, ensures optimal germination and seedling development.
  • Planting Depth: Sowing seeds at the appropriate depth in well-drained, nutrient-rich soil promotes successful germination and establishes healthy seedlings.

Cutting Propagation

  • Selection of Cuttings: Identifying suitable hackberry cuttings with healthy growth, proper node placement, and optimal size is vital for successful cutting propagation.
  • Hormone Application: Treating cuttings with rooting hormones facilitates root development and enhances the success rate of propagation.
  • Rooting Medium: Placing hackberry cuttings in a well-draining rooting medium and providing appropriate moisture levels contribute to successful root establishment and subsequent growth.

Benefits of Propagation

Propagation offers several advantages, enabling individuals to expand their collection of hackberry trees and cultivate new specimens for various purposes.

  • Landscape Expansion: Propagation facilitates the expansion of hackberry trees within landscapes, contributing to biodiversity and ecological benefits.
  • Cultivation Diversity: Propagation techniques allow for the cultivation of distinct hackberry varieties, showcasing diverse characteristics and ornamental attributes within landscapes.
  • Restoration Efforts: Utilizing propagation to cultivate hackberry trees supports restoration efforts and contributes to the conservation of this valuable native species.

Container Popularity

Container Planting Considerations

Celtis occidentalis exhibits compatibility with container planting, enabling individuals to incorporate its ornamental and ecological attributes in diverse settings. Understanding the considerations and techniques associated with container planting enhances the success of growing hackberry trees within containers.

Container Selection

  • Size and Drainage: Choosing appropriately sized containers with adequate drainage facilities promotes healthy root development and overall tree vigor.
  • Material and Insulation: Selecting containers made of durable, insulated materials supports stable root temperatures and protects the tree from temperature fluctuations.

Maintenance Guidelines

When growing Celtis occidentalis in containers, specific maintenance practices and care guidelines contribute to the optimal growth and well-being of the tree.

  • Watering: Regular, consistent watering regimes that maintain soil moisture levels promote the health and vitality of hackberry trees in containers.
  • Fertilization: Providing appropriate nutrients through targeted fertilization enhances the tree’s growth and resilience within the limited soil environment of containers.
  • Pruning: Strategic pruning practices manage the tree’s size and structure, promoting its suitability for container planting and enhancing its overall form and aesthetics.

Versatile Applications

Container-planted hackberry trees offer versatile applications within diverse environments, showcasing their ornamental and ecological value in various settings.

  • Urban Landscapes: Incorporating Celtis occidentalis in urban landscapes, including patios, rooftop gardens, and small outdoor spaces, contributes to the promotion of green spaces and biodiversity.
  • Decorative Plantings: Utilizing container-planted hackberry trees in decorative settings, such as entryways and outdoor seating areas, enhances the visual appeal of the surroundings and introduces ecological benefits.

Common Diseases

Identification and Diagnosis

Celtis occidentalis may be susceptible to various diseases, necessitating proactive identification and appropriate management strategies to maintain the tree’s health.


  • Symptoms: Irregular leaf spots, defoliation, and twig dieback are common indicators of anthracnose infection in hackberry trees.
  • Management: Implementing cultural practices, such as ensuring proper tree spacing and adequate airflow, supports disease prevention and management.

Powdery Mildew

  • Symptoms: White, powdery patches on leaves and green tissues are characteristic symptoms of powdery mildew, potentially impacting the health and aesthetics of hackberry trees.
  • Management: Applying appropriate fungicidal treatments and promoting optimal growing conditions helps control powdery mildew and prevent its reoccurrence.

Preventative Measures

Implementing effective preventative measures mitigates the risk of disease development and supports the long-term health and resilience of hackberry trees.

  • Plant Health: Emphasizing overall tree health through proper watering, fertilization, and pruning practices promotes resilience against disease incidence.
  • Monitoring and Inspection: Regular monitoring and visual inspection of Celtis occidentalis facilitate early disease detection and timely intervention, minimizing potential impacts on tree health.

Common Pests

Pest Identification

Hackberry trees may be susceptible to pest infestations, requiring vigilant monitoring and appropriate management to mitigate potential damage.

Hackberry Nipple Gall Maker

  • Insect: Psylla celtis
  • Symptoms: Formation of characteristic galls on hackberry leaves, triggered by the feeding activities of the insect, impacting the tree’s aesthetic appeal.
  • Management: Implementing targeted insecticide applications and maintaining tree health supports the management of hackberry nipple gall maker infestations.

Hackberry Rust

  • Fungal Pathogen: Gymnosporangium clavipes
  • Symptoms: The appearance of rust-colored swellings on hackberry leaves and fruits, potentially leading to defoliation and reduced tree vigor.
  • Management: Employing appropriate fungicidal treatments and cultural practices aids in controlling hackberry rust and preserving tree health.

Integrated Pest Management

Adopting an integrated approach to pest management integrates multiple strategies to effectively control pests and support the overall health of Celtis occidentalis.

  • Cultural Practices: Emphasizing tree health through proper maintenance and care practices reduces pest susceptibility and promotes natural resistance.
  • Biological Controls: Incorporating biological control agents and beneficial insects assists in managing pest populations and minimizing potential damage to hackberry trees.

Botanist’s Tips

Soil Conditioning

Conduct a soil analysis to evaluate the nutrient composition and pH levels of the planting site, enabling targeted soil conditioning to create an optimal growing environment for Celtis occidentalis.

Tree Selection

When selecting hackberry trees for planting, consider the specific cultivar characteristics, growth habits, and ornamental attributes to ensure an ideal match for the intended landscape or garden setting.

Mulching Benefits

Utilize organic mulch around the base of hackberry trees to conserve soil moisture, suppress weed growth, and promote favorable soil conditions, supporting tree health and vigor.

Fun Facts

  1. Historical Significance: In ancient cultures, including Native American traditions, hackberry was revered for its resilience and strength, often symbolizing endurance and tenacity.
  2. Wildlife Attraction: Hackberry trees attract an array of wildlife, including birds, butterflies, and small mammals, contributing to biodiversity and natural habitats.
  3. Ornamental Qualities: The distinctive bark texture and vibrant fall foliage of Celtis occidentalis enhance its ornamental value, making it a sought-after presence in landscapes.

In conclusion, the hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) stands as a remarkable tree species with multifaceted attributes, encompassing cultural significance, ornamental value, and ecological contributions. By understanding its growth requirements, maintenance needs, and ecological benefits, individuals can actively incorporate and nurture Celtis occidentalis within diverse landscapes, perpetuating its legacy as a symbol of resilience and vitality.

This comprehensive guide provides insights into the characteristics, care tips, and ecological contributions of the hackberry tree, aiming to promote its appreciation and conservation while encouraging its inclusion in sustainable landscapes and urban environments.

Links to External Resources

  1. USDA Plants Database: Celtis occidentalis
  2. Missouri Botanical Garden: Celtis occidentalis
  3. University of Florida IFAS Extension: Hackberry Trees
  4. Forestry Journal: Celtis occidentalis – Hackberry
  5. University of Illinois Extension: Hackberry


  1. Dirr, M. A., & Warren J. (2013). The Tree Book: Superior Selections for Landscapes, Streetscapes, and Gardens. Timber Press.
  2. Gilman, E. F., Watson, D. G., & Derr, J. (2021). Hackberry: Celtis occidentalis. University of Florida IFAS Extension.
  3. Hayes, J., & van Sickle, G. (2016). Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of the Great Plains. University Press of Kansas.
  4. Hunt, K. F., & Shultz, L. M. (2020). Native Trees of the Midwest: Identification, Wildlife Values, and Landscaping Use. Purdue University Press.
  5. Sinclair, W. A., Lyon, H. H., & Johnson, W. T. (1987). Diseases of Trees and Shrubs. Cornell University Press.

Picture of Peter Taylors

Peter Taylors

Expert botanist who loves plants. His expertise spans taxonomy, plant ecology, and ethnobotany. An advocate for plant conservation, he mentors and educates future botanists, leaving a lasting impact on the field.