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2003 Annual and Perennial Trial Results

April 2006
Plant of the Month

Celtis Occidentalis
zone: 2-9
by Kendall Klaus, Klaus Nurseries

Celtis Occidentalis (common Hackberry) and the American Elm are in the same family - the Ulmaceae Family. The hackberry may not be as grand as the American elm, but I have seen several mature specimens which have been a close second. And, unlike its relative, the hackberry is immune to Dutch elm disease.

The hackberry is an extremely hardy tree and grows from Manitoba to Georgia, zones 2-9. It will grow in clay, dry sandy soils, rocky/gravely soils, and will withstand alkaline or acid soils and wet or dry sites as well. Hackberry transplant very well in the spring. Bare root trees can be transplanted up to 2 inches, balled and burlapped trees up to 5 inches, and machine moved trees up to 8 inches. Container grown trees up to 2 1/2 inches can be planted throughout the year with great results.

The growth rate of the hackberry is medium to fast. Under cultivation, new growth can reach 4 feet per year. This fast growth rate can be a challenge for the grower, staking and “heading back” of new growth is required to produce pyramidal specimen trees. With age, the hackberry can grow 60-100 feet with equal spread of ascending arching branches, and from a distance, its outline looks similar to the American elm.

The fruit of the hackberry is rounded in shape and is a little smaller than the nail on your pinky finger. It’s orange to dark purple in color. We have several large hackberry outside our office and every August the cedar wax wings show up and devour the fruit in a matter of days. The leaf color of the hackberry in the summer is medium to dark green with a yellow fall color.
Some of the hackberry’s best attributes are its corky bark, which, with age, may change to wart-like projections. It’s ability to withstand harsh prairie to city conditions, and it’s strong, wind tolerant wood. Last June, we had 80 mph straight-line winds come through our nursery. Many of the trees planted around our office suffered extensive damage, including large trees snapped off at different levels. However, the four hackberry, ranging in size from 6-18 inches suffered only one broken branch!

I feel that the hackberry is largely under planted and deserves more attention from landscape architects, designers and the general public. Maybe it’s the name “hackberry,” I have often thought if it had been given a different name, maybe “grandberry” or “kingberry” it would get the attention it deserves. Give this native tree a try – I’m sure you’ll be pleased with its results, and so will the generations to come.








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