Content Detail

Hackberry is a Chicago-area native and a sturdy, tolerant shade tree for parkways, parks and other large areas. Its fleshy, purple-brown berries ripen in late summer and persist through winter. The persistent fruits attract many birds that also find the tree to be a suitable nesting site.

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

  • Family (English) Hemp (formerly Elm)
  • Family (botanic) Cannabaceae (formerly Ulmacaeae)
  • Planting site City parkway, Residential and parks, Restricted sites, Wide median
  • Tree or plant type Tree
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Large tree (more than 40 feet)
  • Mature height 40-60 feet
  • Mature width 40-50 feet
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 2, Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Alkaline soil, Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, Clay soil, Dry sites, Occasional drought, Occasional flooding, Road salt, Wet sites
  • Season of interest early winter, midwinter, late winter, early fall, mid fall, late fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous
  • Shape or form Oval, Round, Vase-shaped
  • Growth rate Fast, Moderate
  • Transplants well Yes
  • Planting considerations Highly susceptible to ice damage, Weak wood and branch structure
  • Wildlife Cavity-nesting birds, Game birds, Game mammals, Migrant birds, Songbirds
  • Has cultivars Yes

Size & form:

A large tree that grows 40-60 feet tall and 40-50 wide.

Native geographic location and habitat:

It is found in a variety of habitats. C-Value: 3

Attracts birds, pollinators, or wildlife:

This tree hosts cavity-nesting, migrant, song and game birds, along with game mammals.

Bark color and texture:

It has smooth grayish bark when young, but develops corky warts and ridges with age.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture:

Hackberry has simple, alternate green leaves that are two to four inches long. They are simple, ovate to egg-shaped with a dull, rough surface that turn a yellow fall color.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size:

The flowers are inconspicuous with some being male, some female and some perfect.

Fruit, cone, nut and seed descriptions:

It produces a single fleshy berry-like drupe, one third inch diameter that starts out green changing to  a deep purple-brown. They ripen in late summer and persist throughout winter.

Plant care:

This tree prefers full sun in well drained soil and is pH tolerant. It is a relatively low-maintenance tree which should be pruned during dormant season.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance:

Heavy aerial salt can cause witch’s broom and hackberry nipple gall can be an aesthetic problem on the leaves.  The tree is very tolerant of many soil and weather conditions.

Chicagoland Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis ‘Chicagoland’):

This cultivar grows 50 feet high and 40 feet wide. It has a neat upright-oval habit of growth and a strong central leader and is narrower than the species.

Magnifica Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis ‘Magnifica’):

This tree grows 50 feet high and 40 feet wide and is broadly oval to vase shaped.

Prairie Pride Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis ‘Prairie Pride’):

It has a uniform, compact oval crown reaching 50 feet high and 40 feet wide with thick leathery foliage. It is resistant to witches broom.

Prairie Sentinel™ Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis ‘JFS-KSU1’):

This tree grows in a tightly columnar, fastigiate habit to 45 feet high and 12 feet wide.

Ultra™ Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis ‘Ulzam’):

This cultivar has a rounded habit reaching 50 feet wide and 40 feet wide and has blue-green foliage.


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