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:

Hackberry is large tree that grows 40 to 60 feet tall and 40 to 50 feet wide.

Native geographic location and habitat:

Native to the Midwest to the upper eastern United States, hackberry 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 2 to 4 inches long. They are simple, ovate to egg-shaped, with a dull, rough surface that turns yellow in the fall.

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, 1/3 inch in diameter that starts out green and changes to a deep purple-brown. The drupes 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 and a strong central leader, making it 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 with blue-green foliage.

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