Hackberry (Celtis spp.)

The most common use of hackberries is likely to have been as part of shelterbelt plantings in the Southern Great Plains.

By Mike Proctor, Noble Research Institute ag technology research associate / mdproctor@noble.org
Characteristics: There are four hackberry species native to Oklahoma. The common species are hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) and sugarberry (C. laevigata). Netleaf hackberry (C. reticulata) and Georgia hackberry (C. tenuifolia) are much less common and grow as smaller trees or shrubs. The bark is gray and smooth, usually with corky ridges. These ridges can give the impression of extremely rough bark on larger trees. Fruits are small red or orange drupes about the size of a pencil eraser.

Hackberry fruits are wrinkled when dry, while those of sugarberry are smooth. The hackberry leaves tend to be larger, wider and usually have teeth along the margins. Sugarberry leaves are more slender and have smooth margins. The upper surface of hackberry leaves is usually rough, while that of sugarberry is usually smooth. The two species have been known to hybridize, resulting in intermediate characters, which greatly confuse their identification.

Area of Importance: Hackberry was originally limited to the northern half of Oklahoma, while sugarberry occupied the southern half. The present distribution of both species is now statewide, possibly due to extensive planting of both species in shelterbelts. Of the remaining species, netleaf hackberry can be found in the Arbuckle Mountains and to the west, with Georgia hackberry having a poorly defined distribution that extends across the state but with widely scattered records.

Learn more about the Hackberry in the November issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.