Hackberry Tree Facts
Walking through the woods you’ll notice a multitude of trees. Because of the enormous amount of them, you don’t realize that you only take notice of a few that you know well. You’ll note a pine tree or a birch tree, but how close do you look at them all? You might have just passed a hackberry and didn’t even know it. A what? A hackberry tree.
The hackberry is native to the U.S. and Canada. It is a common tree that goes unnoticed most of its life. In fact, most people confuse it with the elm tree. They are commonly used in landscaping due to their fast growing tendencies and their adaptability to almost any soil. The one drawback is the hackberries sensitivity to damage.
The hackberry tree can grow as high as 80 feet high and 45 feet wide. They produce fruit called drupe that are round dark purple and berry-like in appearance. Animals in the woods love these berries and will soon assist the tree by removing every last morsel. Native Americans used these berries as a flavoring for their foods. The wood is not used for much since it is such a soft wood and is not good to use in building.
Like any other plant life, there are various names given to this tree. The official name of it is the Celtis occidentalis. Most of us know it as the hackberry, sugarberry, nettletree, or beaverwood. So much of the naming depends on the location of the tree and the history behind it. In fact there are actually 60 sub species of this tree throughout most of North America.
My favorite part of learning about trees and plants is the lore behind them. And the hackberry does not disappointment me.
In Colorado, you can find the legend of the hackberry. It seems that there was a tradition of many of the Native Americans to carry a medicine bag around their necks. It contained various seeds, herbs, and such to help ward off evil and protect the carrier. There was a battle in which the Indian chief was killed. His body was buried with the medicine bag still around his neck. Before long, the hackberry seed that was in his medicine bag began to sprout in the heart of the deceased chief. It took root and rose high above the ground. It was the only hackberry in the entire area and was located on the top of a hill. This tree was the moment of the chief and the battle fought there.
Over the years civilization expanded and a road was needed. The plan was to run the road right over where the lone hackberry tree was growing. Controversy sprang up throughout the area over the tree. One side said to cut it down and let the road go through. The other side said that it was a landmark of the community and had been here long before any settlers. This went on for quite some time. Then one morning as the community awoke to the bright rays of sunshine, they found a sight that left them all speechless. The tree had been cut down. As they regained their speech, the townspeople began to speculate on what happened. Before an hour had passed everyone was in agreement that the Indian chief who was buried below with the roots of the tree in his heart took his revenge and removed the tree. Yet upon looking closely the chief had a dull ax that left a lot of marks. The town was upset and a group of women decided to plant another hackberry tree where the road would not be. Years later a man confessed to hacking down the hackberry tree. He said it was ridiculous how much energy was spent over arguing about a dumb old tree.