Conservation Events

The North Carolina Native Tree Hackberry

In Bloom: Hackberry

By Suzanne Wodek, Asheville Botanical Gardens

Considered both a shade tree and an ornamental, hackberry is a medium- to large-sized deciduous tree that typically grows 40–60 feet tall with a spread of 40–60 feet at maturity. Celtis occidentalis is in the Ulmaceae (Elm) family, and its common names include Northern hackberry, American hackberry, nettle tree, sugarberry, beaverwood and false elm.

The hackberry’s upright-arching branches and a rounded spreading canopy are capable of blocking sunlight and add visual interest and beauty to your landscape. Hackberries can even stand up to strong winds and tolerate many urban pollutants and a wide range of soil conditions, including wet, dry and poor soils. For best results, grow in moist, organically rich, well-drained soils in full sun. They will also tolerate part shade.

An abundant fruit crop of round fleshy berry-like drupes mature to a deep purple in fall. These fruits are popular with winter birds, especially the Cedar Waxwing, Northern Mockingbird and American Robin. The tree is also a larval host to many butterfly species including mourning cloak, Eastern comma, question mark, hackberry emperor, tawny emperor and American snout. Fleshy parts of the fruit are edible and somewhat sweet.

The tree was first cultivated in 1636. Its tough, flexible wood was used for barrel hoops and many pioneer cabin builders used the durable hackberry wood for flooring. Native Americans used hackberry extracts medicinally—for sore throats, colds and the regulation of menstrual periods. Today, we use hackberry for furniture, athletic goods, boxes, crates and plywood.

I was recently given a six-foot Hackberry tree from my Master Gardener friend Ralph Coffey. He generously donated several to the Botanical Gardens to enhance its collection. I am looking forward to growing old with its abundant features that will bring even more nature to a place I call home.

This month at the Botanical Gardens at Asheville

  • Sunday, October 2, 9–11 a.m. Fall Bird Walk with Simon Thompson
  • Sunday, October 16, 10 a.m.–noon Growing Native Perennials from Seed with Pat Sommers
  • Sunday, October 23, 1–4 p.m. Winter Tree Identification with Jason Rodrigue
  • Sunday, October 29 from 10:30 a.m.–noon Creating a Garden Full of Life: Gardening for Nature with Lisa Wagner

Participants must register and prepay. Member cost is $12, non-members, $17.

The Botanical Gardens, located at 151 W.T. Weaver Boulevard, is a nonprofit organization housing a collection of plants native to the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated and memberships are encouraged. Visit for educational programs this month.

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