Day 170: Hackberry and Sugarberry

Celtis laevigata


The Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) and the Sugarberry (Celtis laevigata) are both common trees in the Ozarks with a number of uses. The wood is typically spongey and therefore not suitable for lumber but is often used in furniture production. I know these trees by their edible berries, which although small are quite tasty and are high in calories and protein compared to other foraged foods. The berries were eaten and used by several Native American groups including the Dakota who used them to flavor meat and the Pawnee who pounded the berries then mixed them with lard and parched corn.

Celtis occidentalis
Celtis occidentalis

Medicinally the bark of the two trees has been used in the treatment of gynecological issues to induce abortion, regulate menstrual cycles, and treat venereal diseases. A decoction of the bark can also be taken as a remedy for sore throats.

Here’s a description of the common hackberry from the USDA:
General: Common hackberry is a large deciduous tree reaching 12 m to 18 m in height at maturity. It typically lives to be 150 to 200 years old and exhibits its greatest annual growth between 20 and 40 years of age. The bark is grayish and warty, and stems have a zigzag appearance. The branches tend to droop, giving mature trees a cylindrical shape and the appearance of even and equal spread of branches. Leaves are alternately arranged, simple, 7 to 12 cm long, and sharply toothed. They are dark green above, paler beneath, have asymmetrical leaf bases (oblique), and sometimes have a rough texture. Flowers are small, greenish-yellow, and emerge in April and May with the leaves. Fruit are small greenish drupes that change to dark red or black upon maturity in September and October.

Distribution: Common hackberry is native to the United States. It occurs from Maine and Quebec, west to North Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado, and south to Texas and Georgia.

Habitat: Common hackberry is the dominant species of the green ash-western snowberry plant communities in Nebraska and South Dakota and in the plains cottonwood-western snowberry communities in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Although it is primarily a bottomland species, it is also found within upland communities on slopes and bluffs, limestone outcrops, and rocky hillsides.

Celtis occidentalis

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