Minimum Spacing: 12-20’
Light: full to partial sun
Shade: adaptable, prefers full sun
Moisture: adaptable. does best in well drained, moist soils
Pollination & Propagation:
Harvest begins at: 2-6 yrs
Interesting Growing Considerations: lauded as a great, tolerant, shade tree that grows well in urban conditions; excellent wildlife food source
Overview: Hackberry can grow very tall, 40-80 feet at full maturity, forming a straight central trunk and an ovoid crown. Trunk bark is gray to brownish gray, forming warty irregular ridges. With age, the bark becomes increasingly scaly and rough-textured. Branch bark is gray and relatively smooth, while twigs are green to dark reddish gray and smooth. Flowers are yellowish green; each flower has 4-5 oblong sepals that are connected together at the base. The flowers are wind pollinated and replaced by a single-seeded fruit, about 1/3“ across. The flesh of mature drupes is thin, firm, and sweet; it has a flavor that resembles dates. Each drupe has a large bony seed that occupies most of its interior. The root system consists of woody lateral roots that are wide-spreading and moderately deep. This tree spreads into new areas by reseeding itself.
Common Hackberry is cultivated occasionally as a landscape tree. The preference is full or partial sun, moist to mesic conditions, and rich loamy soil. This tree will adapt to other kinds of soil, but its ultimate size at maturity will be smaller. Growth and development are fairly rapid. Longevity of individual trees can extend to 150-200 years. The foliage and twigs are often disfigured by psyllids and mites, or “witches brooms,” but do not hurt the tree.
Planting: Consider growing this as a shade tree near a house or a respite from the hot sun in a community garden. Its berries are edible but may need a boost to harvest from tall branches. Consider pruning to achieve lower branch growth.
Harvest and Uses: Hackberries-- pea sized edible berries-- ripen in early September, and have a very thin layer of date-tasting fruit around the seed, kind of like an M&M. You have to gather quite a bit to make a jam or jelly; rather they make a nice snack to nibble on, fresh or dried. However, storing these is a good idea, because unlike most fruits, the berries are remarkably high in calories from fat, carbohydrate and protein, and these calories are easily digestible without any cooking or preparation.
Omaha Native Americans ate the berries casually, while the Dakota used them as a flavor for meat, pounding them fine, seeds and all. The Pawnee also pounded the berries fine, added a little fat, and mixed them with parched corn.