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Species Name:  Celtis occidentalis

Common Name: Hackberry, Sugarberry

Zone: 3 to 9


Distribution: Quebec south to Georgia


Seed collection: Begin collecting seed in early September. Seed will remain on the tree throughout the fall and sometimes into winter. The seed coat changes color from green to a bright reddish orange to a dull rusty brown color. Strip seed from the branches by hand or flail onto sheets spread on the ground. Seed may remain on the tree into early winter.

Seed handling: The embryo is enclosed by a hard pericarp surrounded by a thin seed coat. The thin waxy seed coat is edible and sweet to the taste, which is the reason for the common name sugarberry. Seed cleaning is recommended to improve germination as the seed coat is thought to contain a chemical inhibitor. Remove the seed coat by processing in a food processor for up to a minute.  This method also functions to scarify the seed covering which may also enhance germination. Begin cold/moist stratification after the seed is cleaned. Seed can be stored under cold moist conditions for up to two years without loss of viability.

Germination requirements: Percentage of sound seed is quite high. Germination is relatively uniform the first year if cold/moist stratified for 3 to 4 months.  Some ungerminated seed may germinate in subsequent years.   Untreated seed may be fall planted or treated seed sown in the spring. Sow seed in prepared seed beds ½ to 1” deep, mulch for weed control and protect from rodents.  Seed can be sown in natural soil for restoration purposes. Germination is epigeal.   Seedlings grow vigorously the first year and can reach 12 to 18” high the first season under ideal growing conditions. 

Ecology: Hackberry is widely distributed throughout the eastern US.  It is most common and reaches its largest growth on deep bottomland soils where it can reach saw timber size.  But it also grows on dryer upland sites and limestone outcrops because of its drought tolerance and adaptability to alkaline, high pH soils.  Hackberry is usually a minor component of mixed deciduous forests. Its common associates are American elm, sycamore and Green ash in the bottomland  and maple, basswood and beech in the upland forest types. 
The seed is eaten by several species of birds and birds may function as the primary dispersal agent.  Seed that falls on the ground will be eaten by mice, chipmunks and squirrels as well as turkey and grouse.

this page posted January 6th, 2014