|Wood of the Month:
Hackberry Fans Make a Case For an Underrated Species
By Jo-Ann Kaiser
Celtis occidentalis of the family Ulmaceae.
Hackberry (hackÃÂ·berÃÂ·ry) is in the Elm family and grows throughout the eastern United States and in southern Canada. Hackberry is particularly suited to the conditions in the Mississippi Valley, especially in the lower part of the Valley. Ideal growing conditions for hackberry include plentiful moisture and rich soils, but hackberry is also a hearty tree that grows in a variety of climates.
Jim Hartzell, owner of Hartzell Wood Stock in Lime Springs, IA, says he thinks hackberry is underappreciated as a domestic wood suited to furniture and flooring applications. âHackberry is a wonderful wood, but most hackberry is used to make pallets and railroad ties,â says Hartzell, who logs hackberry and other woods and sells it. â(Hackberry) is an interesting wood that isnât getting the recognition it is due.â Hartzell says hackberry ranges in color depending on where it grows. In some parts of the country the heartwood and sapwood are similar in color, but in the ideal growing conditions like the Mississippi Valley, the heartwood will have more color. âHackberry from the south is a lot lighter in color as is hackberry from Illinois. Hackberry is like ash that way; in both, the color will vary ââ
Most hackberry has a moderately fine and uniform texture, but some will yield an interesting figure, featuring alternating light and dark streaks. Hartzell says the wood can have a very wild grain pattern. Sometimes it is interlocked.
Donald Culross Peattie, in A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America, says hackberry âhas a figure rather like that of ash and takes polish well.â
Hartzell sells hackberry flooring and says he thinks the wood makes superior flooring that offers great wearability and a good look. âPeople donât always realize that hackberry is harder than walnut and cherry.ââ
Care should be taken while drying the wood, to maintain the color. âHackberry is one of the woods that should be cut in winter for the best color and to avoid âstick stainâ when it is dried,â Hartzell says.
Similarities and Differences
Hackberry belongs to the Elm family, Ulmaceae, and has many similarities to elm trees. In Hugh Johnsonâs Encyclopedia of Trees, he says, ââIt is the fruit that distinguishes hackberries from the elms.â Hackberry trees yield red, yellow or blackish berries compared with elmâs âdry, flattened or winged fruit.â
Hackberry trees will root deep, Johnson says. âTheir deep roots, once they have found their depth, are virtually drought-proof,â he says. Johnson adds that the best part about common hackberry trees in North America is their âhighly original bark,â which is described as corky.
Most hackberry comes from Celtis occidentalis, but another similar species, Celtis laevigata, or sugarberry, is sometimes sold commercially under the name hackberry. Sugarberry is also another common name for hackberry trees, which further confuses things.
Alternate names for C. laevigata include Mississippi hackberry and sugar hackberry. The trees are very similar and grow in many of the same areas, although sugarberry grows in the Southern and Southern Atlantic states. For both species, the sapwood is usually pale yellow, although in some trees the sapwood has a green or gray tint.
Hackberryâs uses include pallets and railroad ties, furniture, cabinet work, sports and gym equipment, tool handles, farm implements and vehicle bodies. Most hackberry is cut for lumber, but some is used as dimension stock and some is cut into veneer.
Peattie writes hackberry is used for barrel hoops â since it is tough and flexible â and fence posts and the inevitable boxes and crates.
Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.