BOTANICAL NAME: Celtis occidentalis of the family Ulmaceae (the elm family).
Most wood sold as hackberry is Celtis occidentalis, but there are over 20 Celtis spp. that use hackberry as all or part of one or more of their common names and another similar group of Celtis species, Primarily Celtis laevigata, called sugarberry but sometimes sold commercially under the name hackberry. Other species in the hackberry group include:
- celtis adolfi-friderici
- celtis australis
- celtis bungeana
- celtis caucasica
- celtis davidiana
- celtis glabrata
- celtis iguanaea
- celtis japonica
- celtis laevigata
- celtis lindheimeri
- celtis occidentalis
- celtis pallida
- celtis paniculata
- celtis philippensis
- celtis reticulata
- celtis sinensis
- celtis soyauxii
- celtis spinosa
- celtis tala
- celtis tenuifolia
Hackberry has many similarities to elm. It resembles both ash and elm, and is often sold with lower grade material from those two species.
The genus Celtis is made up of about 75 species native to the United States, Mexico and Central America, and the northern temperate and tropical zones and south Africa. The name celtis is the classical Latin name for a species of lotus.
COMMON NAMES: almez occidental, american celtis, american hackberry, bagolaro americano, bagolaro occidentale,bar-alm, bastard elm, beaverwood, bigleaf hackberry, bois, common hackberry, connu, dwarf hackberry, false elm, georgia hackberry, hack-tree, hackberry, hacktree, hoop ash, huck, inconnu, lindheimer hackberry, lowland hackberry, micocoulier a sucre, micocoulier occidental, mississippi hackberry, netleaf hackberry, nettle tree, nettletree, northern hackberry, oneberry, palo blanco, sockernasslatrad, southern hackberry, sugar hackberry, sugarberry, suikernetelboom, texas sugarberry, thick leaved hackberry, upland hackberry, western hackberry, westerse netelboom, zwepenboom,
By species, here are some of the normal breakouts of the common names:
Celtis laevigata - almez americano, american celtis, bagolaro americano, bois, inconnu, connu, lowland hackberry, micocoulier a sucre, palo blanco, sockernasslatrad, southern hackberry, sugarberry, sugar hackberry, suikernetelboom, texas sugarberry,
Celtis lindheimeri -lindheimer hackberry, palo blanco
Celtis occidentalis - almez occidental, american hackberry, bagolaro occidentale, bar-alm, bastard elm, beaverwood, bigleaf hackberry, common hackberry, false elm, hackberry, hacktree, hoop ash, huck, micocoulier occidental, nettletree, northern hackberry, oneberry, sugarberry, Western Hackberry, westerse netelboom, zwepenboom
Celtis reticulata - netleaf hackberry, palo blanco, sugarberry, thick leaved hackberry, western hackberry
Celtis tenuifolia - dwarf hackberry, georgia hackberry, upland hackberry
COLOR: The sapwood of both hackberry and sugarberry varies from pale yellow to greenish or grayish-yellow and the heartwood is very similar but commonly somewhat darker and with a brown tint. The sapwood is wide and commonly has blue stain.
GRAIN / TEXTURE / FILLER / FINISH / LUSTER: It has generally irregular grain, occasionally straight and sometimes interlocked, and on rare occasions with a very wild grain pattern. The texture is reported as everything from fine uniform texture to coarse textured. My own experience is that it is on the fine side of medium-textured. It can have some interesting figure, with cathedral grain and sometimes featuring alternating light and dark streaks. It stains and finishes well, especially with natural finishes and polishing properties are reported to be good. It takes paint, enamel, and varnish very well.
PROPERTIES / WORKABILITY: The wood works well with hand and machine tools but does have a moderate blunting effect. Reports generally agree that it moulds poorly, bores easily, mortorises reasonably well, and planes well. It is intermediate in its ability to hold nails and screws and pre-drilling is recommended for both although it reportedly resists splitting from screws better than from nails. It glues well. Some reports say it turns well, some say it turns poorly. Reportedly is a good carving wood when it has straight and uniform grain, which it sometimes does.
Bending strength of air-dried wood is high. Maximum crushing strength, or compression strength parallel to grain, is low, it has high shock resistance but is low in stiffness. It is moderately hard and heavy. Some reports say it is soft, but that has not been my experience and it is a minority report.
DURABILITY: The species is reported to have little or no resistance to attack by fungi or other wood destroying organisms. It is prone to blue sap stain, and susceptible to attack by insects, especially longhorn beetles. The heartwood is resistant to impregnation by preservative treatments. The sapwood is permeable.
STABILITY: It has a fairly high shrinkage during drying and is most suitable in cut stock (small/short pieces). It exhibits medium movement in service.
BENDING: good steam-bending performance
ODOR / TASTE: some reports say no detectable odor or taste, others that there is an odor (but they don't characterize it)
SOURCES: Grows in eastern half of United States and 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.
Specifically, the growth range of Hackberry in North America is reported to include Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec in Canada and its range in the United States is reported to be Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Wyoming, North Carolina, Delaware, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Illinois, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The species is usually found in mixed hardwood forests and prefers to grow mainly in river valleys as well as on upland slopes and bluffs. The best growing conditions for Hackberry is reported to be found in the rich bottom lands of the central Mississippi valley.
Because sugarberry (Celtis laevigata) and hackberry are so similar, it has been difficult to establish the exact range of either species in the South. Parts of their ranges overlap, with hackberry probably restricted to the upland and sugarberry occupying the bottom land.
USES: Most hackberry is cut into lumber, with small amounts going into dimension stock and some into veneer. Most of it is used for furniture and some for containers. It is too weak and relatively scarce in commercial volumes to be used for building construction.
Other uses include: barrel hoops, bedroom su, bedroom suites, boards, boxes, boxes and crates, building materials, cabinet work, cabinetmaking, cabinets, carving, casks, chairs, chests, concealed parts (furniture), cooperages, crates, decorative veneer, desks, dimension stock, dining-room furniture, doors, dowell pins, dowells, drawer sides, dressed boards, equipment, farm implements, fence posts, figured veneer, fine furniture, floor lamps, furniture, furniture components, furniture squares or stock, hatracks, interior cabinetry, interior construction, interior trim, ites, kitchen cabinets, living-room suites, lumber, millwork, mouldings, office furniture, packing cases, pallets, paneling, plywood, railroad ties, rough boards, rustic furniture, sporting and athletic goods, sporting goods, stereo, stools, tables, tool handles, truck bodies, tv cabinets, utility furniture, vehicle bodies, vehicle parts, veneer, veneer (decorative), wainscotting, wardrobes,
TREE: some reports say trees range from 30 to 50 feet in height, others that it goes to 130 feet in height and other that the average is 130 feet in height. Average diameter reports range from 1.5 feet to 4 feet
WEIGHT: 37 to 50 lbs per cubic foot (usually on the lower end of that range)
DRYING: Hackberry dries quickly and easily with minimal degrade and is very susceptible to blue staining before and after kiln drying. Care should be taken while drying the wood, to maintain the color; it should be cut in winter for the best color and to avoid "stick stain" when it is dried. It has moderately large to large shrinkage while drying, but keeps its shape well, but some reports say it has a tendency to buckle after drying.
Radial 5 %
AVAILABILITY: Together, aspen, basswood, cottonwood, elm, gum, hackberry, sassafras, sycamore and willow represent 12.5 percent of commercially available U.S. hardwoods and so reports say it is reasonably available in both lumber and veneer form. My own experience is that it is on the low end of moderately available. It resembles Ash and Elm, and is often sold with lower grade material from the two species.
COST: medium to moderately expensive
TOXICITY: no reports
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Historically, most Southern church pews were made of hackberry. It often is used for farm implements as well as crates and boxes.
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Hackberry and sugarberry supply the lumber known in the trade as hackberry. hackberry grows east of the Great Plains from Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, and Oklahoma northward, except along the Canadian boundary. Sugarberry overlaps the southern part of the range of the hackberry and grows throughout the Southern and South Atlantic states.
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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.
Hackberry is a wonderful wood, but most hackberry is used to make pallets and railroad ties,
says Hartzell, who logs hackberry and other woods and sells it.
(Hackberry) is an interesting wood that isn’t getting the recognition it is due.
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.
Hackberry 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.
Care should be taken while drying the wood, to maintain the color. “Hackberry is one of the woods that should be cut in winter for the best color and to avoid 'stick stain' when it is dried,” Hartzell says.
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Similarities and differences: Hackberry belongs to the Elm family, Ulmaceae, and has many similarities to elm trees. In Hugh Johnson’s Encyclopedia of Trees, he says, "It is the fruit that distinguishes hackberries from the elms.
Hackberry trees yield red, yellow or blackish berries compared with elm’s dry, flattened or winged fruit."