Hackberry

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

 

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

 

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

 

A tree that may in summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

 

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

 

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

-       Joyce Kilmer 

The Hackberry (Celtis laevigata) is what you’d call a swamp tree’s swamp tree – rough and wicked-mean; covered with warty bark and cruel, wiry twigs and branches. The whole tree is so tough it could be used to whip the devil. Its nasty disposition makes its leaf litter so loaded with allelopathic toxins nothing will grow in its shadow.

 

The tree likes standing in dank, miserable soils loaded with clay and actually enjoys our stinking, hot, humid Gulf Coast climate. In fact, they even named a town for it on the flat, bleak Louisiana coastal plain near Texas. 

It’s one of those tree species that specializes in confusing botanists and causing fights between them because of subtle variations in its characteristics that lead to conflicting identifications. The tree is devilishly chuckling under its breath. Its evil twin, the one it’s often confused with, is the Sugarberry (Celtis occidentalis) but these are weak sisters in comparison, growing only in milder, upland areas. 

In spite of all its meanness, the tree does have some weaknesses. It doesn’t like fire, heavy ice, mistletoe infestations, the larvae of the notorious hackberry butterfly, and about thirty different kinds of fungus that give it something called Butt rot. It’s also susceptible to a small, gnat-sized insect called a Hackberry Nipple Gall-making Psyllid. These lay their eggs on the tree’s leaves and the leaf responds by growing thousands of freakish looking green warts or galls. The little bugger nests in the gall all summer, idly sucking on the tree’s sap.

The tree is good for wood used in furniture and veneers, its thousands of sweet, dry berries are loved and widely dispersed by birds and mammals, and it has one of the densest leaf canopies of any tree around here — highly recommend for deep, dark shade on a hot summer day

Last modified on Thursday, 03 September 2015 20:45

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