Sugarberry

Celtis laevigata
Family: Cannabaceae

Natural Historysugarberry branch
Leaves of sugarberry
Photo credit: Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, Bugwood.org

The sugarberry is also known as sugar hackberry, hackberry, and Mississippi hackberry. Sugarberry can be easily recognized by its bark, which is covered with wart-like bumps. The leaves of the sugarberry contain allelopathic chemicals. As they fall and litter the ground around the tree, these chemicals inhibit nearby seed germination and growth of many other plant species.

For many years this tree was thought to be in the elm family because of the general "elm-like" appearance of the leaves. Recent DNA analysis has shown, however, that these trees are more closely related to hemp (Cannabis sativa) and should be placed in that family (Cannabaceae).

Habitat & Range

The sugarberry grows on stream banks, river bottoms, and moist alluvial flats of clay and silt loam. It may occur in pure stands but usually occurs as an occasional tree in association with many other hardwood species, primarily sweetgum, pecan, green ash, elms, overcup oak, water oak, and honeylocust. 

It is found in the southeastern United States from southeastern Virginia to southern Florida (including the Florida Keys) and west to southwestern Texas. This species is also found in the northeastern areas of Mexico. It is found at elevations up to 2,000 feet.

Wildlife Use

The berries secrete a sweet sticky substance in the autumn that attracts millions of mealy-bugs. The mealy-bugs engorge themselves with the secretions and produce a dew-like substance of saccharine sweetness known as ghost rain. Many songbirds eat the sweetish fruits and help disperse the seeds.

Human Use

The wood is used mainly for furniture, athletic goods, crates, and plywood.


 

Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: The sugarberry is a medium-sized tree that reaches 60 to 80 feet in height, 2 to 3 feet in diameter. It has a straight, short bole and a broad, rounded, and open crown with spreading or slightly drooping branches. The root system is also spreading.
Leaves: Leaves are simple, alternate, and deciduous. The leaves are 2 to 5 inches long, 1-3 inches wide, oval to elliptical-shaped. The leaves taper to an acute apex and have wedge-shaped or asymmetrically rounded leaf bases. Leaf margins are entire or with a few teeth near the leaf apex. Leaf surfaces are light green, smooth, or occasionally rough above, paler and smooth below. Petioles are slender and smooth, about 1/3 inch long.
Twigs: The twigs are slender, zigzagging, and greenish-brown to light reddish-brown. The pith is commonly chambered at the nodes and homogenous between the nodes.
Bark: The bark on the sugarberry tree is gray-brown to silvery gray, thin and smooth with prominent, corky, wart-like structures on the outer bark.
Flowers: The flowers of this tree are very small (1/8 inch) and greenish-white. They appear in the spring.
Fruit: The fruit is an orange to yellowish, one-seeded drupe about ΒΌ inch in length with a thick skin and a thin layer of flesh. Each fruit is found on short stalks at the base of the leaf.
Similar Trees on the Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest List:
There are a few other trees on our list that also have simple, alternate leaves with pinnate venation and serrate margins.

 

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