Southern Hackberry (Celtis laevigata)

Southern Hackberry (also called Sugarberry) is native to the south-eastern United States and north-eastern Mexico as well as Bermuda. It arrived in Bermuda before the first settlers, and was a common tree in the forest that they encountered. The original Bermudian forest was composed of three endemic trees – the Bermuda Cedar, Olivewood and Bermuda Palmetto, and one native tree – the Southern Hackberry. Therefore the Southern Hackberry tree is an important part of Bermuda’s natural heritage. 

Southern Hackberry is not a coastal plant, it would have been found on the sheltered hillsides and in forested valleys of old Bermuda. It grows well in sandy soils and is tolerant of dry conditions which probably were helpful characteristics when this tree was colonising Bermuda.

Hackberry fruit turn from green to orange then dark purple as they ripen

Southern Hackberry is a deciduous tree, which means it drops its leaves in the fall and winter, and then grows new ones in the spring. It is one of the few trees in Bermuda that do this, so if you plant one in your garden don’t worry when the leaves drop off; it is just getting ready for winter.  Being deciduous probably helped the Southern Hackberry to survive in Bermuda, as the leaves were not damaged by winter gales. 

Southern Hackberry has small white flowers in the spring when the leaves are appearing. The pollinated flowers turn into round berries which provide food for birds. The leaves are bright green and tear-drop shaped. Southern Hackberry grows to about 40 - 45 feet (12 - 14 m) but in Bermuda most of the remaining trees are smaller.

Southern Hackberry can not compete with the invasive trees that are now common on the landscape, so it has become rare in Bermuda. It can still be found in a few remaining places like Walsingham where the old forests remain undisturbed by development. Southern Hackberry trees have been planted in nature reserves, like Spittal Pond and Blue Hole Park, where they are growing well. Southern Hackberry trees are also available from native plant nurseries.