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Publication #ENH297

Celtis laevigata: Sugarberry1

Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson2


This very large, broad, fast growing deciduous North American native tree has a rounded vase crown with spreading, pendulous branches. The medium-textured, light green leaves turn bright yellow in fall and can be showy in some years. Leaves have a longer, more slender tip than Celtis occidentalis. The grey-brown to silvery bark has some warty projections or corky ridges, making it attractive in wintertime. The bark is far less warty than Celtis occidentalis. Open-grown sugarberry commonly reaches 50 to 70 feet in height with a similar spread, and makes a wonderful shade tree. It could be grown and used more in urban areas but, unfortunately, appears to compartmentalize injury poorly, resulting in branch and trunk rot. Be sure to locate the tree where mechanical injury will not occur.

Figure 1. 

Mature Celtis laevigata: Sugarberry


Ed Gilman

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

General Information

Scientific name: Celtis laevigata
Pronunciation: SELL-tiss lee-vih-GAY-tuh
Common name(s): Sugarberry, sugar hackberry
Family: Ulmaceae
USDA hardiness zones: 5A through 10B (Fig. 2)
Origin: native to North America
Invasive potential: weedy native
Uses: parking lot island > 200 sq ft; tree lawn > 6 ft wide; shade; street without sidewalk; reclamation; highway median; Bonsai
Availability: not native to North America

Figure 2. 


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]


Height: 50 to 70 feet
Spread: 50 to 60 feet
Crown uniformity: irregular
Crown shape: vase, round
Crown density: moderate
Growth rate: fast
Texture: medium


Leaf arrangement: alternate (Fig. 3)
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: serrate
Leaf shape: ovate, lanceolate
Leaf venation: pinnate, brachidodrome, reticulate, bowed
Leaf type and persistence: deciduous
Leaf blade length: 2 to 4 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: yellow
Fall characteristic: showy

Figure 3. 


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]


Flower color: green
Flower characteristics: not showy


Fruit shape: round
Fruit length: less than .5 inch
Fruit covering: fleshy
Fruit color: red, black
Fruit characteristics: attracts birds; not showy; fruit/leaves a litter problem

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: branches droop; showy; typically one trunk; thorns
Pruning requirement: needed for strong structure
Breakage: susceptible to breakage
Current year twig color: green, brown
Current year twig thickness: thin
Wood specific gravity: unknown


Light requirement: full sun, partial sun, or partial shade
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; alkaline; acidic; extended flooding; well-drained
Drought tolerance: high
Aerosol salt tolerance: high


Roots: can form large surface roots
Winter interest: yes
Outstanding tree: no
Ozone sensitivity: unknown
Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown
Pest resistance: free of serious pests and diseases

Use and Management

The tiny, berry-like, sweet fruits attract many birds, and sugarberry should be included in any natural landscape setting. It is not normally grown by wholesale nurseries. It will grow rapidly and require regular pruning and training to develop a strong branch structure and to keep it looking neat in the nursery. Lack of popularity may be due to the open, awkward appearance of young trees and susceptibility to trunk rot in mature trees. But it appears to be no more sensitive to trunk rot than laurel oak. Avoid injury to the trunk and existing trees will serve you for many years.

Sugarberry will grow in a variety of soil types but grows best in moist, fertile soils in a full sun location, though it will tolerate partial shade. It is sensitive to highly alkaline soils. Chlorosis develops on alkaline soil, but witches broom and nipple gall are not a problem as they are on Celtis occidentalis. Sugarberry is moderately drought- and salt-tolerant once established and is very adaptable, growing in wet sites fairly well. Skilled pruning is required several times during the first 15 years of life to prevent formation of weak branch crotches and multiple trunks. But once this is accomplished, trees should grow with little care. Avoid pruning large-diameter branches from the trunk since the tree compartmentalizes decay poorly. A number of southern cities use sugarberry as a street tree while others ban it. Give this tree a try in some of your urban and suburban landscapes.

The wood is used in much the same way as elm in the lumber industry for plywood, furniture and veneer.

'All Seasons'—rounded crown, bright yellow fall foliage, and is very hardy (USDA hardiness zone 5). In the North and Midwest, the native Celtis occidentalis is used in place of Celtis laevigata. Somewhat similar in overall appearance, it is a smaller tree (to 60 feet) with a more warty bark and smaller, sandpapery leaves than Celtis laevigata.

Propagation is by seed.


The most common insect on hackberry causes the hackberry nipple gall. A pouch or gall forms on the lower leaf surface in response to feeding. There are sprays available if you care to reduce this cosmetic problem, but galls generally do no harm to the tree.

Scales of various types may be found on hackberry. These may be controlled with horticultural oil sprays.


Trunk rot, leaf spots, witches' broom.

Several fungi cause leaf spots on hackberry. The disease is worse during wet weather but chemical controls are seldom needed.

Generally resistant to witches' broom. Witches' broom is caused by a mite and powdery mildew. The main symptom is clusters of abnormally short twigs which are scattered throughout the tree crown. Prune out the clusters of twigs when practical.

Powdery mildew may coat the leaves with white powder. The leaves may be uniformly coated or only in patches.

Sugarberry is a favority host for mistletoe.



This document is ENH297, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Revised December 2005. Reviewed February 2014. Visit the EDIS website at


Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.