As one walks through the low, flat forests of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, there’s one tree that repeats itself over and over again, omnipresent in the muddy woods near the region’s many slow, languid rivers. It’s not a tree that’s ever achieved great fame: it grows singly, intermixed with other trees, and never in pure stands; it has no spectacular spring flowers or glorious autumn color; its fruits are edible, but are notably difficult to harvest and process; it gives very mixed blessings when planted as a street tree; it can be something of a weed in cities and gardens; and its wood is utilitarian rather than beautiful. Even the French voyageurs who explored, canoed, traded, and lived all throughout the range of this tree gave it no distinctive name, but referred to it in their writings as le bois inconnu – “the unknown tree”. But this tree, the American hackberry, is more important in the midwestern forest than many trees with loftier reputations, and deserves to be better known. Not only is it a wildly successful native tree that one will be sure to have many encounters with, but it’s a friend and benefactor to all varieties of wildlife, and is not without its uses to humans as well. Common – in every sense of the word – kind, gregarious, and fruitful, it is a cheery peasant tree, and the world would be as poor without such trees as it would without more noble species.
American hackberry, Celtis occidentalisContinue reading “Tree of the Week for April 11th-18th, 2021: Celtis occidentalis”