Desert Hackberry

Scientific Name: Celtis pallida
Abundance: common
What: fruit
How: raw, cooked
Where: dry, desert areas
When: late summer, fall
Nutritional Value: calories
Dangers: spines are sharp!

Leaf Arrangement: Leaves are alternate along the stem.

Leaf Shape: Simple, ovate leaves with serrated margins, typically measuring 1 to 2 inches in length.

Leaf Color: Foliage is typically pale green to gray-green.

Flower Structure: Inconspicuous, small, greenish flowers are arranged in clusters.

Flower Size: Individual flowers are very small, around 1/8 inch in size.

Fruit (Drupe): The fruit is a small, rounded drupe, about 1/4 inch in diameter, typically reddish-brown when ripe.

Bark: Bark is mottled grayish-brown, with thorns. Some thorns may have smaller thorns.

Height: Desert hackberry can grow to be a medium-sized tree, reaching heights of 20 to 30 feet.

Hairs: Leaves may have microscopic hairs, giving a slightly rough texture.

Branching Pattern: The branching pattern is irregular, and the tree may have a somewhat open form.

Desert Hackberry fruit when ripe.
Desert Hackberry

Close-up of ripe fruit.
Desert Hackberry

Thicket of Desert Hackberry trees. They grow with interlaced trunks and branches.
Desert Hackberry

Close-up of leaves.
Desert Hackberry

Note how the young branch "zig-zags" betweens leaf nodes and spines.
Desert Hackberry

Close-up of spines on young twig.
Desert Hackberry

Close-up of spine on mature branch.
Desert Hackberry

Desert Hackberry trunk.
Desert Hackberry

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.
DesertHackberry TX Map

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.
DesertHackberry NA Map

As much as I love Desert Hackberries, birds love them even more. The spiny thickets that these small tree form are are a safe, food-filled haven for all manner of small birds. Look for these thickets in arid, hot areas of south and west Texas, though in these environments they will likely cluster near water sources including dry gullies. The trees rarely get much over 15 feet tall. The small, oval leaves stay on the tree most of the year but can fall in extremely dry conditions.

The ripe fruit is quite sweet, orange in color, and its single seed is much softer than the hard stone found in Sugar Hackberry fruit. I eat the whole thing raw, seed and nut combined. It can be eaten raw, mashed then baked into a calorie-laden snack bar, or boiled in some water to make a syrup. A truly industrious person could gather enough of the ripe fruit to make a bottle of wine or two if they were willing to fight through the plant's thorns...and deal with the resulting angry birds.

Buy my book! Outdoor Adventure Guides Foraging covers 70 of North America's tastiest and easy to find wild edibles shown with the same big pictures as here on the Foraging Texas website.

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