Traditional uses of Sugarberry – Celtis laevigata

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Sugarberry Quick Facts
Name: Sugarberry
Scientific Name: Celtis laevigata
Origin Southeastern part of the United States, ranging south from southeastern Virginia to southern Florida
Colors Green berry turning to orange, red or dark purple as they matures
Shapes Round fleshy berry-like drupes about 0.4–0.9 cm long
Health benefits Beneficial for sore throats, venereal disease, heavy menstrual and inter-menstrual uterine bleeding, peptic ulcers, diarrhea, and dysentery
Celtis laevigata, commonly called sugarberry, sugar hackberry or southern hackberry, is basically a southern version of common or northern hackberry belonging to Ulmaceae (Elm family). The plant is native to southeastern part of the United States, ranging south from southeastern Virginia to southern Florida; west to central Texas and including northeastern Mexico; north to western Oklahoma and southern Kansas; and east to Missouri, extreme southern Illinois, and Indiana.  It occurs locally in Maryland. Sugarberry is simply confused with Common Hackberry, (Celtis occidentalis) where the range overlaps. Sugarberry has narrower leaves which are smoother above. The species can also be distinguished by habitat: where the ranges overlap, Common Hackberry occurs mainly in upland areas, whereas Sugarberry occurs mostly in bottom land areas.

Sugarberry, hackberry, lowland hackberry, sugar hackberry, Arizona sugarberry, netleaf hackberry, Small’s hackberry, southern hackberry, Texas sugarberry, Southern Hackberry, Lowland Hackberry, Hackberry, Palo Blanco, sugar hackberry, beaverwood and nettlewood are some of the popular common names of the plant. Genus name Celtis is the ancient Greek name for a lotus with sweet berries, and was used by Pliny. Specific epithet Laevigata means smooth, and most of the sugarberry’s bark is smooth but there are always tell-tale corky warts, without thorns.  It is interesting that English speakers would refer to the tree as the Sugarberry and the Greeks, a world and language away, call their tree, the C. australis, the Honeyberry. Clearly the dry sweetness impresses people. The plant is harvested from the wild for mainly local use as a food, medicine and source of materials. It is grown as an ornamental and a street tree

Sugarberry Facts

Name Sugarberry
Scientific Name Celtis laevigata
Native Southeastern part of the United States, ranging south from southeastern Virginia to southern Florida; west to central Texas and including northeastern Mexico; north to western Oklahoma and southern Kansas; and east to Missouri, extreme southern Illinois, and Indiana.  It occurs locally in Maryland
Common Names Sugarberry, hackberry, lowland hackberry, sugar hackberry, Arizona sugarberry, netleaf hackberry, Small’s hackberry, southern hackberry, Texas sugarberry, Southern Hackberry, Lowland Hackberry, Hackberry, Palo Blanco, sugar hackberry, beaverwood, nettlewood
Name in Other Languages Arabic: Mis naeim  (ميس ناعم)
English: Southern hackberry, Sugar hackberry, Sugarberry, Texan sugarberry, Netleaf hackberry,
German: Glattblättriger Zürgelbaum
Spanish: Palo blanco
Plant Growth Habit Medium to moderately large-sized deciduous tree
Growing Climates In rich bottomlands along streams, in flood plains, and on rocky slopes, generally in clay soils, streams and in woodlands
Soil Succeeds in any reasonably good soil, preferring a good fertile well-drained loamy soil. Succeeds on dry gravels and on sandy soils. It cannot tolerate prolonged flooding or water-saturated soils
Plant Size Up to 30 meters tall and cylindrical bole can be up to 100 cm in diameter
Root Relatively shallow; it does not form a distinct taproot and has only average resistance to wind throw
Twigs 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 Bark of young trees is gray and smooth; mature trees develop corky outgrowths that are scattered to dense with smooth areas in between
Leaf Alternate, typically small to medium sized (6–8 cm long), usually twice as long wide, with a long-pointed tip. Leaves are usually lanceolate, ovate or oval shaped, and often curve to one side. Leaf margins are mostly untoothed, but a few (rarely many) small teeth may be present
Flowering season April
Flower Small clusters, with functionally unisexual female and male flowers on the same tree, occasionally with male and females flowers combined.
Fruit Shape & Size Round fleshy berry-like drupes about 0.4–0.9 cm long
Fruit Color Green berry turning to orange, red or dark purple as they matures
Fruit Skin Thick skin with netlike pattern on the surface
Wood One round brown seed
Seed One round brown seed
Plant Parts Used Leaves, fruit
Propagation By seed and cuttings
Lifespan Over 150 years
Season October

Plant Description

Sugarberry is a medium to moderately large-sized deciduous tree growing up to 30 meters tall and cylindrical bole can be up to 100 cm in diameter. It has a straight, short bole and a broad, rounded, and open crown with spreading or slightly drooping branches. Roots are relatively shallow; it does not form a distinct taproot and has only average resistance to wind throw. 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 of young trees is gray and smooth while mature trees develop corky outgrowths that are scattered to dense with smooth areas in between.

Leaf scars are crescent-shaped or oval, bundle scars 3 per leaf scar, stipule scars are inconspicuous. Buds axillary, brown or reddish-brown, 1.5–3.2 mm long, ovoid, sharp, pubescent, puberulent, bud scales imbricate. The plant is found growing in rich bottom lands along streams, in flood plains, and on rocky slopes, generally in clay soils, streams and in woodlands. It succeeds in any reasonably good soil, preferring a good fertile well-drained loamy soil. Similarly it does best on dry gravels and on sandy soils. It cannot tolerate prolonged flooding or water-saturated soils. Sugarberry has a moderately long life span, not usually living over 150 years.

Leaves

Leaves are deciduous, simple, petiolate, alternate, distichous, about 6–8 cm long, 3–4 cm wide. Leaves are usually lanceolate, ovate or oval shaped, and often curve to one side. Leaf margins are mostly untoothed, but a few (rarely many) small teeth may be present. Leaf apices are acuminate or acute or caudate. Leaf bases are cuneate or oblique or obtuse or rounded. Leaves bear 3 prominent veins that branch from the base of the leaf blade. Upper surface of the leaves are green or yellow-green, glabrous or glabrate while lower surface are green or yellow-green, glabrous or glabrate. Light green leaves turn bright yellow in fall and can be showy in some years. Petioles are 0.6–1.3 cm long and glabrous. Stipules are present and are caducous.

Leaf arrangement Alternate
Leaf type Simple
Leaf margin Serrate
Leaf shape Ovate, lanceolate
Leaf venation Pinnate, brachidodrome, reticulate, bowed
Leaf type and persistence Deciduous
Leaf blade length 1 to 6 inches
Leaf color Light green on top, paler green underneath
Fall color Yellow
Fall characteristic Showy

 

Flowers & Fruit

Flowers occur in small clusters, with functionally unisexual female and male flowers on the same tree, occasionally with male and females flowers combined. Male flowers occur in clusters and female flowers are solitary. Greenish flowers appear in spring (April –May).

Flower color Greenish white
Flower characteristic Not showy; emerges singly or in clusters at leaf axils
Flowering Spring, with the leaves

 

Fertile female flowers give way to an often abundant fruit crop of round fleshy berry-like drupes about 0.4–0.9 cm long. Fruits are initially green turning to orange, red or dark purple as they mature. Fruit has thick skin with netlike pattern on the surface. Each drupe has one round brown seed within. Fruits are attractive to a variety of wildlife. Birds consume the fruits and disperse the seeds. Fleshy parts of the fruit are edible and sweet.

Fruit shape Round
Fruit length 1/3 inch
Fruit covering Fleshy drupe
Fruit color Orange to red, turns deep purple when ripe
Fruit characteristics

 

Attracts birds; not showy; fruit/leaves a litter problem
Fruiting Matures in the fall

 

History

Sugarberry ranges south from southeastern Virginia to southern Florida, west to central Texas and northeastern Mexico, and north to western Oklahoma, southern Kansas, Missouri, southern Illinois, southern Indiana, and western Kentucky. It is localized in Maryland, the Rio Grande Valley, and northeastern Mexico. Its range overlaps the southern part of the range of common hackberry.

Traditional uses and benefits of Sugarberry

  • Decoction of the bark has been used in the treatment of sore throats.
  • It has also been used, mixed with powdered shells, as a treatment for VD.
  • The Houma used a concentrate made from the bark to treat sore throats.
  • Decoction made from the bark and ground up shells to treat venereal disease.
  • Due to their astringent properties, both the leaves and the fruit may be taken as a decoction to reduce heavy menstrual and inter-menstrual uterine bleeding.
  • Fruit and leaves may also be used to astringe the mucous membranes of the gut in peptic ulcers, diarrhea, and dysentery.

Culinary Uses

  • Fruit can be consumed raw or cooked.
  • The Acoma, Navajo, and Tewa all consumed the berries for food.
  • The berries of this species were used as a food seasoning by Native Americans and early settlers.

Other Facts

  • This tree may be used as a lawn tree or street tree.
  • Wood is used mostly for cheap furniture but also is used for dimension stock, flooring, crating, fuel, cooperage, and fence posts.
  • The plant is harvested from the wild for mainly local use as a food, medicine and source of materials.
  • The Navajo boiled the leaves and branches to make dark brown and red dye for wool.
  • Sugarberry is used for furniture, athletic goods, firewood, and plywood.
  • It is used as an ornamental and as a street tree in residential areas in the lower South.
  • The berries secrete a sweet sticky substance in the autumn that attracts millions of mealy-bugs.

References:

https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=19042#null

https://npgsweb.ars-grin.gov/gringlobal/taxonomydetail.aspx?id=70160

https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Celtis+laevigata

https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=a857

https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=CELA

https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/cellae/all.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtis_laevigata

https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/st138

http://www.narc.gov.jo/gringlobal/taxonomydetail.aspx?id=70160

http://www.ibiblio.org/openkey/intkey/web/CELA.htm

http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl1.1/record/kew-2708323

http://temperate.theferns.info/plant/Celtis+laevigata

https://gd.eppo.int/taxon/CETLE

https://plants.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_cela.pdf

https://www.mortonarb.org/trees-plants/tree-plant-descriptions/sugarberry

https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/12410

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