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Photography by Jonathan Carlucci

An Uncommon Discovery in a Common Location

March 6, 2013

Don't judge a tree by its bark - looks aren't everything in regards to the common hackberry tree.

The wart-like bumps on its bark didn't deter early North American settlers from studying the common hackberry tree for provisions other than beauty. Native to the U.S., the common hackberry species has gained popularity ever since Native American settled the land. Known for their high-quality wood and ornamental qualities, hackberry trees have also earned value for several practical applications they provide.

Native Americans valued the common hackberry for medicinal, food and ceremonial purposes. For example, they mixed drupes of common hackberry with fat and corn to form porridge, as well as crushed the drupes to add flavor to foods. Peyote ceremonies used common hackberry wood as a fuel source to the altar fire. Birds particularly continue to enjoy the edible pea-sized, purple-black fruits that grow from common hackberry trees.

Today, the common hackberry retains more value in its deep root system, which helps prevent soil erosion on disturbed sites, as well as its ability help control wind erosion. But a particular common hackberry from the Northeast has earned national recognition for attributes not-so-common among its ancestors of the past and relatives of the present.

Nominated by George Boesze, this national champion represents an exaggeration of the size and durability for which common hackberry trees are valued. Although common hackberry trees lack particularly attractive physical features, they often occupy streetscapes and windbreak plantings for their strength and tolerance of urban conditions. Sometimes nature shares its most unique specimens in the most familiar places: Within the side yard of a Warren County, N.J., resident resides the largest common hackberry tree in the U.S. The trunk measures 211 inches around, shaded by the tree canopy towering 127 feet above the River Road property in Pohatcong Township.

Considering the species' longevity and the enormity of the country's largest common hackberry, it's safe to say Pohatcong Township's national champion will be rooted at River Road for quite some time. Its expansive canopy will provide an abundance of shade for neighbors of the present and future.

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