The Blog
The Gall of Some Hackberry…

So I heard you have a Question Mark about your Hackberry.

No, seriously—an actual Question Mark.

This is a Question Mark butterfly.  Do you see that tiny white line and curved dot on the hindwing of the closed butterfly? Some genius thought that looked like a question mark enough to confuse generations of people with a ridiculous name like Question Mark.

Hackberry image1

(Photos from Wikipedia)

The Question Mark is one of approximately 43 species of butterfly that the Hackberry family is known to host.  Host like the Super Bowl?  Not exactly.  When a plant is considered a larval host plant for a butterfly it basically means that the caterpillar (or larval) form of that insect is able to eat the leaves.  Larval forms of insects are not able to eat just any leaf—only the species that they are adapted to eat.

So to answer a possible question you have lingering from childhood:  Why did the caterpillars that I caught and put in a jar with grass and leaves always die?  The answer is that you most likely didn’t put the leaves of that species of caterpillar’s larval host plant in with it.  It would be like if I put you in a jar filled with the leaves of a wild cherry tree.  And because you are a well-read botanist, you would know that the leaves of the wild cherry trees contain cyanide—and you can’t eat it without some serious repercussions.

Hackberry image2

(Photo from Missouri Botanic Gardens)

Back to the Hackberry.  Let’s be honest, Hackberry is a terrible name too—just like Question Mark, or maybe worse.  .  They also have a lot of gall.  Really, gets these ugly galls covering the leaves every summer.  Usually other than being just plain ugly the galls are fairly harmless to the tree. (Here is a great article from Missouri Botanic Garden about galls)

The truth about hackberries is that they are excellent wildlife trees.  Not only do they host over 40 larval butterfly species.  Their berries, which are a great source of food into the fall and early winter, are loved by birds and small mammals.  Even we humans can eat the berries—and we’ve been making hackberry jam and wine for centuries!

So if you love these things:

Hackberry image3

(Mourning Cloak, photo by Emily Wood)

Hackberry image4

(Tawny Emperor, photo from Wikipedia)

Hackberry image5

(American Snout, photo from Wikipedia)

Then you have to have these:

Hackberry image6

(Hackberry photos from Wikipedia)