Name: Celtis sinensis ‘Green Cascade’
Description: A strongly weeping Chinese hackberry
Range: Zone 6-9
Care: Quite drought-tolerant, well-drained soil
Sun: Part-shade to full sun
Propagation: Mist propagation of cuttings taken in late spring, early summer
Attributes: Fast-growing, smooth bark, must be staked, easy to train
There’s one tree in the SFA Mast Arboretum that always makes the “let’s stop-and-talk-about-it” status on our garden tours: the weeping Chinese hackberry. Before you scowl, curse, or take on a fighting stance, hear me out. I know it’s got that “hackberry” label, almost a slur in the South, and I admit that this is a special use tree. There is no blinding color show, spring or fall. Yet, this clone is so tragically geotropically-challenged, a real leader in the anti-apical dominant movement, that it deserves some defense for its good characteristics, primarily it strong weeping nature. Buds produce shoots with one goal: head straight to the center of the earth. No tendrils, no twining, and no clue for this beast. Planted on the ground without support and you’ve got a hackberry snake. Given a high-visibility, full-sun spot – tied, propped, staked, lifted, or draped – and you’ve got a special interest tree sure to draw attention and comment from hundreds of yards around – and always a conversation piece.
Part of what makes the clone unique is its history. According to Cliff Parks in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Celtis sinensis ‘Green Cascade’, was originally brought into the U.S. as part of a seed lot in 1983 (accession number 83H47). This weeping form of the Japanese version of a hackberry is known from only a few trees in Nagano Prefecture in Japan. The tree from which Cliff collected seed (he was not allowed to take cuttings) is a national monument at Suwa Jinja shrine in the village of Kamiyamaguchimura in Nagano Prefecture. Of ten seedlings produced, a strongly pendulous form was selected and named. While certainly rare in the South, plants have been distributed to the gardening world by a select crowd of small to large nurseries.
At SFA Gardens, our largest specimen separated the space between a daylily garden and the herb garden. The leaves are a glossy green and the smooth, light gray trunk and major limbs are attractively muscled. The Chinese Hackberry carries with it the reputation of durability and being a survivor under the worst of conditions – under good horticulture in the nursery or garden, growth is vigorous. Propagation by pencil-sized cuttings is easiest in June (3 to 4” cuttings; avoid apical sections; 2000 PPM K-IBA dip). Full to part shade container growth has been fast in a well-drained mix.
This is a special use tree for a designer or landscape contractor looking for something a bit different. In the right spot and given a little sculpting in the training years, there are few trees-that-want-to-be-vines that make quite as much of a statement as this special clone. Like all of us, it only gets better with age.
Image of our largest Celtis sinensis at SFA Gardens
Image of the big Celtis sinensis in Nanjing Botanical Garden, August 2015