Desert Hackberry (Celtis pallida)
Sources: Epple, Ann, 1995, A Field Guide to the Plants of Arizona, Helena, Montana: Fountain Press;
A member of the Elm family, this bushy plant growths thickly and may reach 20'. In contrast to its sister plant the Netleaf Hackberry, its dark green leaves are evergreen, and their veins are not net-like (reticulate). Leaves are elliptical-to-oval (and not pointed); flowers are whitish and tiny, fruits yellow/orange and sweet in flavor. This bush grows in a wide variety of locations from 1500-3500', in washes, canyons, and even open desert, but more typically near occasional water sources.
When the leaves drop off in wintertime, often the plant displays a hypnotically abstract fractal-pattern appearance, as below in lower Hot Springs Canyon on March 6, 2008 (click on the image to enlarge it)
The leaves tend to be coarsely serrated on the edges when young -- click on the image to the right to enlarge it -- but often lose this quality when mature. Note the thorns distributed along the gray, zig-zag branch.
Below, a mature hackberry bush grows out of a rock crevice in Sierra Blanca Canyon Wash in February of 2004. The size of the plant may be judged by comparison with the mature saguaro growing just above it.
The fruits of this plant are eaten by a variety of birds and other animals, and were also consumed by Native Americans. They have a tart-sweet flavor. Below left, a specimen of last-year's fruit plucked in March 2005. Unlike the fresh fruit, it has hardened into a thick rind. Below right, still-fresh fruit from October 2005. (Click on the right-hand image enlarge it.)