Out of the Woods: Celebrating Trees in Public Gardens
The Third New York Botanical Garden Triennial

Canyon Hackberry 

Celtis laevigata var. reticulata
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, Arizona

I love the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson and over a span of many years have accumulated thousands of photographs from there. While rifling through my references earlier this year, one specific Canyon Hackberry tree came up over and over again. When I decided to enter the “Out of the Woods” exhibit I knew I needed to follow my instincts and depict this particular tree which had caught my eye due to its stature and distinctive bark.

For a long time, I struggled to come up with a design that would meet the following criteria: to depict this tree in such a way that individual uniqueness and species correctness provide the viewer with insight into the connections between this tree and its southwestern environment.

Canyon Hackberries (Celtis reticulata) are either shrubs or small trees belonging to the Elm family and spreading with an irregular crown. They are distributed from the Chihuahuan desert in Mexico in the south to the arid plains of eastern Washington in the north.  As inhabitants of dry, rocky hillsides, canyons and dry streambeds, their twisted and divided branches provide rare shade, while their fruits are welcomed by many animal species.  Insignificant flowers in early summer are followed by small, red berries (August through November). Growth rate is slow at first, then moderate; the tree can reach 30 feet tall or more, but will take decades to do so. Foliage is fed upon by the caterpillars of Hackberry and Snout butterflies.

Unique to Celtis reticulata are the vertical corky ridges of the trunk bark. These ridges are also checkered between the furrows.  The bark color tends to be grey to greyish brown.

Once I was clear as to the important components of the drawing I came up with the final design.  True to the bright light of a Southwest setting there needed to be a lot of contrast, sharp outlines and shadows. The angle of the big main trunks with their characteristic bark pattern needed to be balanced and offset by the leaning of many minor branches. Fruit and blossoms needed to be included without detracting from the trunks.

Rendering the tree canopy involved further artistic license. Rather than draw the dense canopy itself as planned, I chose to imply it through the dappled spots of light reflected on the trunk. Anyone hiking in the summer sun, especially in the bright light of the hot and arid Southwest, knows what it feels like to finally rest under the cooling shade of a tree – and you do not need to look up to feel its soothing presence.

I am honored to have this tree participate in the exhibition “Out of the Woods” and tell its story to an appreciative audience.

Read more about this artist’s work: 20th Annual International
  • © 2017 Heidi Snyder
    Canyon Hackberry
    Celtis laevigata var. reticulata
    Colored pencil on film
    20" x 16"