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Hickory Trees


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Shagbark Hickory

The Shagbark Hickory tree, Carya ovata, has a distinctive, shaggy bark, conspicuous on tall straight trees, which gives this species its name. Shellbark hickory trees are also called shagbark hickory, bigleaf shagbark hickory, kingnut, big shellbark, bottom shellbark, thick shellbark, and western shellbark, which attest to some of its characteristics. 


It is a slow-growing long-lived tree. The nuts, largest of all hickory nuts, are sweet and edible. Wildlife and people harvest most of them; those remaining produce seedling trees readily.


The wood is hard, heavy, strong, and very flexible, making it a favored wood for tool handles. The wood also makes excellent firewood, and often is used in smoking meat. As with other edible nuts, squirrels compete with humans for this fruit. Its bold-textured, jagged branch structure and thick twigs give it a striking appearance in winter. This deciduous shade tree has a yellow fall color.


Shellbark Hickory

The Shellbark Hickory tree, Carya laciniosa, is also know as bigleaf shagbark, kingnut, big shellbark, bottom shellbark, thick shellbark and western shellbark). This deciduous tree is similar to that of the Shagbark Hickory, but often not quite as shaggy. The fruit is larger than other hickories. 


This is a big tree and it prefers wet, fertile bottomland. It is less common than either the Shagbark or Bitternut Hickories. The wood is similar to that of the Shagbark Hickory and is used in much the same way.


Its sweet, huge nuts are relished by squirrels and give it an alternative common name of King Nut Hickory, due to their being the largest of the hickories. Like other hickories, it is very tolerant of summer drought.The nuts of shellbark hickory are utilized by wildlife (ducks, quail, wild turkeys, squirrels, chipmunks, deer, foxes, raccoons, and white-footed mice) and man. This tall shade tree displays a yellow fall color.


Mockernut Hickory

The Mockernut Hickory tree, Carya tomentosa, is also called a White Hickory, Whiteheart Hickory, Hognut and Bullnut.The gray bark of this tree is marked with branching ridges and deep furrows. Mockernut hickory is so named because the nuts are large but with thick shells and very small kernels. 


The twigs are stout and reddish-brown to grayish-brown in color. This tree grows well on rich, moist, well-drained soils of upland areas. Mockernut Hickory trees grow throughout most of the eastern United States and westward to eastern Texas.


It is most common in the southern part of its range. As with the Shagbark Hickory, the wood of this tree is hard, strong, tough and elastic, and is used in handles for tools and in athletic equipment. The unusually small kernels from the nuts are sweet and edible. It is long lived, sometimes reaching the age of 500 years. This and the other hickories are very desirable both for forest and shade trees.


Bitternut Hickory

The Bittenut Hickory, Carya cordiformis, is also known as the Yellow-bud Hickory tree. The yellow bud makes it difficult to mistake for another species and combined with the alternate compound leaves and relatively large nuts, it is very distinctive. The nuts are reported to be bitter, as one of the common names suggests. 


The lighter colored shallow cracks in the younger bark are roughly similar to those of young Shagbark Hickory, but the mature bark of Yellow-bud Hickory does not split so deeply. This deciduous tree is found on moist, fertile soils in the east and central U.S. and is intolerant of shade.


Bitternut Hickory trees are known for their hard wood. The wood is used for pulpwood and furniture. This deciduous species displays a leaf color of medium green to dark green. The fall color is often green to chartruese, but sometimes is a brilliant golden-yellow in excellent seasons. It is a fast growing, adaptable tree.







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