Shagbark Hickory

Shagbark Hickory - Carya ovata
Walnut Family (Juglandaceae)


Introduction: The shagbark hickory is the symbol of the Pioneer Age. Shagbark hickory's most prominent ornamental feature is its unique, smoke-gray bark that warps away from the stem in foot-long plates. The edges of long plates of bark curl away from the trunk, giving this tree a very rugged appearance. Shagbark hickory is beautiful when its winter buds open in late spring; the bud scales fold back, petal-like, as new foliage emerges. This hickory offers lightly hung, downy foliage that casts medium shade in summer. An added attraction for this tree is the delicious edible nut it bears.
Culture: Shagbark hickory thrives in full sun and rich, well-drained loam. Its native habitat is upland groves or well-drained soils in lowlands and valleys. Wild hickories have deep tap roots that make them difficult to transplant. This tree is best planted in a park-like area where its large size and litter from leaf, fruit and twig drop will not be a problem. Its savory nuts attract squirrels and other animals that may be unwanted in residential areas. The hickory bark beetle can be a significant pest on this tree. Hickory may be bothered by leaf spot, powdery mildew and crown gall but is resistant to Verticillium wilt.


Botanical Information
  • Native habitat: Quebec to Minnesota, south to Texas and Georgia.
  • Growth habit: High-branching with a straight, slender trunk and a narrow crown. Lower branches droop, upper are ascending. Bark hangs in long strips on older trees.
  • Tree size: This slow-growing species may reach a height of 60 to 80 feet. Shagbark hickory may grow to 120 feet in nature.
  • Flower and fruit: Male flowers are in 4- to 5-inch catkins. Female flowers are in small 2- to 5-flowered spikes. Fruit is an edible nut in a thick green husk.
  • Leaf: Generally this 8- to 14-inch-long leaf has five leaflets. Leaves are yellow-green in summer and yellow and golden brown in fall.
  • Hardiness: Winter hardy to USDA Zone 4.


Additional information:
Shagbark hickory was introduced into cultivation in 1629. It is the most commonly cultivated hickory today and native populations are rare. Although only a few hickory species exist outside of eastern North America (in eastern Asia), fossils indicate that hickories were once found in central Europe, China, the former Soviet Union, the western and southwestern U.S. and Alaska.

Shagbark hickory has a sweet, white nut that Native Americans stored in massive quantities and used to make "hickory milk," a nutritious staple of most of their cooking.

The wood of shagbark hickory is famous for being heavy and tough, yet flexible and shock-resistant. Because of these qualities, it is used in sporting goods and tool handles. It was once used to make wheels and spokes for carriages and wagons, as well as for automobiles. Today it is used to make shafts and wheel spokes in horse-drawn vehicles, and for furniture, ladders and flooring. The wood is also used as fuel and to make high-quality charcoal to smoke bacon, ham and other meats.

The genus name, Carya, is from the Greek name for the walnut tree (karya); its species name, ovata, is Latin for ovate, referring to its egg-shaped nut husk, buds and leaves. The common name refers to the way the bark peels away from the trunk in long strips.


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