Scientific Name: Carya ovata
Description: It’s easy to see how shagbark hickories got their name! Their trunks are characterized by long, peeling strips of bark. Some animals, like Indiana bats, make their homes in snug crevices beneath the loose bark. Branches and leaves of shagbarks form pretty, oval-shaped crowns in the spring and summer. Hickories are deciduous trees, so when autumn arrives, their leaves turn pale green to yellowish-brown before falling to the ground.
Size: The average height of shagbark hickories is between 60 and 80 feet tall, but they sometimes reach 120 feet in height.
Typical Lifespan: Shagbark hickories reach maturity and start producing seeds at around 40 years old. The average lifespan is 200 years, but some longer-lived shagbarks can continue to produce seeds until age 300!
Habitat: Shagbark hickories can tolerate a range of temperatures, but they grow best on moist soils in humid climates. They are not found in pure stands, but instead are usually scattered throughout a forest of oaks, pines, and maples. They are sometimes planted as ornamental shade trees, but their tendency to shed a bit may turn off some homeowners!
U.S. Range: Shagbark hickories grow in the eastern and midwestern parts of the country.
Life History and Reproduction: Flowers emerge in mid-spring. Male, pollen-producing flowers are gathered together in green, hanging clusters called catkins. Female flowers, which give rise to fruit, form in spikes. Hickories are members of the walnut family, and the fruit of the shagbark hickory is highly prized by both humans and wildlife! The fruit is a nut with a hard outer husk that splits open when ripe. Black bears, foxes, mice, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, and a number of birds enjoy the delicious nuts every fall.
Fun Fact: Andrew Jackson, the seventh U.S. president and Major General during the War of 1812, was nicknamed “Old Hickory” because he was considered to be as tough as a hickory tree.
Conservation Status: Stable. Several diseases and pests, including canker rot fungus and hickory bark beetles, attack shagbark hickories. Shagbark hickories have a number of commercial uses. The wood is excellent for burning, and it’s used to produce flavorful food like hickory-smoked bacon. Hickory lumber is strong and shock resistant, which makes it a great option for making tool handles, ladder rungs, athletic equipment, furniture, and flooring.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Missouri Botanical Garden
Ohio Department of Natural Resources
USDA Forest Servic Silvics Manual
USDA Forest Service Fire Effects Information System
University of Florida