Recognizing of Hickory Trees
How to Identify Hickory Trees
Hickory - belonging to a section of the walnut family - is a canopy tree that is prevalent in eastern North America, although other species of hickory have been known to exist in Europe, Africa and Asia. The hickory tree produces a dense, strong, and shock-resistant wood that is commonly used to make tool handles, furniture, and decorative architectural elements. In addition, many types of hickory are sought for use in the content and preparation of food, and can be useful in survival situations.These guidelines will help you identify any hickory tree, so you can get to work on whatever you may need it for.
Hickory or Not?
Look at the leaves.Features that differentiate hickory leaves from the leaves of other types of trees are:
- Several long, narrow leaves that grow from each stalk.
- Leaf size. Depending on the species, a hickory leaflet may be anywhere between 2 inches (5.08 cm) to 8 inches (20.32 cm) long.
- Serrated edges. Some may have sharply-pointed teeth, others more rounded serrations.
Look at the shape of the stalks.Hickory leaves grow from a distinctive stalk, or rachis. Hickory rachis features include:
- Anywhere from 5 to 17 leaves.
- Leaves that grow in directly oppositional pairs, perpendicular to the stalk, with a single leaf protruding straight from the end.
- Visibly larger leaves near the end of the rachis.
Look at the bark.Hickory trees have bark that forms ridges in a vertical pattern. These ridges may be shallow or deep, far apart or close together, but always vertical. Additionally, some hickory bark becomes raised at the plate edges as the tree matures, and eventually flakes off, from top to bottom.
Look at the nuts.Hickory nuts have a woody outer shell, or husk.This husk starts out green but will harden to dark to light brown with a seam around the middle. The thickness of the husk can vary depending on species, but the nut inside will be white or tan and roughly the size of a gumball.
Look at the pith.The pith of a tree is the central column of its branches. All hickory tress have a solid, tan, 5-sided pith.Look at the end of the branch where you cut it from the tree. If you see a 5-sided or star-shaped tan center, the branch meets two of a hickory's requirements. To see if the pith is solid, cut off a small living branch and slice it in half along its length.If the branch is solid with no midsection that looks like a sponge or a honeycomb, the pith is solid.
Identifying the Type of Hickory
Identify a Southern shagbark hickory (Carya caronlinae septentrionalis).The southern shagbark grows in limestone soils.Its leaflets are jagged-edged and come to sharp points, and grow 5 to a rachis. Shagbark twigs are thick and brown, and the bark is scaly and raised at the edges, giving it a shaggy appearance. The fruit of the shagbark, which grows to between 1.2 inches (3 cm) and 2 inches (5 cm) long, is oval and round, and is covered in a thick, dark husk. The shagbark nut meat is sweet.
Identify a Bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis).This species grows in moist forest, also called steam banks. The leaflets, which grow 9 to a rachis, are broad and smooth around the edges. The bitternut hickory fruit grows to be between 0.8 inch (2 cm) and 1.6 inches (4 cm) long, and is enclosed in a thin, dark brown husk. The kernel is bitter, as the plant's name suggests.Bitternut twigs are slender and green, and have distinctive yellow buds. The bark of a bitternut is light grayish-brown, and does not split deeply enough to flake.
Identify a Pignut hickory (Carya glabra).Pignut hickory trees grow on broad ridges. Their leaves consist of 5 sharply pointed, serrated edged, dark green and shiny leaflets on a short rachis. The thin pignut husk is light brown, and the round fruit, which grows to be about 1 inch (2.5 cm) long by 0.8 inch (2 cm) wide, is a similar light brown. Twigs are slender and a dark purple to a light green. The bark of a pignut is deeply recessed and scaly, but does not flake at the plate edges.
Identify a Kingnut (shellbark) hickory (Carya laciniosa).The shellbark grows in wet, bottomland forests. Its leaflets are waxy and medium green, and come at least 9 to a rachis. At between 1.8 inches (4.5 cm) and 2.6 inches (6.5 cm) long and 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) wide, the fruit of the kingnut is the largest of the hickory species, and is enclosed by a thick, dark brown husk. The kingnut produces a sweet kernel. The twigs are thick, with round bulbs. The bark of the kingnut forms long, narrow vertical scales, which peel off from the top and bottom.
Identify a red hickory (Carya ovalis).The red hickory grows on slopes and forest ridges. Its leaflets are green and red, slender and tapered, and grow 5 or more to a rachis. The edges of the red hickory leaflets are smoothly serrated, as opposed to the sharp teeth of the pignut and southern shagbark. Red hickory nuts are 1 inch (2.5 cm) to 1.2 inches (3 cm) long and 0.8 inch (2 cm) wide, round, light brown and thin-shelled, and have a sweet taste. The husks are thin and dark brown. Red hickory bark is rough and deeply ridged into narrow vertical strips, but the bark does not scale or flake.
Identify a Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata).Shagbark hickory trees grow in various environments, although they thrive in drained areas. The leaflets are light green, short and rounded, with pointed tips, and grow 5 or 7 to a rachis. The nuts of a shagbark hickory are 1.2 inches (3 cm) to 2 inches (5 cm) long, light brown, thin-shelled and sweet tasting, and are enclosed in a thick, brownish-black husk. As the name suggests, the shagbark tree is characterized by thick, scaly bark, giving the trunk a shaggy appearance.
Identify a sand hickory (Carya palida).The sand hickory has matte, light green, narrow, pointed and smooth-edged leaflets. The nuts are the smallest of the hickory species, averaging only 0.5 inch (13 mm) to 1.45 inches (37 mm) long, with thin husks and shells and lightly colored nut meat. They are also round and covered with fine hairs. The nut meat of a sand hickory is sweet. Sand hickory bark is relatively smooth, and forms a compacted network of shallow furrows.
Identify a Mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa).Mockernut hickory trees grow in dry land, on slopes and ridges. The leaflets are waxy, medium green, wide and rounded, and grow 7 or more to a rachis. The edges of mockernut leaflets are softly serrated, with dull-edged teeth. The fruit of the mockernut is relatively small, at only 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) to 2 inches (5 cm) long, and contained by a thick, dark brown husk. Mockernut bark is characterized by deep, vertical furrows that are close together. The bark may also begin to furl at the edges and flake away as the mockernut reaches full maturity
QuestionHow similar to black walnut are hickory trees, and how do I tell them apart?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerBlack walnuts are quite large in comparison to hickory nuts. When looking at a black walnut, it will most likely be coated in a green, powdery looking substance. Hickory nuts do not have this outer coating. Black walnuts also have a distinctly chambered pith.Thanks!
QuestionAt what point can I top my hickory tree?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerA hickory tree should never be topped. Doing so will ruin its form. Hickories should only grow where a big tree is desired.Thanks!
QuestionIs it unusual for a mature hickory tree to fail to produce nuts for one season?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerNo., Hickory trees, like a lot of trees, do not reliably produce abundant crops of seeds every year. This is most likely a result of environmental factors like late frosts.Thanks!
QuestionIs hickory poisonous when cooking pork shoulder?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerAbsolutely not. Hickory is commonly used to smoke bacon and other pork products.Thanks!
QuestionIs hickory toxic to horses?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, if it's ingested. Check for signs of sickness. Discuss with a vet if you see any problems.Thanks!
QuestionDo hickory trees drop sap?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, hickory trees produce sap.Thanks!
QuestionWhat is the main difference between tung oil tree fruit and hickory?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf you eat a tung oil nut, you will most likely die. Tung oil nuts are highly toxic.Thanks!
QuestionMy tree has beech-shaped leaves finely and sharply serrated. They're not opposite, but alternate along the stem and terminate in a cluster of pale green soft, flat pods. I live in New Hampshire. Is this a hickory tree?Brandon ConradCommunity AnswerNo. A hickory tree's leaves are always directly opposite one another and with one on the end making groups of odd numbers with the largest of the leaves at the very tip of the branch.Thanks!
QuestionDo hickory trees grow in cold northern climates?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes. I live in New Hampshire where the temperatures are below freezing almost all winter long. The species that I have living on my property is the Shagbark Hickory.Thanks!
QuestionHow long does it take to season hickory wood to use for firewood?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerLike most wood, what you cut this year, you burn next year. So 1 year, or at least 6 months if the wood has been split so as to open the grain for drying.Thanks!
Are all hickory nuts edible and how and when should I eat them?
Are hickory leaves safe to use around human food, for example to line a platter of appetizers? Thanks!
My hickory tree is now dropping small, 1/2 inch nuts in June. What is happening?
I'm in Grafton, NH and have hickory trees on Mt. Pleasant that have the miniature shagbark bark and the pods but all of these are very tall in configuration. This Mt has been logged . You think Kingnut?
Do all hickory trees produce nuts?
- Don't try to crack the nut open with your teeth. Use a small rock or a vise instead.
- Once you've identified it as a hickory, don't be afraid to taste the nuts. No hickory nut is poisonous, though eating large amounts of a species that tastes bitter is inadvisable.
Sources and Citations
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Video: Tree Identification: Hickory
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