February 2024 - Shagbark Hickory

Common Name:  Shagbark Hickory

Botanical Name: Carya ovata

Native Range:  Hardy to USDA Zones 4-8. Shagbark Hickory has been found throughout most of the Eastern United States from southeastern Nebraska and southeastern Minnesota through southern Ontario and southern Quebec to southern Maine, southward to Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, eastern Texas, and in the mountains of northeastern Mexico.

Height: Under normal landscape conditions, Shagbark Hickory can typically grow 60’-80’ tall. Trees have been seen at 150’ tall. 

Spread: Under normal landscape conditions, Shagbark Hickory typically has a 50’ spread.

Form:. The tree has a picturesque, oval outline with the lower branches somewhat drooping, the upper branches upright, and the middle branches just about horizontal. Probably the best ornamental hickory due to the open branching habit and shaggy, gray bark.

Growth Rate:  The growth rate of Shagbark Hickory is slow to medium depending on conditions, generally being between 6-12″ per year. As the tree ages it will add more height per year. The trunk diameter will be around 1″ at 10 years, and 4″ at 30 years.

Sun: Full sun to part shade.

Soil: Carya ovata is tolerant of many soils but does best in well-drained, fertile soils. Shagbark Hickory can also stand sandy, sandy loam, medium loam, clay loam, and clay.

Leaf Description: The large leaves of Shagbark Hickory are alternate, pinnately compound, up to fifteen inches long, and almost always have five wide leaflets (rarely seven or nine), with fine serrations on the leaflet margins. The terminal leaflet is always the largest.

Flower Description: 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.

Fruit: The round fruit is a 4 parted husk that is 1½-2" long and wide. It is green maturing to deep brown and splits open when the nut is mature. The nut of each fruit is light tan, oval, and somewhat compressed. 

Bark Description: The bark on young trees is scaly. As the tree ages, narrow, flat plates 1- 3 foot long develop and begin to separate and curve away from the trunk, giving it a shaggy appearance.

Fall Color:  The fall color is rich yellow and golden-brown tones.

Wildlife Benefit: The nuts are a preferred food source of squirrels and are eaten from the time fruits approach maturity in early August until the supply is gone. Hickory nuts also are 5 to 10 percent of the diet of eastern chipmunks. Black bears, gray and red foxes, rabbits, and white-footed mice plus bird species such as mallards, wood ducks, bobwhites, and wild turkey utilize small amounts of hickory nuts. 


  • Shade
  • Poor soil conditions
  • Deer 

Possible Disease and Insect Problems:  No serious pest or disease problems once established. 

Uses: Used for naturalizing for conservation and wildlife projects. 

Additional Facts: 

  • Shagbark Hickory is named for the smoke-gray bark peeling away, top and bottom, from the trunk in long vertical strips like peeling paint. 
  • Hickory wood is often used to cure/smoke meats. 
  • Shagbark Hickory is one of the best firewood sources, second only to Black Locust in energy per volume.
  • Andrew Jackson, 7th president of the U.S., was affectionately known as Old Hickory in recognition of his tough character.
  • Shagbark Hickory is a member of Julandaceae family and produces a miniscule amount of Juglone. Juglone is the chemical described in Black Walnut Toxicity. Some plants may not be able to thrive within the area of Shabark Hickory, similar to Black Walnut.
  • Shagbark Hickory develops a deep taproot from seed and is difficult to transplant.
  • Commercially, Shagbark Hickory is valued for its dense, durable, flexible wood. Historically it was favored for use in wooden wheels, while today it’s a preferred choice for tool handles.
  • The inner bark has been used to make a yellow dye.

Where to be found on municipal property: There are Shagbark Hickories located in Marquand Park adjacent to the path walking out towards Mercer Street from the icehouse. 







  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4