Colorado has a diverse range of hickory tree species thanks to its variation in geography and climate across the state.
Hickory trees are deciduous trees known for their hard, dense wood and delicious nuts.
Keep reading to learn more about the different types of hickory trees that can be found in Colorado.
- Colorado has a variety of hickory tree species due to its diverse geography and climate.
- Shagbark hickory is identifiable by its shaggy bark and produces sweet, edible nuts. It grows up to 120 feet tall.
- Shellbark hickory has bark that peels in large plates and produces hard-to-crack nuts. It can reach 130 feet tall.
- Bitternut hickory has bright yellow buds and bitter tasting nuts used by wildlife. It grows 60-80 feet tall.
- Mockernut hickory is named for its large but disappointing nuts and can reach tall heights.
- Pecan hickory produces tasty oblong nuts but is less common in Colorado than other regions.
- Identifying characteristics like leaves, bark, nuts, and growth habit can help distinguish between hickory species.
- Hickory trees provide beauty, shade, durable wood, and edible nuts, making them a valuable addition to Colorado's landscape.
1. Shagbark Hickory
The shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) is a common hickory species found in Colorado.
Named for its distinctive shaggy bark, this large tree has egg-shaped leaves that turn brilliant yellow in the fall.
The shagbark produces sweet, edible nuts encased in a four-segmented husk that splits open in the fall.
This species thrives in moist soils along streams and bottomlands.
Shagbark hickories grow up to 120 feet tall with a straight trunk and narrow, oval-shaped crown.
The gray bark peels away in long, curved strips giving the trunk a shaggy appearance.
This helps distinguish it from other hickory species.
The wood is known for being tough yet flexible.
2. Shellbark Hickory
Another hickory native to Colorado is the shellbark hickory (Carya laciniosa).
Also known as the shagbark hickory, shellbark hickories are among the largest and oldest hickories.
They grow up to 130 feet tall with bark that peels away in large plates, giving the trunk a shaggy appearance.
The compound leaves have 7-9 leaflets. While the shellbark produces delicious nuts like other hickories, they are difficult to crack open.
The shellbark hickory thrives in moist soil and is found scattered across the state, particularly in the south.
The tough, shock-resistant wood makes it ideal for tool handles and sports equipment.
3. Bitternut Hickory
With its distinctive bright yellow buds, the bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis) is a common sight in Colorado.
This large deciduous tree reaches 60-80 feet at maturity, with stiff, twiggy branches. The bark is smooth and gray when young but develops shallow furrows with age.
The bitternut is named for its bitter tasting nuts.
While not ideal for human consumption, they provide food for wildlife.
The bright green leaves turn golden yellow in fall, making this one of the more beautiful hickories.
Bitternut hickory grows best in moist soils and is found across most of Colorado.
4. Mockernut Hickory
Mockernut hickory (Carya alba) is named for its sizeable but disappointing nuts.
While plentiful, the nuts have a thick shell with very little meat inside, earning them the “mocker” nickname.
This species produces sweet, edible nuts in some regions but not in Colorado.
These large deciduous trees have gray bark that peels in narrow strips on mature trees.
Mockernuts have pinnate leaves with 7-9 leaflets that turn golden bronze in fall.
The mockernut hickory thrives in rich, moist soils in Colorado but can adapt to drier areas as well. It is found scattered throughout the state.
5. Pecan Hickory
Though commercial pecan production occurs in southern states, pecan hickories (Carya illinoinensis) can occasionally be found in Colorado.
These trees produce delicious oblong nuts with smooth, tan shells.
Pecan wood is prized for smoking meat due to its rich, smoky flavor.
In the wild, pecan trees can grow over 100 feet tall and live up to 300 years.
They have a similar appearance to other hickory species but with leaves usually containing 9-17 leaflets.
While native pecans exist, most commercial varieties are grafted for optimal nut production.
The pecan hickory performs best in moist, fertile soils in warmer regions.
Knowing Your Hickories
With over a half-dozen hickory species calling Colorado home, it helps to know how to identify them.
The leaves, bark, nuts, and growth habit all provide clues as to the species.
Whether you come across them in the forest or plant them in your own landscape, hickory trees provide beauty, shade, and bounty to our Colorado ecosystem.
Their hardy wood and sweet nuts make hickories avaluable addition to any property.
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