Connecticut is home to several species of hickory trees, both native and non-native.
Of the native hickory trees, there are four main types found growing naturally in the state: shagbark hickory, pignut hickory, mockernut hickory, and bitternut hickory.
Each of these trees has unique identifying features and provides valuable resources.
- There are four main types of native hickory trees in Connecticut: shagbark, pignut, mockernut, and bitternut. They can be identified by features like leaf shape, bark texture, and nut taste.
- Hickory wood is prized for its strength, hardness, and flexibility. It has many uses including tools, sporting goods, furniture, lumber, and firewood.
- Hickory nuts from certain species are edible and enjoyed by humans and wildlife. The sweetness varies - shagbark and pecan nuts are favored while pignut and bitternut are bitter.
- In addition to native varieties, some non-native hickories like pecan and shellbark can grow in Connecticut landscapes and provide similar benefits.
- Hickory trees serve many ecological roles including providing food and habitat, contributing to forest diversity, and enhancing environments like parks and yards.
- Distinguishing features like compound leaves, nut husks, and bark type make it possible to identify different hickory tree species.
- Hickories are abundant in Connecticut and their wood and nuts make them a multipurpose tree valued both commercially and environmentally.
Native Hickory Trees
1. Shagbark Hickory
The shagbark hickory is distinguished by its loose, peeling bark that gives the trunk a shaggy appearance.
This is a large tree, growing up to 100 feet tall with an upright, oval-shaped crown. The leaves are compound with five leaflets.
The fruit is a nut enclosed in a thick green husk that splits open when ripe. The sweet nuts are edible and enjoyed by both wildlife and humans.
Shagbark hickory is known for its hard, strong wood that is used for tools and athletic equipment.
This tree prefers moist soil and is found growing in rich woods and bottomlands.
2. Pignut Hickory
The pignut hickory is named for its smaller, pear-shaped nuts. The husk on the nut is thin and tight unlike the shagbark's shaggy husk.
The nuts have a bitter taste and are not considered good for human consumption. The pignut hickory can reach heights of 80 feet with an irregular, narrow crown.
Its bark is tight rather than shaggy. The compound leaves normally have 5-7 leaflets.
The strong, durable wood has traditionally been used for items like wagon wheels and tool handles. This species grows best in dry uplands.
3. Mockernut Hickory
True to its name, the mockernut hickory produces large nuts that lack a quality kernel inside. The thick shell encloses a small amount of edible meat.
The tree can grow up to 100 feet tall with a straight trunk and spreading canopy.
The mockernut has 7-9 leaflets per leaf and produces fruit every couple of years.
The wood is hard and flexible, making it useful for products requiring curves like bows and baseball bats. Mockernut hickory thrives in moist bottomlands.
4. Bitternut Hickory
The bitternut hickory is named for the bitter taste of its nuts. This is a large forest tree reaching up to 100 feet tall.
The trunk bark is smooth and gray. Leaves are 8-12 inches long with 7-11 pointed leaflets. The small nuts have a yellow husk with black stripes.
While not favored by humans, wildlife like squirrels consume the nuts. The durable wood is used commercially for lumber, pulp, and charcoal.
Bitternut hickory grows in wet bottomlands but tolerates drier sites as well.
In addition to the native species, there are also several hickory tree cultivars that have been introduced in Connecticut.
These include Carya cordiformis, the bitternut hickory, Carya illinoinensis, pecan hickory, and Carya laciniosa, shellbark hickory.
These trees are not native to the state but can grow well in Connecticut's climate. They have many of the same desirable qualities like hard, strong wood and edible nuts.
Non-native hickories may be cultivated in managed landscape settings like parks, campuses, and gardens.
They add visual interest and a productive tree to the environment.
There are some key features that can help identify the different types of hickory trees. The leaves are compound with an odd number of leaflets.
Shagbark and shellbark hickories have peeling, shredded bark while the others have tight, hard bark.
The shape and appearance of the nut husk and fruit can indicate the species.
Finally, the taste of the nutmeat is bitter in pignut and bitternut while it is sweet in shagbark and pecan.
Getting to know these distinguishing characteristics makes it easier to differentiate the hickory trees of Connecticut.
Uses for Hickory Trees
Hickory trees provide a wide range of benefits and uses.
The hard, dense wood makes excellent firewood and charcoal.
It is favored for tool handles, sporting equipment, furniture, and other wood products. Many types produce edible nuts that are enjoyed by humans and animals.
Hickory nuts can be eaten raw, roasted, or used in baking.
Hickory trees also make ideal landscape trees thanks to their stately form, abundant shade, and yellow fall color.
They support wildlife by providing food and habitat.
Whether native or cultivated, hickory trees thrive in Connecticut. They are distinguished by their compound leaves, hard wood, and sweet or bitter nuts.
The shaggy, peeling bark of some species makes them easy to identify.
Hickory wood and nuts are useful resources, making these trees an asset to forests, parks, and yards where they grow.