Hickory trees are a common sight across the state of Mississippi, lining streets and dotting backyards.
Both native and non-native species can be found growing in the Magnolia State.
Let's take a closer look at which hickory tree species are native to Mississippi and which have been introduced from other regions.
- Several hickory tree species are native to Mississippi, including bitternut, pignut, shagbark, mockernut, sand, red, shellbark, water, and white hickories. They are well-adapted to the local climate.
- While most hickories in Mississippi are native, some non-native species like pecan and Japanese hickory have been introduced. Pecan is the most widely planted for its nuts.
- Native hickories like bitternut and pignut can reach towering heights over 100 feet tall in Mississippi's humid climate.
- Hickory bark is distinctive, peeling away in strips on shagbark hickory. The bitternut hickory nut has a bitter taste.
- Hickory trees provide economic value through lumber, nuts, and landscaping uses. They also have ecological importance, composing Mississippi's diverse forests.
- Both native and non-native hickories will likely continue to play important roles in Mississippi's landscapes for many years to come.
Native Hickory Species in Mississippi
Several hickory tree species are native to Mississippi and thrive in the state's humid, subtropical climate.
These trees have adapted over thousands of years to the local environmental conditions.
Some of the hickory species native to Mississippi include:
1. Bitternut Hickory
The bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis) is one of the tallest hickory trees found in Mississippi, capable of reaching heights over 100 feet.
These are large, deciduous trees with a straight trunk and ascending branches forming a narrow, oval-shaped crown.
The bitternut hickory has bright green foliage that turns golden bronze in autumn. Its fruit is a four-ribbed nut with a bitter taste, giving the tree its common name.
Bitternut hickory favors moist soils along streams and is found throughout the state.
2. Pignut Hickory
Pignut hickory (Carya glabra) is another sizable native species in Mississippi, capable of growing 80 feet tall or more.
These trees have shaggy gray bark and compound leaves with 5 sharply pointed leaflets.
The pignut hickory produces fruit in the form of a pear-shaped nut with a bitter taste.
It grows in various soils and environments in Mississippi, from dry ridges to river bottoms.
3. Shagbark Hickory
The shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) is named for its bark that peels away in long, vertical strips resembling shaggy strips.
This gives the tree a very distinctive appearance. Shagbark hickory has large compound leaves and produces sweet, edible nuts.
While shagbark hickory trees are native to parts of Mississippi, their range is mostly absent from the southern and western areas of the state.
They are primarily found scattered in northern Mississippi.
Other Native Hickory Species
Additional hickory tree species native to Mississippi include mockernut hickory, sand hickory, red hickory, shellbark hickory, water hickory, and white hickory.
Most grow in scattered populations in specific parts of the state where soil and environmental conditions suit them.
Non-Native Hickory Species in Mississippi
While most hickory species growing in Mississippi are native, some non-native hickory trees have been introduced to the state, whether intentionally or accidentally.
4. Pecan Hickory
The pecan (Carya illinoinensis) is the most abundant and economically important hickory species.
Although native to southern and midwestern US states, it was likely introduced to Mississippi in the late 18th or early 19th centuries.
Today, the pecan hickory is widely cultivated across Mississippi for its delicious edible nuts.
Improved pecan cultivars have been developed for commercial orchards and home growing.
5. Japanese Hickory
The Japanese hickory, also called the Asian hickory (Carya cathayensis), is native to parts of China and Korea.
It was brought to the US as an ornamental landscape tree in the early 1900s.
Japanese hickory is a fast-growing species capable of reaching 75 feet tall.
Though not common, a few Japanese hickory specimens likely grow in Mississippi landscapes and parks, appreciated for the tree's upright, pyramidal form and bright fall color. Its use is limited by susceptibility to hickory bark beetles.
The Importance of Hickory Trees in Mississippi
Both native and introduced hickory tree species play important ecological and economic roles in Mississippi:
- Hickory trees help compose the diverse forests of Mississippi, providing food and habitat for wildlife. Their nuts are an important autumn food source.
- Several hickory species are valued for their high-quality wood, which is used to make furniture, flooring, tools, and other products. This supports Mississippi's timber industry.
- The pecan hickory supports Mississippi's pecan industry. The state annually produces about 3% of the nation's pecans.
- Hickory trees provide shade, beauty, and ecosystem services when planted in home landscapes, parks, and along streets.
- They are an intrinsic part of Mississippi's natural heritage. Many native species have likely grown in the region's forests for thousands of years.
In summary, both native and introduced hickory trees hold an important place in Mississippi's ecology and economy. They will likely maintain their prominence in the landscape for years to come.
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