Hickory trees are deciduous trees that are native to North America and belong to the walnut family.
There are over 16 species of hickory trees, many of which can be found growing natively in the state of Oklahoma.
Hickory trees are prized for their strong, dense wood as well as the edible nuts that some species produce.
This article will discuss the most common native and non-native species of hickory trees found in Oklahoma.
- There are several species of hickory trees native to Oklahoma, including shagbark hickory, shellbark hickory, bitternut hickory, pignut hickory, and mockernut hickory.
- The most common native hickory in Oklahoma is the shagbark hickory, identified by its shaggy peeling bark.
- Other distinctive native species include the shellbark hickory with its thick, plated bark; the bitternut hickory with bitter tasting nuts; and the mockernut hickory with its four-ribbed husks.
- Non-native but commonly planted hickory trees in Oklahoma are the pecan, valued for its nuts, and the water hickory, named for its preference for swampy areas.
- Hickory trees are prized for their hard, strong wood used for products like tool handles and furniture. Their nuts also provide food for people and wildlife.
- While the pecan and shellbark nuts are tastiest for humans, even the bitter nuts of other hickory species provide food for wildlife.
- Oklahoma has a diversity of native hickory tree species, each with unique identifiable characteristics. Both native and non-native hickories contribute beauty and utility to the state.
Native Hickory Trees
1. Shagbark Hickory
The shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) is one of the most common hickory trees found in Oklahoma. It is a large deciduous tree growing up to 100 feet tall with an oval-rounded crown.
As its name implies, the shagbark hickory has very shaggy bark that peels away in long, vertical strips. This gives the trunk a very distinctive appearance.
The leaves are compound with 5 leaflets.
The shagbark produces edible nuts that have a sweet, rich flavor. While the nuts are prized by foragers, they can be difficult to crack open.
2. Shellbark Hickory
The shellbark hickory (Carya laciniosa) is another large deciduous hickory native to Oklahoma. It can grow up to 125 feet tall with a narrow, oval-shaped crown.
The shellbark hickory has bark that separates into thick, plate-like scales rather than long strips like the shagbark.
The compound leaves normally have 7 leaflets. As its name suggests, the shellbark hickory has thick nut shells that enclose the edible seeds.
The nuts are oval and broader compared to other hickory species.
3. Bitternut Hickory
The bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis) gets its common name from the bitter taste of its nuts.
It is a large deciduous tree reaching 60-80 feet tall with a broad, irregular crown.
The bitternut has smooth gray bark that remains close to the trunk rather than peeling. The compound leaves normally have 7-9 leaflets.
While the nuts are edible, they are regarded as inferior in flavor and quality compared to other hickory nuts.
3. Pignut Hickory
The pignut hickory (Carya glabra) is a common but smaller hickory species in Oklahoma, growing 50-60 feet tall.
The crown is rounded and dense. Its bark is smooth and gray, remaining close to the trunk like the bitternut hickory.
The compound leaves usually have 5 leaflets. The pignut hickory produces rounded nuts that have a thick, hard shell enclosing a small, bitter seed.
The nuts are essentially inedible for humans.
4. Mockernut Hickory
The mockernut hickory (Carya alba) is named for its tokens or “mockernuts” which are relatively inedible for wildlife and humans.
This Oklahoma hickory grows 60-80 feet tall with gray, scaly bark and a straight trunk. The compound leaves normally have 7-9 leaflets.
The mockernut hickory can be identified by its four-ribbed husks enclosing four-segmented nuts.
Non-Native Hickory Trees
While native to other areas of North America, the pecan (Carya illinoinensis) is a commonly planted hickory species in Oklahoma that is valued for its nuts.
The pecan can grow over 100 feet tall and develops gray bark with narrow ridges. Its compound leaves have 9-17 leaflets.
The pecan produces oblong nuts encased in smooth, thin husks. Pecan nuts have a rich, distinctive flavor and are regarded among the highest quality nuts.
They are an important commercial crop in Oklahoma.
6. Water Hickory
The water hickory (Carya aquatica) is named for its preference for low, wet bottomlands near streams and swamps.
While native to other regions of the southeastern U.S., the water hickory is also sometimes planted as an ornamental tree in Oklahoma.
It grows up to 80 feet tall and has a narrowly conical crown. The bark is reddish-brown and bumpy with a flattened and ridged appearance.
The compound leaves have 7-13 leaflets. The water hickory bears small, oblong nuts that have a very hard shell.
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