Virginia has a wide variety of hickory tree species, both native and non-native.
Hickories are deciduous trees known for their tough wood and edible nuts.
They grow all over Virginia but thrive most in the piedmont and mountain areas.
This article provides an overview of some of the most common hickory trees in the state.
- Virginia is home to several native hickory tree species like shagbark, pignut, mockernut, bitternut, sand, and shellbark hickories.
- The most common native hickories are shagbark, pignut, and mockernut. Shagbark is identifiable by its shaggy peeling bark. Pignut adapts to different soils and has smooth bark. Mockernut produces hard nuts and grows near streams.
- Native hickories thrive in the piedmont and mountain regions where the soil is drier. Shellbark hickory grows in wet coastal plain bottomlands.
- Pecan, water, and Chinese hickories are non-native but can grow in Virginia landscapes. Pecan produces edible nut crops.
- Hickory trees provide ecological benefits as well as economic value through lumber and nuts. They add beauty and interest to Virginia landscapes.
- Both native and non-native hickory species contribute to Virginia's biodiversity and natural heritage. The native species are well-adapted to local growing conditions.
- Proper identification of hickory species can help with selecting appropriate landscape trees, managing forests, and appreciating Virginia's natural diversity.
- Virginians can promote conservation by planting native hickories and being aware of invasive non-native species that might threaten native ecosystems.
1. Shagbark Hickory
The shagbark hickory, with its shaggy peeling bark, is one of the most identifiable hickories in Virginia.
It prefers dry upland sites.
The large leaves and thick-husked nuts split open when ripe.
2. Pignut Hickory
The pignut hickory is another native Virginia hickory. It has smooth gray bark that develops narrow ridges with age.
The leaves are smooth and the small pear-shaped nuts have thin husks.
Pignut hickory adapts to both dry and moist soils.
3. Mockernut Hickory
True to its name, the mockernut hickory produces thick-husked nuts that are difficult to crack.
The bark is ridged and gray, sometimes peeling with age.
Mockernut grows in moist bottomlands and near streams.
4. Bitternut Hickory
With smooth gray bark and diamond-patterned ridges on mature trees, the bitternut hickory has bitter nuts due to the high tannin.
Its range in Virginia is mainly the southern and western parts.
5. Sand Hickory
The sand hickory grows sporadically in dry southern and western Piedmont soils.
It has reddish-brown bark with small rough plates, sandpapery leaves, and sweet edible nuts.
6. Shellbark Hickory
Found in southeast wet bottomlands, the shellbark hickory is a large tree with thick ridged bark peeling in large plates at the base.
The nut husks only split partway.
The pecan is the most commonly grown hickory for its edible nuts.
While native further south, it thrives in Virginia, producing abundant crops of sweet nuts.
8. Water Hickory
Naturalized in southeast wetlands, the water hickory is a small to mid-size tree with shaggy bark, compound leaves, and bitter nuts.
9. Chinese Hickory
The ornamental Chinese hickory can survive Virginia winters. It has large leaves and smooth gray bark.
The small rounded nuts are sparsely produced.
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