Hickory trees are a common sight across Washington state, with several native species as well as some non-native varieties that have been introduced over the years.
Hickories are prized for their strong, versatile wood as well as their large, edible nuts.
Keep reading to learn more about the different types of hickory trees found in Washington.
- There are 4 main species of hickory native to Washington - shagbark, shellbark, pignut, and mockernut. They can be identified by bark, size, and nut shape/taste.
- Non-native hickory species found in Washington include bitternut from the central/eastern US and pecan from the southeastern US.
- Hickory wood is strong and versatile, used for tools, bats, furniture, and smoking. The nuts can also be used for oil and syrup.
- Both native and non-native hickories contribute to the biodiversity of Washington's forests. They provide food and materials for wildlife and humans.
- Hickory species can be identified by their bark (shaggy, smooth), size (shellbark is the largest), and nuts (hard/bitter shells vs large, sweet meats).
- Washington has a diversity of hickory species, both endemic and introduced. They are an important ecological and economic resource.
Native Hickory Species
There are four main species of hickory that are native to Washington state:
1. Shagbark Hickory
The shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) is distinguished by its gray, shaggy bark that peels away in long, curved strips as the tree ages.
This gives the trunk a very unique and recognizable appearance. Shagbark hickories can grow up to 100 feet tall and live for over 300 years.
Their large, sweet nuts are prized by wildlife.
2. Shellbark Hickory
Shellbark hickory (Carya laciniosa) is the largest of the hickories, capable of reaching heights of over 130 feet.
As its name implies, shellbark hickory has a thick, hard shell covering its nuts. Shellbark produces some of the largest nuts of any native hickory.
3. Pignut Hickory
Pignut hickory (Carya glabra) is a common but smaller hickory species in Washington, averaging around 50-60 feet tall.
Its nuts are bitter, hard-shelled, and not edible for humans. However, they provide an important food source for wildlife.
The bark of the pignut hickory is smooth and grayish brown.
4. Mockernut Hickory
Mockernut hickory (Carya alba) can grow 80-100 feet tall and live up to around 300 years.
As the name mockernut suggests, the nuts have thick shells and contain little edible meat inside.
The mockernut hickory produces strong, tough wood used for tools and furniture.
Non-Native Hickory Species
In addition to native species, there are also some hickory tree types that have been introduced to Washington:
5. Bitternut Hickory
The bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis) is named for its bitter tasting nuts.
This species has sulfur-yellow buds that distinguish it from other hickories.
Bitternut hickory is native to the central and eastern United States, but can now be found across Washington as an introduced species.
6. Pecan Hickory
Pecan (Carya illinoinensis) is the most commercially important hickory species due to its buttery, sweet nuts.
Native to the Mississippi River valley and southeastern U.S., pecan trees are now grown commercially in some parts of eastern Washington for nut production.
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