When it comes to choosing the right hickory tree for your landscape, you may be wondering about the differences between shagbark and shellbark hickories. Both species are native to North America and are known for their hardwood and delicious nuts.
However, there are some notable differences between the two that may help you make a decision about which one is best for you.
The main difference between Shagbark and Shellbark hickory is the size and shape of their leaves. Shagbark hickory has leaves that are 5-8 inches long and have five to seven leaflets, while Shellbark hickory has leaves that are 8-14 inches long and have seven to nine leaflets.
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One of the most noticeable differences between shagbark and shellbark hickories is their appearance. Shagbark hickory trees are named for their characteristic shaggy bark, which peels off in long, thin strips. This gives the tree a distinctive, rugged look that is particularly striking in the winter months when the leaves have fallen off.
The bark of a mature shagbark hickory tree can be up to an inch thick, and the long strips of bark can hang down from the tree in a way that makes it look like the tree is wearing a shaggy coat.
Shellbark hickories, on the other hand, have a smoother bark that is typically gray or brown in color. While the bark of a shellbark hickory tree may have some shallow ridges and furrows, it does not peel off in the same way as shagbark hickory bark.
The smooth bark of a shellbark hickory tree gives it a more polished, elegant appearance.
Another way to distinguish between shagbark and shellbark hickories is by looking at the leaves. Shagbark hickory leaves are typically longer than those of shellbark hickories, with a length of 8-12 inches. They also have a more pointed tip and a wavy edge.
The leaves of a shagbark hickory tree are dark green on the top and lighter green on the bottom, and they have a glossy appearance. In the fall, the leaves of a shagbark hickory tree turn a beautiful yellow-gold color.
Shellbark hickory leaves are shorter, with a length of 6-8 inches, and have a more rounded tip and a smoother edge. The leaves of a shellbark hickory tree are also dark green on the top and lighter green on the bottom, but they have a matte finish rather than a glossy one.
In the fall, the leaves of a shellbark hickory tree turn a yellow-brown color.
Both shagbark and shellbark hickories produce nuts, but there are some differences in the size and flavor of the nuts. Shagbark hickory nuts are typically larger and have a sweeter, milder flavor than shellbark hickory nuts.
The nuts of a shagbark hickory tree are encased in a thin, papery husk that splits open when the nut is ripe. The nut itself is oval-shaped and has a light brown color.
Shellbark hickory nuts are smaller and have a more bitter, astringent flavor. The nuts of a shellbark hickory tree are also encased in a thin, papery husk, but the husk does not split open as readily as the husk of a shagbark hickory nut.
The nut itself is rounder and has a darker brown color.
Growth and Habitat
Shagbark and shellbark hickories also differ in terms of their growth habits and preferred habitats. Shagbark hickories are generally taller trees, reaching heights of up to 100 feet. They also have a more open, upright growth habit, with branches that spread out horizontally. The crown of a shagbark hickory tree is relatively narrow, with a conical shape.
Shellbark hickories, on the other hand, are shorter trees, typically reaching heights of 60-80 feet. They have a more rounded, densely-branched growth habit, with a wider crown. The branches of a shellbark hickory tree tend to grow more vertically than those of a shagbark hickory tree.
In terms of habitat, shagbark hickories are found in a variety of soil types and can tolerate both wet and dry conditions. They are native to the eastern United States, from southern New England to northern Florida and west to Texas and Minnesota.
Shagbark hickories can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, wooded slopes, and along streams and rivers.
Shellbark hickories, on the other hand, prefer moist, well-drained soils and are native to the eastern United States, from southern New York to northern Florida and west to eastern Texas and Oklahoma. They are typically found in damp, low-lying areas, such as floodplains and swamps.
Both shagbark and shellbark hickories have a variety of uses. The wood of both species is hard, strong, and durable, making it suitable for a range of construction, furniture, and tool-making applications. The nuts of both species are edible and are often used in cooking and baking.
In addition, the bark and leaves of both species have been used medicinally by Native American cultures for a variety of ailments.
The shagbark hickory tree has a number of additional uses. The long strips of bark can be used as a natural fencing material, and the tree’s wood is often used for smoking meat.
The nuts of a shagbark hickory tree can also be ground into a flour-like substance and used as a substitute for wheat flour.
The shellbark hickory tree has a few unique uses as well. The tree’s wood is prized for its strength and durability, and it has been used to make a variety of tools and implements, including hoes, rakes, and spades.
The nuts of a shellbark hickory tree can also be used to make a nutritious oil that can be used in cooking.
In conclusion, shagbark and shellbark hickories are both valuable trees with a variety of uses. While they have some similarities, they also have some notable differences in terms of appearance, nut size and flavor, growth habit, and preferred habitat.
Carefully considering these differences can help you choose the right hickory tree for your landscape.
Whether you opt for the shaggy, rugged look of a shagbark hickory or the smooth, polished appearance of a shellbark hickory, you can’t go wrong with either of these beautiful and useful trees.