The 12 hickory tree species native to North America are shagbark, shellbark, pignut, bitternut, mockernut, sand, water, nutmeg, red, southern shagbark, scrub, and pecan.
These deciduous hardwood trees belong to the genus Carya and are known for their tough wood, large sweet nuts, and high wildlife value.
1. Shagbark Hickory
The shagbark hickory is one of the most common hickory species.
It grows up to 80 feet tall with a straight trunk and broad, rounded crown.
The most identifiable feature of the shagbark is its mature gray bark that peels away in long, vertical strips, giving it a shaggy appearance.
The leaves are compound with 5 leaflets.
The nuts are large and enclosed in a thick green husk that splits open when ripe.
Shagbark hickory provides very strong, shock-resistant wood used for tool handles, ladder rungs, and other products.
2. Shellbark Hickory
Also known as kingnut or Carya laciniosa, the shellbark hickory can grow over 100 feet tall with a narrower crown.
The bark is ridged and grey-brown, splitting into thick vertical plates on older trees.
Leaves have 5-9 leaflets. The name “shellbark” comes from the thick husks on the nuts that split all the way to the base when ripe.
Shellbark hickory is the largest native hickory species. The wood is similar to shagbark but even harder and stronger.
3. Pignut Hickory
The pignut hickory is named for its small, pear-shaped nuts. It can reach heights over 120 feet with straight trunks and branches.
The bark is tight with narrow ridges and grey-brown color. Compound leaves have 5 slender leaflets.
Pignut hickory wood is very strong and shock absorbent, traditionally used for tool handles and wagon wheels.
The nuts are bitter and not consumed by humans, leading to the “pignut” name.
4. Bitternut Hickory
Bitternut hickory is named for its bitter, inedible nuts. It has distinct sulfur-yellow buds and smooth bark with diamond pattern lenticels.
The bark turns gray-brown as it ages.
Bitternuts produce long, pear-shaped fruits with four ridges on the nuts.
Leaves have 7-11 bright green leaflets that turn golden yellow in fall.
Bitternut wood is hard, heavy, and flexible. This is one of the shorter hickory species, growing up to 80 feet.
5. Mockernut Hickory
The mockernut hickory produces thick-shelled nuts with very little meat, giving rise to its name. It has gray bark with scaly ridges and deep furrows.
Leaves are 8-12 inches long with 7-9 leaflets.
Mockernuts can grow to 100 feet tall or more. The hard, dense wood is used commercially for flooring, lumber, and tools.
Drought- and fire-resistant, mockernuts are abundant in much of the eastern US.
6. Sand Hickory
Sand hickory is a rare species native to sandy areas in the southern states. It can reach 60 feet tall with dark brown bark that peels back in small plates.
Leaves have 5-7 leaflets.
The nuts are small and oval with a thick husk and sweet kernel inside.
The sapwood is pale yellow while the heartwood is reddish-brown.
Sand hickory wood is known for strength and flexibility.
7. Water Hickory
Found in wet bottomlands of the deep South, water hickory grows slowly in swampy, wet woods up to 70 feet tall.
It has ridged, scaly bark and elongated compound leaves with 7-9 leaflets.
Nuts are small and sweet, borne in pairs on long stems. The sapwood is yellowish while heartwood is reddish.
Water hickory is used for river pilings, tool handles, and other wetland wood products.
8. Nutmeg Hickory
Nutmeg hickory is named for its nuts that smell and taste similar to nutmeg spice.
It grows in wet woods up to 80 feet tall with shaggy bark and large elongated leaves having 13-17 narrow leaflets.
The sapwood is creamy white while heartwood is light brown.
Nutmeg hickory produces a hard, shock-resistant lumber used for tools, athletic equipment, and wheel spokes.
9. Red Hickory
Named for its reddish heartwood, the red hickory can reach heights over 100 feet. It has smooth, gray bark that can peel in long vertical strips.
Leaves have 7-9 leaflets.
Nuts are small with thin husks and bitter taste.
The red hickory grows slowly but lives long, providing strong, tough wood used for furniture, construction, and fuel.
10. Southern Shagbark Hickory
The southern shagbark is native to southeastern states. Like other shagbark species, it has peeling, shaggy bark and large compound leaves with 5 leaflets.
Nuts are enclosed in thick husks that split at maturity. Southern shagbark grows fast in wet soils up to 80 feet tall.
Its wood has historically been used for wagon wheels and tool handles.
11. Scrub Hickory
The rare scrub hickory is a shrubby hickory native to sandy soils in Florida and along the Gulf Coast, growing up to 30 feet tall.
It has gnarly, twisted branches and compound leaves with 7 rounded leaflets.
The small, rounded nuts have very thick husks. Scrub hickory provides cover and food for wildlife.
The flexible wood was once used for ox yokes and tool handles.
12. Pecan Hickory
The pecan is the most commercially important hickory species due to its delicious nuts.
It grows over 100 feet tall with grey-brown bark having vertical cracks between scaly ridges.
Long, golden yellow catkins appear in spring. Pecan wood is strong and shock resistant.
Pecan nuts have smooth, tan shells and rich oily kernels used for baking and confections.
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