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Shagbark Hickory

Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) a slow-growing but potentially massive tree located in all of Ohio, is frequently found in dry uplands or moist valleys in association with other hickories and oaks. Its cut timber is prized for making tool handles, athletic equipment, furniture, construction timbers, and firewood. Its "green" wood (or sometimes seasoned but freshly-wetted wood chips) is also sought after for the smoking of meats, especially pork meats. Its sweet and large nuts are relished by squirrels. The most distinctive feature of this tree is its shaggy bark, which peels in long, wide, thick strips from the trunk and branches, giving it the alternative common name of Scalybark Hickory. Its bold-textured, jagged branch structure and thick twigs give it a striking appearance in winter.

A native to most of the Eastern United States, Shagbark Hickory is a climax forest tree in well-drained, moist to dry woodland soils. It grows to 100 feet tall by 40 feet wide when found in the open. As a member of the Walnut Family, it is related to the Walnuts, as well as other Hickories (there are three types, namely the Pecans, the Shagbarks, and the Pignuts).

Planting Requirements - Shagbark Hickory prefers deep, moist, rich, well-drained soils under sunny conditions, but is often found in the dry upland soils of woods or fields because of its superior drought tolerance. It tolerates the shade of nearby trees when young, when its branching is upright and spindly and it first develops its deep taproot system. It is found in zones 4 to 8.

Potential Problems - Shagbark Hickory is virtually disease and pest free, although many insects nibble at its foliage throughout the summer. However, it sends down a constant rain of leaflets, rachises, dead twigs, immature fruits, outer husks, and debris from squirrel feeding from mid-summer until late autumn, presenting a constant clean-up chore and mowing hazard when it is found in urban areas.

Identifying Features - Shagbark Hickory


The large leaves of Shagbark Hickory are alternate, pinnately compound, up to fifteen inches long, and almost always have five wide leaflets (rarely seven or nine), with fine serrations on the leaflet margins.

The terminal leaflet is always the largest. Spring and summer leaf color is medium green to dark yellow-green, while fall color is often a faded green to chartruese. However, in excellent autumns, the leaf color changes to a brilliant golden-yellow or yellow-brown.


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Male and female flowers of Shagbark Hickory occur on the same tree (and thus this species, like all Hickories, is monoecious). The three-branched staminate (male) catkins droop from the previous year's twig growth, while pistillate (female) flowering spikes occur at the terminus of the current season's growth. Flowering occurs in mid-spring.


The fruits of Shagbark Hickory are composed of an innermost sweet kernel, surrounded by a hard bony shell with four subtle ribs, surrounded by a thick outer husk that splits open into four quarters when ripe. The nuts are relished by squirrels. Litter from the slow-rotting husks and shells may persist for several years.


The stout twigs of Shagbark Hickory are reddish-brown or gray by the first winter, and have terminal and lateral buds that are larger than most other trees. The first-year twigs are often more narrow than the terminal bud , but this is not always true. Horsechestnut and Shellbark Hickory are two trees that have even larger buds and thicker twigs.


The young gray bark of Shagbark Hickory is smooth and striated (having shallow vertical grooves of a different color, as shown at lower left), but soon develops wide buckling ridges that begin to separate from the underlying bark. With age, the long ridges separate and become peeling at one or both ends, forming long curly strips or plates, giving rise to the common name. This easily identifiable "shagbark" character is usually much more loose than the bark of its close relative, Shellbark Hickory.


The Walnut Family

Bitternut Hickory

Black Walnut


Shagbark Hickory

Shellbark Hickory