Friday, September 7, 2012

Shagbark Hickory: Beauty comes with a painful price.


I returned to a client's garden that I designed and installed almost 10 years ago to perform a little pruning on some Japanese Maples and forgot about the deadly canopy above me until a golf ball sized nut hit the ground a few feet away.  Suddenly, I felt like I was 150 yards away from the tee on a golf driving range waiting for the inevitable crack of a nut landing square on my head.


I managed to escape after an hour and a half with shredded nerves and without injury, but I was reminded that the Shagback Hickory (Carya Ovata) is a beautiful and culturally significant tree.  Hickory is part of the Juglandaceae family, so it is a close relative to the Walnut and Pecan, and while lesser known, the nut is similar to its cousins, encased in a fibrous husk with a very hard shell underneath.  While a favorite of many critters, it takes a lot of work to get the prize


Shell cradled in thick husk with nut inside.
Given the fall bounty of nuts, it is not a great tree along driveways or close to the house, but is a wonderful , tall, straight-trunked tree as a specimen or in groupings where they can have some space.  One of the greatest attributes is the bark that flakes off in long strips on mature trees.  The trees that I was working close to may not be sited in the best location, but over time the limbs have been pruned up to reveal the long, beautiful trunks covered with this lovely bark.

Like the Walnut, Hickory has a compound leaf, with usually five leaflets, and it can have stunning yellow to golden fall color.  The wood is quite valuable for its strength in making tools and flavoring meat.  If you like BBQ, Hickory is a common wood used to smoke meat, and as a hard wood, it burns slowly.  If you have any Hickory on your property, don't let the arborist get away with the wood as it is valuable, at least as an excellent firewood.

Compound Leaf with five leaflets
I tried to remove the husks from the nuts, but, after being warned by my wife to be careful (I have a history of self-injury when doing silly things like this), resorted to my Hickory handled axe to reveal the small prize inside the husk.

Trees like this make me wish for a 100 acres of land so I could appreciate some of the larger plants and trees around, but for now I am fortunate to visit specimens I find elsewhere.





Close-up profile of bark
Husk surrounding the shell, turns brown and falls
off to reveal the shell underneath.
Two hickories standing tall over
a two-story home.


2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the informative post. We do have some shagbark hickories around here and they do seem like great trees. If my Siberian elm (a tree we inherited) ever kicks the bucket I might try planting one.

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  2. I love the texture of the bark, it's not a tree we see out here. I do see though how this tree would be better suited to being on a larger property, or a field, where it's not overhanging a driveway. Our oaks are bad enough at this time of year. Every time a breeze kicks up, it sounds like a hail of bullets striking the cars in the driveway. This hickory nuts look like they could leave quite a dent!

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