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Carya ovata (Shagbark hickory)
Vick, Albert F. W.

Carya ovata

Carya ovata (Mill.) K. Koch

Shagbark hickory, Carolina hickory, Scalybark hickory, Upland hickory, Shellbark hickory

Juglandaceae (Walnut Family)

Synonym(s): Carya ovata var. fraxinifolia, Carya ovata var. nuttallii, Carya ovata var. pubescens, Hicoria alba, Hicoria borealis, Hicoria ovata

USDA Symbol: caov2

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

This is the hickory with bark that peels in long, tough curls off the straigt trunk. It is a large tree growing 60-80 ft., and sometimes reaching 120 ft. in height. The tree maintains its central stem high into the narrow, oblong crown. The bright, yellow-green, pinnately-compound leaves become golden in early fall, eventually drying to a warm bronze. The thick-shelled hickory nuts are edible.

Wild trees and improved cultivated varieties produce commercial hickory nuts. Carolina Hickory (var. australis (Ashe) Little), a variety found in southeastern mountains, has small lance-shaped leaflets and small nuts. The name hickory is from pawcohiccora, an Algonquian word for the oily food removed from pounded kernels steeped in boiling water. This sweet hickory milk was used in cooking corn cakes and hominy. Pioneers made a yellow dye from the inner bark. The nickname Old Hickory was given by his backwoods militia to General Andrew Jackson (afterwards our seventh President) because he was tough as hickory.


Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Complexity: Pinnate
Breeding System: Flowers Unisexual , Monoecious
Fruit Type: Nut
Leaf: Green
Autumn Foliage: yes
Fruit: Green, Red, Brown
Size Class: 72-100 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Green , Brown
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May , Jun


USA: AL , AR , CT , DC , DE , GA , IA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MS , NC , ND , NE , NH , NJ , NY , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , TN , TX , VA , VT , WI , WV
Canada: ON , QC
Native Distribution: S.w. ME to c. MI & s.e. MN, s. to c. GA, e. TX, e. KS & s.e. NE, south to Michoacán and Veracruz in east-central Mexico
Native Habitat: Shaded woods, Stream, river banks, Swamps, Flood plains, bottomland

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
CaCO3 Tolerance: Medium
Soil Description: Well-drained, fertile soils. Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay.
Conditions Comments: Tough to transplant, because of a large taproot, and slow to grow. Sensitive to disturbance once established. Undisturbed trees are fairly disease resistant. Shadbark creates considerable litter from bark plate, leafstalk and nut husks. The similar but larger shellbark hickory, Carya laciniosa, is a bottomland species with a more central distribution. It is faster growing.


Use Ornamental: Long-living, Shade tree, Attractive
Use Wildlife: Squirrels and birds relish the seeds and catkins. Fruit-birds, Fruit-mammals, Nesting site, Cover, Substrate-insectivorous birds
Use Food: Fruits-nutrition
Use Other: Shagbark hickory is a very strong and hard wood that was used to make spokes for wooden wheels used on carriages and carts. (Hosie)

The inner bark produces a yellow dye, which was patented in the 18th century. (Kershaw)

The fuel value of Shagbark is higher than that of any other North American wood except Locust. A cord of Hickory is almost the equivalent in thermal units of a ton of anthracite, and even today costs less. (Peattie)
Interesting Foliage: yes
Fragrant Foliage: yes
Attracts: Birds


Description: Most easily grown from fresh seed sown immediately after collection or stratified and sown in spring. Sow in permanent location as even small seedlings have a taproot too large to move. Increase by hardwood cuttings is usually successful.
Seed Collection: Collect nuts from September to November. Husks usually dry and split open by themselves when the nuts are mature. Persistent husks can be removed with a corn sheller.
Seed Treatment: Embyro dormancy can be overcome by moist stratification at 33-40 degrees for 30-150 days. Older seeds require less stratification.
Commercially Avail: yes

Find Seed or Plants

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

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National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Suppliers Directory

According to the inventory provided by Associate Suppliers, this plant is available at the following locations:

Edge of the Woods Native Plant Nursery - Orefield, PA
American Native Nursery - Quakertown, PA

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Pineywoods Native Plant Center - Nacogdoches, TX
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE


Bibref 298 - Field Guide to Texas Trees (1999) Simpson, B.J.
Bibref 1620 - Gardening with Native Plants of the South (Reprint Edition) (2009) Wasowski, S. with A. Wasowski
Bibref 400 - Natural History of Trees of Eastern & Central North America (1991) Peattie, D.C. & P. H. Landacre
Bibref 291 - Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife (1999) Damude, N. & K.C. Bender

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Additional resources

USDA: Find Carya ovata in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Carya ovata in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Carya ovata


Record Modified: 2015-12-15
Research By: TWC Staff

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