The Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) is one of three species of hickory that have shaggy bark when the trees mature. We also have the closely related Shellbark hickory (Carya laciniosa) in the park. The Shagbark hickory has a leaf with 5 leaflets (instead of 7 for the Shellbark hickory). The leaflet is toothed along the margin (edge) and widest near the middle with 2 or 3 tufts of hairs per tooth. The fruits are large with thick green husks that enclose 4-ribbed nuts. They are slightly smaller than those of the Shellbark. This deciduous tree is native to North America. The nuts were once an important food source for the native Americans. The early settlers made boxes of the shaggy bark and used the wood for fences. Green hickory wood was used for curing hams. Hickories differ from walnuts in having branched flower catkins, smaller nuts with husks that split, fewer larger leaflets and solid not chambered pith. Its distinctively peeling bark give this species its common name. This tree first arrived in Europe in 1629 and is widely planted for its fall colors. The dense wood is used for tool handles and sports equipment; it makes excellent fuel and for smoking meat and cheese.
Common name: Shagbark Hickory
Scientific Name (family and order): Carya ovata (Mill.) K. Koch. (Juglandaceae, Fagales)
Species Native Origin: Eastern North America
New Jersey Status: USDA Native
Habit: 70 -100’ tall; up to 50’ wide; bole 1 – 2 ½’. Tree shape broadly columnar.
Habitat: Zone 4 – 8. Rich woods and valleys.
Trunk/Stem: Bark is gray to brown, peeling in long, vertical plates. The strips are 3” wide and bend outward at both end. Twigs reddish brown.
Leaves: Deciduous, Pinnately Compound, Alternate. Leaf composed of only 5 tapered point leaflets, 8” long, ovate, elliptic or obovate with pointed tip (attenuate); the terminal leaflet is the larges; leaflets toothed with hair tufts in the tooth tips; no teeth at the base, deep yellow green above, slightly paler below, turning golden yellow in autumn. C. ovata is unique among hickories in having hairy leaflet edges, especially on new leaves. The leaves are aromatic when crushed. Winter buds large with dark scales.
Flowers: Monoecious. Female flowers at end of shoots. Male and female flowers small without petals clustered in catkins. Male catkins yellow green present hanging in groups of three on old shoots; catkins 5” long; female flowers inconspicuous separte form male. Flowers bloom on same plant in alte spring.
Fruits and seeds: Fruit a thick-shelled sweet edible whitish nut enclosed in a green husk, 2 ½” long with four (ribs) grooves.