Shellbark hickory or big shagbark hickory (Carya laciniosa) is a medium to large deciduous tree often with a narrow, open crown that has ascending branches that spread out toward the top of the tree. Leaves are compound, usually with 7 leaflets (occasionally 5 or 9 leaflets) on a central stalk. The leaflet is widest near the middle with hairs around the margin (edge). The central stalk often remains on twig after leaflets are shed. Twigs are dull yellowish-brown to dark orange-cinnamon and slightly hairy. Bark is a dark gray color that becomes shaggy with age. Fruits are very large, round, and somewhat flattened with moderately hard shells. Shellbark hickory is rarely cultivated and prefers moist to wet areas in valleys and along stream banks. Excellent lumber quality wood used for tool handle, furniture, and construction. Hickories differ from walnuts in having branched flower catkins, smaller nuts with husks that split, fewer larger leaflets and solid, not chambered, branch piths. The word ‘hickory’ comes from the American Indian work ‘pawcohicora’ referring to the oil produced from crushed nut kernels. In Latin ‘Lacinosa’ means ‘with flaps’ and refer to the way the shaggy bark curls away from the trunk. C. lacinosa leaves and nuts are the largest of the hickory trees. Hickory wood is hard, heavy and flexible. Its dark brown heartwood contrasts with its cream-colored sapwood making it both decorative and functional. Tree introduced to Europe in 1804.
Common name: Shellbark Hickory, Big Shellbark, King Nut Hickory.
Scientific Name (family and order): Carya lacinosa (F. Michx.) W. P. C. Barton (Juglandaceae, Fagales)
Species Native Origin: North America
New Jersey Status: USDA Native
Habit: 70 – 100’ tall x 40’ wide; bole 1 -3’ wide.
Habitat: Zones 5 -8; grows in bottomland, floodplains, swamps.
Trunk/Stem: Tall straight trunk topped with slender, clindrical crown of short branches and stout orange branchlets that droop at their ends. Bark is light gray smooth with shallow interacing ridge when young; when mature it develops long flat gray plates that separate and bend from the trunk. (Shagbark Hickory devlops shaggy bark plates when younger and the plates are shorter and wider). Notably the terminal buds are large, hairy with brown scale.
Leaves: Deciduous, Pinnately Compound, Alternate. Leaf 12 – 22”long 5 -11 leaflets. Odd number with the outer leaflet larger than the inner ones: usually three opposite leaflet pairs and one terminal. Each leaflet is 5 -8” long, 2 – 5” wide. Ovate, broadly elliptic or obovate with pointed tip, toothed margins. Upper surface dark green undersurface pale and soft hairs. Autumn color rusty yellow. Leaves aromatic when crushed. Autumn foliage color golden yellow.
Flowers: Monoecious. Male flowers borne in drooping 3-branched catkins and wind polinated. The female flowers are in short terminal spikes. Flowers develop concomitant with the leaves.
Fruits and seeds: Fruit 2 – 2 ½ “ wide round husk-covered nut. Husk thick, brown to yellow-brown downy, splits into four parts (merocarps) from tip to base. Nut tan to light-redddish brown, 4-angled, thick shell; edible sweet seed.