Virtual Discovery Station: Native Tree Series, Part 7 – Shagbark and Shellbark Hickory

By Wren Smith

Hickories (shagbark and shellbark), (Carya ovata and Carya laciniata)

Shagbark Hickory

You can find examples of both shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) and the shellbark hickory (Carya laciniata) near in the tree area below the Education Center. Both of these trees can easily be identified by their large plates of shaggy bark and both, as Joe points out in the video, are very similar and may take extra effort to discern which is which.

Hickory nuts are important food source for many mammals, especially eastern gray squirrels and chipmunks. Gathering the nuts and hiding (burying) them in small caches is a practice known as scatter hording. These caches of nuts and acorns contribute to reforestation, since many of these seeds go uneaten, sprout and become trees. You might be lucky and find the hickory horned caterpillar that Joe mentioned in this video.

Hickory Horned Devil Caterpillar

Historically significant as food for humans, most folks find them a bit tedious to prepare, due to the tough hulls, but these nuts taste much like sweet pecans to which they are closely related.

A leaf from the shellbark hickory – they usually have 7- 9 leaflets, whereas the shagbark usually has 5 leaflets, but sometimes 7.

Questions to Ponder at Bernheim
How many shagbark (or shellbark) hickories can you find while walking on the Bent Twig Trail? The Bent Twig Trailhead is located to the right of the Silo Stage Amphitheater. What might feed on the leaves of these trees? See if you can find the answer.

At Home Activities
Hickory is a relative of the pecan and its nutmeat has a similar taste, but to some a superior flavor, especially if the nutmeats are toasted. Several types of hickory trees produce edible nuts. If you can locate a local source of nut producing trees, you may want to harvest some to add to home-baked goods. The best time to harvest the nuts is when they start falling on the ground. But there’s usually a short window of opportunity before the squirrels get them. Be sure to remove the heavy segmented outer husk or hull, then crack open the inner shell with a hammer or vise. You will need a nut pick or similar utensil to dig out the nutmeats.

Though some types of hickories, such as the bitternut (Carya cordiformis) are not very palatable to humans, they are important to wildlife. While none of Bernheim’s hickories are considered poisonous, be aware that some people have serious nut allergies.

Additional Resources
Hickory nut Sandies Recipe

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