Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata)
Shagbark hickories in forests or groves send up trunks 50 to 60 feet, then begin branching into a large umbrella-like canopy above this height. Typically individual hickory specimens will grow to well over 100 feet, spreading usually 1/2 their height into a more rounded, pyramidal branched canopy. In the home landscape they are more likely to grow 60 to 80 feet. These trees grow slowly, adding less that 1 1/2 inch in trunk diameter over 10 years.
Shagbarks leaves emerge from reddish or yellowish fringed leaf bud scales in May. New leaves are shiny, slightly fuzzy and bright yellow green with pale undersides. They are also large, made up of a long leaf stalk along which are arranged 4 individual leaflets, with an fifth one at the tip on a short stalk of its own. In the fall the foliage turns golden brown in the fall.
For its first 20 years, a hickory tree has no flowers or fruit. Mature trees then develop both male and female flowers on the same tree, and are self-pollinating. They bloom in April or May during or just after leaves emerge. The shagbark’s male flowers hang down from the young twigs in groups of 3 yellowish-green scaly spikes or catkins, each 3 to 5 inches long. The female flowers are much smaller, and appear at the growing tips of twigs, each emerging from tiny cups. The flowers are scentless. After pollination, the female flowers give way to nuts which develop in smooth green husks about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. By September they ripen, turning nearly black. Once mature, the husks split along 4 seams to release the tan colored nuts. Grafted trees bear nuts in as little as 3 to 4 years, after which they bear every other year. These nuts are favorites of songbirds, small mammals like squirrels and, of course, humans. Their flavor reminds you of maple syrup and are exquisite amendments to Mom s homemade cakes and cookies, at least that is how I remember them.
Some good Shagbark varieties include Hales which has nuts that have thinner shells for easier cracking, Kirtland has nuts that are larger but more difficult to crack. Davis, Glover, Fox, Kentucky, Johnson, and Wilcox are all popular cultivars.