Last updated

Temporal range: 85.8–0  Ma
Carya Morton 29-U-10.jpg
Hickory at Morton Arboretum
Accession 29-U-10
Scientific classification OOjs UI icon edit-ltr.svg
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Fagales
Family: Juglandaceae
Subfamily: Juglandoideae
Tribe: Juglandeae
Subtribe: Caryinae
Genus: Carya
Type species
Carya tomentosa
(Poir.) Nutt. [2]

Hickory is a common name for trees composing the genus Carya, which includes around 18 species. [3] Five or six species are native to China, Indochina, and India (Assam), as many as twelve are native to the United States, four are found in Mexico, and two to four are native to Canada. [4] [5] A number of hickory species are used for their edible nuts, lumber or other wood and woodcraft products .


Hickories are temperate forest trees with pinnately compound leaves and large nuts. Hickory flowers are small, yellow-green catkins produced in spring. They are wind-pollinated and self-incompatible. The fruit is a globose or oval nut, 2–5 cm (0.8–2.0 in) long and 1.5–3 cm (0.6–1.2 in) diameter, enclosed in a four-valved husk, which splits open at maturity. The nut shell is thick and bony in most species, and thin in a few, notably the pecan (C. illinoinensis); it is divided into two halves, which split apart when the seed germinates.


The name "hickory" derives from a Native American word in an Algonquian language (perhaps Powhatan). It is a shortening of pockerchicory, pocohicora, or a similar word, which may be the name for the hickory tree's nut, or may be a milky drink made from such nuts. [6] The genus name Carya is Ancient Greek : κάρυον, káryon, meaning "nut".

Species and classification

The genus Carya (not to be confused with Careya in the Lecythidaceae) is in the walnut family, Juglandaceae. In the APG system, this family is included in the order Fagales. Several species are known to hybridize, with around nine accepted, named hybrids. [3] [7] Beaked hickory (Annamocarya sinensis) is a species formerly classified as Carya sinensis, but now considered its own genus, Annamocarya .

Asian hickories

Carya sect. Sinocarya

Roasted Carya cathayensis (Chinese hickory) Carya cathayensis nuts.jpg
Roasted Carya cathayensis (Chinese hickory)

North American hickories

Carya sect. Carya – typical hickories

Nuts of Carya texana (black hickory) Black hickory in Bastrop County, Texas (cropped).jpg
Nuts of Carya texana (black hickory)

Carya sect. Apocarya – pecans

Foliage of Carya cordiformis (bitternut hickory) Carya cordiformis.jpg
Foliage of Carya cordiformis (bitternut hickory)


Hickory is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species. These include:

The hickory leaf stem gall phylloxera ( Phylloxera caryaecaulis) also uses the hickory tree as a food source. Phylloxeridae are related to aphids and have a similarly complex life cycle. Eggs hatch in early spring and the galls quickly form around the developing insects. Phylloxera galls may damage weakened or stressed hickories, but are generally harmless. Deformed leaves and twigs can rain down from the tree in the spring as squirrels break off infected tissue and eat the galls, possibly for the protein content or because the galls are fleshy and tasty to the squirrels. The pecan gall curculio ( Conotrachelus elegans ) is a true weevil species also found feeding on galls of the hickory leaf stem gall phylloxera.

The banded hickory borer (Knulliana cincta) is also found on hickories.

Evolutionary history

The oldest fossils attributed to Carya are Cretaceous pollen grains from Mexico and New Mexico. Fossil and molecular data suggest the genus Carya may have diversified during the Miocene. [9] Modern Carya first appear in Oligocene strata 34 million years ago. Recent discoveries of Carya fruit fossils further support the hypothesis that the genus has long been a member of Eastern North American landscapes, however its range has contracted and Carya is no longer extant west of the Rocky Mountains. [10] [11]

Fossils of early hickory nuts show simpler, thinner shells than modern species with the exception of pecans, suggesting that the trees gradually developed defenses to rodent seed predation.[ citation needed ] During this time, the genus had a distribution across the Northern Hemisphere, but the Pleistocene Ice Age beginning 2 million years ago obliterated it from Europe. [12] In Anatolia, the genus appears to have disappeared only in the early Holocene, probably related to human disturbance. [13] The distribution of Carya in North America also contracted and it completely disappeared from the continent west of the Rocky Mountains. Since fossil records show North America as having the largest number of Juglandaceae species, it is likely that the genus originated there and later spread to Europe and Asia.[ citation needed ]


Hickory nuts (Carya spp.), dried
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 2,749 kJ (657 kcal)
18.25 g
Dietary fiber 6.4 g
64.37 g
Saturated 7.038 g
Monounsaturated 32.611 g
Polyunsaturated 21.886 g
12.72 g
Tryptophan 0.139 g
Threonine 0.422 g
Isoleucine 0.576 g
Leucine 1.027 g
Lysine 0.497 g
Methionine 0.300 g
Cystine 0.271 g
Phenylalanine 0.713 g
Tyrosine 0.454 g
Valine 0.730 g
Arginine 2.086 g
Histidine 0.389 g
Alanine 0.662 g
Aspartic acid 1.368 g
Glutamic acid 2.885 g
Glycine 0.708 g
Proline 0.571 g
Serine 0.806 g
Vitamins Quantity
Vitamin A 131 IU
Thiamine (B1)
0.867 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.131 mg
Niacin (B3)
0.907 mg
Pantothenic acid (B5)
1.746 mg
Vitamin B6
0.192 mg
Folate (B9)
40 μg
Vitamin C
2.0 mg
Minerals Quantity
61 mg
0.738 mg
2.12 mg
173 mg
4.610 mg
336 mg
436 mg
8.1 μg
1 mg
4.31 mg
Other constituentsQuantity
Water2.65 g

Percentages estimated using US recommendations for adults. [14]

Some fruits are borderline and difficult to categorize. Hickory nuts (Carya) and walnuts ( Juglans ) in the Juglandaceae family grow within an outer husk; these fruits are sometimes considered to be drupes or drupaceous nuts, rather than true botanical nuts. "Tryma" is a specialized term for such nut-like drupes. [15] [16]


Dried hickory nuts are 3% water, 18% carbohydrates, 13% protein, and 64% fats (table). In a 100 gram (3.5 oz) reference amount, dried hickory nuts supply 657 calories, and are a rich source (20% or more of the Daily Value, DV) of several B vitamins and dietary minerals, especially manganese at 220% DV (table).


Finished hickory in a cabinet Finished hickory 1.jpg
Finished hickory in a cabinet

Hickory wood is hard, stiff, dense and shock resistant. There are woods stronger than hickory and woods that are harder, but the combination of strength, toughness, hardness, and stiffness found in hickory wood is not found in any other commercial wood. [17] It is used for tool handles, pickaxe handles, bows, wheel spokes, carts, drumsticks, lacrosse stick handles, golf club shafts (sometimes still called hickory stick, even though made of steel or graphite), the bottoms of skis, walking sticks, and for punitive use as a switch (like hazel), and especially as a cane-like hickory stick in schools and use by parents. Paddles are often made from hickory. This property of hickory wood has left a trace in some Native American languages: in Ojibwe, hickory is called mitigwaabaak, a compound of mitigwaab "bow" and the final -aakw "hardwood tree". [18] Due to its grain structure, hickory is more susceptible to moisture absorption than other species of wood, and is therefore more prone to shrinkage, warping or swelling with changes in humidity. [19]

Baseball bats were formerly made of hickory, but are now more commonly made of ash. Hickory is replacing ash as the wood of choice for Scottish shinty sticks (also known as camans). Hickory was extensively used for the construction of early aircraft.

Hickory is also highly prized for wood-burning stoves and chimineas, as its density and high energy content make it an efficient fuel. [20] Hickory wood is also a preferred type for smoking cured meats. In the Southern United States, hickory is popular for cooking barbecue, as hickory grows abundantly in the region and adds flavor to the meat.

Hickory is sometimes used for wood flooring due to its durability and character.

An extract from shagbark hickory bark is also used in an edible syrup similar to maple syrup, with a slightly bitter, smoky taste. The Cherokee people would produce a green dye from hickory bark, which they used to dye cloth. [21] [22] When this bark was mixed with maple bark, it produced a yellow dye pigment. The ashes of burnt hickory wood were traditionally used to produce a strong lye (potash) fit for soapmaking. [23]

The nuts of some species are palatable and were used by Cherokee Indians in making Kanuchi soup, while others are bitter and only suitable for animal feed. Shagbark and shellbark hickory, along with pecan, are regarded by some as the finest nut trees. Pecans are the most important nut tree native to North America. [4]

When cultivated for their nuts, clonal (grafted) trees of the same cultivar cannot pollinate each other because of their self-incompatibility. Two or more cultivars must be planted together for successful pollination. Seedlings (grown from hickory nuts) will usually have sufficient genetic variation.

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Juglans</i> Genus of trees

Walnut trees are any species of tree in the plant genus Juglans, the type genus of the family Juglandaceae, the seeds of which are referred to as walnuts. All species are deciduous trees, 10–40 metres (33–131 ft) tall, with pinnate leaves 200–900 millimetres (7.9–35.4 in), with 5–25 leaflets; the shoots have chambered pith, a character shared with the wingnuts (Pterocarya), but not the hickories (Carya) in the same family.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pecan</span> Species of hickory native to the southern USA and northern Mexico

The pecan is a species of hickory native to the southern United States and northern Mexico in the region of the Mississippi River.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Juglandaceae</span> Walnut family of trees

The Juglandaceae are a plant family known as the walnut family. They are trees, or sometimes shrubs, in the order Fagales. Members of this family are native to the Americas, Eurasia, and Southeast Asia.

<i>Carya ovata</i> Species of tree

Carya ovata, the shagbark hickory, is a common hickory in the Eastern United States and southeast Canada. It is a large, deciduous tree, growing well over 100 ft (30 m) tall, and can live more than 350 years. The tallest measured shagbark, located in Savage Gulf, Tennessee, is over 150 ft (46 m) tall. Mature shagbarks are easy to recognize because, as their name implies, they have shaggy bark. This characteristic is, however, only found on mature trees; young specimens have smooth bark.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Juglandeae</span> Tribe of flowering plants

Juglandeae is a tribe of the Juglandoideae subfamily, in the Juglandaceae family.

<i>Carya cordiformis</i> Species of tree

Carya cordiformis, the bitternut hickory, also called bitternut, yellowbud hickory, or swamp hickory, is a large pecan hickory with commercial stands located mostly north of the other pecan hickories. Bitternut hickory is cut and sold in mixture with the true hickories. It is the shortest-lived of the hickories, living to about 200 years.

<i>Carya floridana</i> Species of tree

Carya floridana the scrub hickory, is a small tree native to the Southeast United States, where it is endemic to central Florida.

<i>Carya glabra</i> Species of tree

Carya glabra, the pignut hickory, is a common, but not abundant species of hickory in the oak-hickory forest association in the Eastern United States and Canada. Other common names are pignut, sweet pignut, coast pignut hickory, smoothbark hickory, swamp hickory, and broom hickory. The pear-shaped nut ripens in September and October, has a sweet maple like smell, and is an important part of the diet of many wild animals. The wood is used for a variety of products, including fuel for home heating. Its leaves turn yellow in the Fall.

<i>Carya laciniosa</i> Species of tree

Carya laciniosa, the shellbark hickory, in the Juglandaceae or walnut family is also called kingnut, big, bottom, thick, or western shellbark, attesting to some of its characteristics. It is a slow-growing, long-lived tree, hard to transplant because of its long taproot, and subject to insect damage. The nuts, largest of all hickory nuts, are sweet and edible. Wildlife and people harvest most of them; those remaining produce seedling trees readily. The wood is hard, heavy, strong, and very flexible, making it a favored wood for tool handles. A specimen tree has been reported in Missouri with 117 cm (46 in) diameter at breast height, 36.9 m tall, and a spread of 22.6 m.

<i>Carya tomentosa</i> Species of hickory tree

Carya tomentosa, commonly known as mockernut hickory, mockernut, white hickory, whiteheart hickory, hognut, bullnut, is a species of tree in the walnut family Juglandaceae. The most abundant of the hickories, and common in the eastern half of the United States, it is long lived, sometimes reaching the age of 500 years. A straight-growing hickory, a high percentage of its wood is used for products where strength, hardness, and flexibility are needed. The wood makes excellent fuel wood, as well. The leaves turn yellow in Autumn.

<i>Carya myristiciformis</i> Species of tree

Carya myristiciformis, the nutmeg hickory, a tree of the Juglandaceae or walnut family, also called swamp hickory or bitter water hickory, is found as small, possibly relict populations across the Southern United States and in northern Mexico on rich moist soils of higher bottom lands and stream banks. Little is known of the growth rate of nutmeg hickory. Logs and lumber are sold mixed with other hickories. The nuts are an oil-rich food for wildlife.

<i>Carya ovalis</i> Species of tree

Carya ovalis, the red hickory or sweet pignut hickory, is a fairly uncommon but widespread hickory native to eastern North America. It is typically found growing in dry, well drained sandy upland ridges and sloped woodlands from southern Ontario, Canada, and in the United States east to New Hampshire, south to northern Florida west to eastern Texas and north-west to Nebraska. This species was formerly treated as a variety or northern ecotype of the pignut hickory C. glabra, described as Carya glabra var. odorata. This discrepancy has not yet been completely resolved, and some sources and authors still consider red hickory as a variety or synonym of pignut hickory. However both trees are quite morphologically distinct.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Juglandoideae</span> Subfamily of flowering plants

Juglandoideae is a subfamily of the walnut family Juglandaceae.

Carya washingtonensis is an extinct species of hickory nut in the walnut family Juglandaceae. The species is solely known from the Miocene sediments exposed in Kittitas County near Ellensburg, Washington.

<i>Curculio caryae</i> Species of beetle

The pecan weevil, Curculio caryae is an obligate feeder on the nuts of North American hickories and pecans, most widely recognized as an economically important pest of the pecan, Carya illinoinensis. It has also been observed to infest one Juglans species, the Persian walnut, Juglans regia.

<i>Carya texana</i> Species of tree

Carya texana, or black hickory, for its dark colored bark, is a North American tree in the walnut family, Juglandaceae. It is endemic to the United States, found primarily in the southern Great Plains and the Lower Mississippi Valley. It is an endangered species in Indiana, where it occurs in the southwest corner of the state.

<i>Carya pallida</i> Species of flowering plant

Carya pallida, sand hickory, or pale hickory is a species of hickory native to the southeastern United States. It is a perennial, dicotyledonous plant which prefers rocky or sandy habitats. The sand hickory can reach heights of up to 30m, but its typical height is between 9-24m. In an open area, Carya crowns are usually towering and slim. The sand hickory nut is edible and consumed by various organisms.

<i>Telamona excelsa</i> Species of true bug

Telamona excelsa is a species of treehopper in the family Membracidae. It was first described by Léon Fairmaire in 1846.

Kanuchi is a hickory nut soup eaten originally by the Cherokee people and which consists primarily of ground hickory nuts boiled in water. Hickory was the nut of choice, since it is a nut tree endemic to North America, and is known to grow plentifully in those forested areas settled by the Cherokee.


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