Shagbark Hickory

IMG_5725We took a walk this weekend along an old logging road that is lined with shagbark hickory, oak, sugar maple and beech. The day was cool, but not too cold, perfect for a stroll. Deciduous woodlands are so lovely to visit this time of year. The colors are blazing and the fallen leaves swish and crispy-crunch underfoot. The understory peeps and flits with juncos and white-throated sparrows feeding while en route to wintering grounds.

The ground was littered with light-tan, one-inch hickory nuts which we started collecting, stuffing our pockets with them.

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Shagbark Hickory husks and nuts

The nuts are delicious, oily with a flavor more wild than walnuts, tilting a bit towards pecan with a hint of maple. It is hard to describe the taste beyond pleasingly flavorful. The nutmeat is small and it is a lot of work to extract them, but the taste makes up for it. You just can’t be in a big hurry. Another one of those mindful meditations, I guess!

I want to plant some of these nuts around our property. Aside from being tasty and an important food source for wildlife, the bark is striking with long gray strips of bark that partially separate from the trunk, giving it a shaggy appearance and thus, its name.

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Shaggy bark (Carya ovata)

The tree is rather slow-growing, so possibly I might not be around to see a harvest of nuts, but trees are something you plant with future generations in mind. The older I get, the more this is true!

Hickory is my favorite smoked flavoring for bacon and barbecue sauces. The green wood sawdust is used commercially for smoking meat. Bacon is definitely the reason why I could never be a vegetarian. That and roast turkey with its drippings!

Shagbark hickory is a deciduous native to northeast U.S. from Maine to Louisiana, and Midwest to Missouri and Nebraska. They prefer humid, temperate upland woodlands and fields in zones 4-8. They can grow to be 200 years old and 120 feet tall. Being tap-rooted, they do not transplant well, so therefore aren’t commonly sold in nurseries. Nuts fall in October and are best planted immediately as they need four months of cold stratification in order to germinate. Plant a lot because the odds are good that a hungry critter may make a meal of at least half the nuts you plant. It all works out in the end!

About Eliza Waters

Gardener, writer, photographer, naturalist
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