Hican Nut Information – Learn About Uses For Hican Nuts

Hican Nut Information – Learn About Uses For Hican Nuts

By: Teo Spengler

What are hican nuts? They are natural hybrids between hickory and pecan, and the name is a combination of the two words. Hickory and pecan trees often grow together, since they have similar sun and soil preferences. However, they rarely cross-breed. Read on for more hican nut information including various uses for hican nuts and hican trees.

What are Hican Nuts?

Here is some hican nut information in case you are asking “What are hican nuts?”. Hicans are nuts produced from trees that result from crossing hickory and pecan nut trees.

Hicans nut trees fall into one of two categories – shagbark or shellbark – depending on whether the hickory parent was a shagbark or a shellbark. Generally, the shellbark X pecan produces larger nuts, while shagbarks produce more nuts.

The hican nut trees can grow 70 feet (21.5 m.) tall and generally have round crowns. Hican nut trees can spread fairly wide, so plant these trees about 50 feet (15 m.) apart. You’ll have to wait between four and eight years for the first nut production.

Hican Nut Trees

An important piece of hican nut information involves the varieties of hybrids. Only a few are productive, so you want to select one carefully.

Bixby and Burlington are both shellbarks that are very productive and produce fairly large nuts. The Burton is the best of the shagbark trees, but Dooley also produces well.

These trees produce hican nuts with the round shape and thin shell of the pecan. However, hican nut information suggests that the edible part of the hican nuts are larger than pecans of equal size.

Uses for Hican Nuts and Hican Trees

Hican trees have very attractive foliage and are fairly easy to care for. They act as ornamental shade trees when planted in a large backyard or garden.

You’ll have to wait a few years for your hican trees to produce nuts. However, if they are self-pollinating or have other trees in the neighborhood, they will eventually bear delicious nuts. The hican nuts can be used in the same ways and for the same purposes as hickory nuts.

This article was last updated on


I asked the late A J Bullard of Mount Olive NC what his favorite nut was. “The finest tasting nut I ever ate was a McAlister Hican.” I told him that I had never tasted a Hican of any sort, and had only the most general sort of awareness of their existence. I knew that they were natural crosses of pecans with hickories (both are members of the Carya genus). Beyond that I was ignorant. But when A J died in 2020, I remembered his praise of the hican, and I determined that I would find out about this nut.

Hicans (there are more than one kind) result from natural crosses of pecans with one of the several varieties of American hickory species, (shagbark, shellbark, mockernut, pignut, and bitternut being the most common). Originally these crosses were natural and took place in that zone where the southern Pecans intermingled with the northern Hickories in the Mississippi Valley—In Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, parts of Indiana. Most of these crosses produced seedling trees that generated hollow nuts, or bitter nut meats, or nuts that wouldn’t fill completely. Only rarely did a cross produce a tree with a different configuration and flavor of nut that was pleasing, novel, and productive enough to replicate as a cropping variety. The first known cultivated Hican was the Nussbaumer from Fayetteville, IL in 1870. It wasn’t until the 1890s that a movement to seek and nurture Hican varieties emerged, and it took place because of the disappointments attending the efforts to breed northern pecans.

Pomologist John Hershey was the most vocal advocate of the Hican in the twentieth century and a seeker after novelty in flavor and configuration. He drew attention to the Wright Hican, a variety with a singularly rich and complex taste. Certain Nurseries kept Hicans in stock over the course of the 20th Century. Another Hican with a striking flavor was the Pleas, a cross between a bitternut and a pecan that has the shape of a hickory, excellent cold tolerance, size, and ample nut meat—it became the favorite of the Hicans with a hickory nut configuration.

Hicans had other virtues. Some were beautiful trees with dark green foliage and ample shade. Nurseries were not averse to selling hicans as ornamentals.

Where to get hican trees? Yes American nurseries offer trees (Burton, Henke, and James seem readily available). And you can find listings on eBay of all places! But I would contact University forestry and horticultural departments. Purdue has a famous collection.

The Classic Hican Varieties

Bixby Hican [Missouri 1930] Duis 1936 Girardi 1940

“So called temporarily, right name unknown, very large” [Duis]

“This new and remarkable hybrid is so nearly identical in foliage growth and nut with the McAllister it is often taken for it. We like it because the nut is slightly shorter, making it to appear better filled, although kernels ar eht same size. Probably a better bearer. Size of nut 2 inches long and 1 ¼ inches wide. “ [Hershey 1940]

Burlington Hican [Burlington Iowa, 1915] Riehl 1937 Scarff 1938 Girardi 1940

“These trees are natural crosses between pecans and hickory. Tree a rapid grower and ornamental. It will succeed under neglect where most trees fail. The nuts are large, long, a good cracker and very high quality.” [Scarff]

Burton Hican [Owensboro, KY 1890s] Illinois 1975

“Pecan x Shagbark cross.” 1937 USDA Nut manual.

“Self fertile and pretty prolific producer of medium size hickory flavored buttery pecan nuts , produces after 7-10 years. Nuts drop free of husks.” [Warwickshire Walnuts]

Clarkville Hican [Missouri 1890s] Girardi 1940 Bountiful Ridge Nursery 1960

“Pecan X Shellbark Hickory. Trees grow with great vigor, symmetry and beauty, Foliage is dark green, makes a beautiful ornamental tree as well as producing high quality nuts which are thin shelled and fine flavored. Trees are hardy in northern areas.” [Bountiful]

Des Moines Hican Riehl 1937 Illinois 1975

Dintelman Hican [Fayetteville IL] Riehl 1937 Girardi 1940

Fairbanks Hican Riehl 1937

Gerardi Hican [Damiansville, Il 1930] Duis 1936 Riehl 1937 Bountiful 1960

“Large and fine, Much in Demand” [Duis]

“Tree grows very much like the Clarksville and is hardy in Northern areas. Nuts are often 2 inches long and about 3/4s of an inch in diameter and very fine flavored with good cracking qualities.” [Bountiful Ridge Nurseries]

Henke Hican Illlinois 1975

Jay Underwood Hican Illinois 1975

McAllister Hican [Kentucky] Hershey 1935 Duis 1936 Gillet 1936 Riehl 1937 Bush 1940

“Monster for size, nut nearly three inches long, shade.” [Duis]

“Pecan X Shellbark Hybrid, Lacinioca x Olivieformis, The remarkable rapid growth and ornamental foliage, with its enormous thin-shelled nut, 2 ¼ x 1 ¼ inches and 3 7/8 inches in circumference is making the tree in great demand.” [Hershey]

Marquadt Hican [Illinois] Whitford 1932 Gillet 1936 Jones 1938

“Shellbark x pecan” Partly self-fertile. Large nuts.”

Nussbaumer Hican [Fayetteville IL 1870] Duis 1936

“Lost 40 years, rediscovered by me, large” [Duis]

Pleas Hican [Oklahoma] Hershey 1935 Riehl 1937 Jones 1938 Rayner’s 1963

“Pecan X Bitternut Hybrid, Olivieformis x Cordiformis, A very beautiful tree with yellow buds, nuts the size of a good-sized northern pecan and an excellent cracker. Don’t miss planting some. Because of its hickory parent, it is specially adapted to northern planting. Is bearing in many sections of the North. Grows as rapidly as the Maple. “ [Hershey]

“The excellent Pleas variety will make good growth in most of the northern states and rapidly develops into a magnificent shade tree. The nuts are shaped more like hickory nut than a pecan but are of very large size. They are very meaty and have excellent flavor.” [Rayner]

Rockville Hican [Missouri 1890s] Riehl 1925 Girardi 1940

“Good nut for this section. Large size, good quality thin shell.” [Riehl]

Wright Hican Hershey 1935

“Pecan X Shellbark Hybrid,” Laciniosa x Olivieformis, This remarkable hybrid is a most rapid grower. Mother tree standing near Sumner, MO, is reported a good bearer. Nut large as a southern pecan and looks like a pecan. Flavor high and different than anything else I have ever tasted.” [Hershey—“My Introduction”]


Hickory (Nut trees)

We offer several species of sweet nut hickories native to Canada or the northeast of United States for zones 3b to 5b. Hickory trees are excellent for naturalization of urban woodlands or low value timber forested lands. Hickory trees have a very hard wood and have become rare in nature in Quebec and Ontario. Their beauty and rarity means that we have to plant a lot more. With their determined growth, they are very resistant to extreme cold temperature.

Choose another category:

A Hican is a cross or hybrid between Hickory and northern Pecan. The trees look and grow mostly the same as pecan trees but are more cold tolerant, like Hickory. Hicans have a distinct flavor which might be described as 80% Hickory and 20% pecan, but they look similar to a medium size pecan but with the shell a. more

A Hican is a cross or hybrid between Hickory and northern Pecan. The trees look and grow mostly the same as pecan trees but are more cold tolerant, like Hickory. Hicans have a distinct flavor which might be described as 80% Hickory and 20% pecan, but they look similar to a medium size pecan but with the shell a little bit thicker. The nuts are rare and highly prized. The wood, like both of its parents, is valuable and useful for smoking meats or for wood-working. Hican trees pollinate with both pecan trees and hickory trees.

Suitable for zone 4b and over. We have seen that they are very tolerant to -30°C in winter. In southern Quebec they resist to our cold winter.

Limited supply

A Hican is a cross or hybrid between Hickory and northern Pecan. The trees look and grow mostly the. more

A Hican is a cross or hybrid between Hickory and northern Pecan. The trees look and grow mostly the same as pecan trees but are more cold tolerant, like Hickory. Hicans have a distinct flavor which might be described as 80% Hickory and 20% pecan, but they look similar to a medium size pecan but with the shell a little bit thicker. The nuts are rare and highly prized. The wood, like both of its parents, is valuable and useful for smoking meats or for wood-working. Hican trees pollinate with both pecan trees and hickory trees.

Suitable for zone 4b and over. We have seen that they are very tolerant to -30°C in winter. In southern Quebec they resist to our cold winter.

Limited supply

maximum reduced price The Northern pecan tree may reach 70 to 100 feet in height and 40 to 80 feet in width. It has a good growing rate the first years. As a member of the Hickory family, the wood is very good for building fine furnitures or for general construction, however it is not as hard as hickory. The. more

maximum reduced price

The Northern pecan tree may reach 70 to 100 feet in height and 40 to 80 feet in width. It has a good growing rate the first years. As a member of the Hickory family, the wood is very good for building fine furnitures or for general construction, however it is not as hard as hickory.

The northern pecan and the southern pecan are very different from each other in hardiness, nut size, and length of season required to ripen. The northern pecans are suited for the growing conditions in Ontario and maybe in extreme southern Quebec since they are from the northern tip of the growing range of the pecan. A distribution map of the native range covers much of the Mississippi Valley, with a finger of distribution extending northward along the Mississippi River into Iowa. It is in this area where the hardiest short season pecans are found.

These pecans are small, about the size of a native shagbark hickory or large hazelnut, but they have the fine flavor for which pecan is known. Selections that were the earliest to ripen, have been brought back in the 1980's from Green Island, Iowa by John Gordon, a former nut tree explorer.

Hardy to zone 4b, they resist very well to cold temperatures such -25°C and below in winter.

maximum reduced price The Northern pecan tree may reach 70 to 100 feet in height and 40 to 80 feet in. more

maximum reduced price

The Northern pecan tree may reach 70 to 100 feet in height and 40 to 80 feet in width. It has a good growing rate the first years. As a member of the Hickory family, the wood is very good for building fine furnitures or for general construction, however it is not as hard as hickory.

The northern pecan and the southern pecan are very different from each other in hardiness, nut size, and length of season required to ripen. The northern pecans are suited for the growing conditions in Ontario and maybe in extreme southern Quebec since they are from the northern tip of the growing range of the pecan. A distribution map of the native range covers much of the Mississippi Valley, with a finger of distribution extending northward along the Mississippi River into Iowa. It is in this area where the hardiest short season pecans are found.

These pecans are small, about the size of a native shagbark hickory or large hazelnut, but they have the fine flavor for which pecan is known. Selections that were the earliest to ripen, have been brought back in the 1980's from Green Island, Iowa by John Gordon, a former nut tree explorer.

Hardy to zone 4b, they resist very well to cold temperatures such -25°C and below in winter.

Zone 4b 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. more

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. The red hickory is generally encountered as a medium-sized tree, capable of growing to 30 m (100 ft) in height. The single trunk is straight

Zone 4b Sweet pignut hickory is a fairly uncommon but widespread hickory native to eastern North America. more

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. The red hickory is generally encountered as a medium-sized tree, capable of growing to 30 m (100 ft) in height. The single trunk is straight

Larger nuts than the common shargbark hickory. Ideal for nut production. Hardy to zone 4b.

Larger nuts than the common shargbark hickory. Ideal for nut production. Hardy to zone 4b.

A remakable specie indigenous to North America, shagbark hickory trees are widespread in the Eastern U.S. and in southern ontario and very sporadic in southern Quebec in zones 4 to 8. Shagbark hickory trees are related to the pecan, another nut tree indigenous to North America. Although they can reach a height. more

A remakable specie indigenous to North America, shagbark hickory trees are widespread in the Eastern U.S. and in southern ontario and very sporadic in southern Quebec in zones 4 to 8. Shagbark hickory trees are related to the pecan, another nut tree indigenous to North America. Although they can reach a height of 130 feet or 30 m in some portions of their range, shagbark hickory trees often reach only about half that size. They grow in full to partial sun. The Shagbark Hickory tree has an ashy gray bark similar to birch trees except its bark separates into long strips, which give the trunk it's shaggy look.

The Shagbark Hickories branches can spread to 25 feet, the lower branches somewhat droop while the upper branches are upright. The branches in the middle are just about horizontal. The wood of this tree is strong and tough. The Shagbark has both male and female flowers.

The nuts are edible with an excellent flavor, and are a popular food among people and squirrels alike. They are unsuitable for commercial or orchard production due to the long time it takes for a tree to produce sizable crops and unpredictable output from year to year. Shagbark hickories can grow to enormous sizes but are unreliable bearers. The nuts can be used as a substitute for the pecan in colder climates and have nearly the same culinary function.

C. ovata begins producing seeds at about 10 years of age, but large quantities are not produced until 40 years and will continue for at least 100. Nut production is erratic, with good crops every 3 to 5 years, in between which few or none appear and the entire crop may be lost to animal predation.

Hickory has traditionally been very popular as a fuelwood and as a charcoal-producing wood. The general low percentage of hickory in the overstory of many privately owned woodlots is due in part to selective cutting of the hickory for fuelwood. Hickory fuelwood has a high heat value, burns evenly, and produces long-lasting steady heat the charcoal gives food a hickory-smoked flavor.

The wood of the true hickories is known for its strength, and no commercial species of wood is equal to it in combined strength, toughness, hardness, and stiffness.

The tree is hardy to zone 3b.

Ask us for a quote when large quantity is desired.

A remakable specie indigenous to North America, shagbark hickory trees are widespread in the Eastern. more

A remakable specie indigenous to North America, shagbark hickory trees are widespread in the Eastern U.S. and in southern ontario and very sporadic in southern Quebec in zones 4 to 8. Shagbark hickory trees are related to the pecan, another nut tree indigenous to North America. Although they can reach a height of 130 feet or 30 m in some portions of their range, shagbark hickory trees often reach only about half that size. They grow in full to partial sun. The Shagbark Hickory tree has an ashy gray bark similar to birch trees except its bark separates into long strips, which give the trunk it's shaggy look.

The Shagbark Hickories branches can spread to 25 feet, the lower branches somewhat droop while the upper branches are upright. The branches in the middle are just about horizontal. The wood of this tree is strong and tough. The Shagbark has both male and female flowers.

The nuts are edible with an excellent flavor, and are a popular food among people and squirrels alike. They are unsuitable for commercial or orchard production due to the long time it takes for a tree to produce sizable crops and unpredictable output from year to year. Shagbark hickories can grow to enormous sizes but are unreliable bearers. The nuts can be used as a substitute for the pecan in colder climates and have nearly the same culinary function.

C. ovata begins producing seeds at about 10 years of age, but large quantities are not produced until 40 years and will continue for at least 100. Nut production is erratic, with good crops every 3 to 5 years, in between which few or none appear and the entire crop may be lost to animal predation.

Hickory has traditionally been very popular as a fuelwood and as a charcoal-producing wood. The general low percentage of hickory in the overstory of many privately owned woodlots is due in part to selective cutting of the hickory for fuelwood. Hickory fuelwood has a high heat value, burns evenly, and produces long-lasting steady heat the charcoal gives food a hickory-smoked flavor.

The wood of the true hickories is known for its strength, and no commercial species of wood is equal to it in combined strength, toughness, hardness, and stiffness.

The tree is hardy to zone 3b.

Ask us for a quote when large quantity is desired.

The shellbark hickory or big shagbark hickory is sometimes called Kingnut Hickory, as it is sometimes called as another hickory specie that is native to the mildest regions of Ontario and widespread in eastern USA. Attesting to some of its characteristics. It is a slow-growing, long-lived tree, hard to. more

The shellbark hickory or big shagbark hickory is sometimes called Kingnut Hickory, as it is sometimes called as another hickory specie that is native to the mildest regions of Ontario and widespread in eastern USA. Attesting to some of its characteristics. It is a slow-growing, long-lived tree, hard to transplant because of its long taproot. reaching an height of 60 to 80 feet and spreading to 40 to 60 feet.

Shellbark hickory grows best on deep, fertile, moist soils, most typical of the order Alfisols. It does not thrive in heavy clay soils, but grows well on heavy loams or silt loams. Shellbark hickory requires moister situations than do pignut, mockernut, or shagbark hickories (Carya glabra, C. alba, or C. ovata), although it is sometimes found on dry, sandy soils. Specific nutrient requirements are not known, but generally the hickories grow best on neutral or slightly alkaline soils.

The nuts, largest of all hickory nuts, are sweet and edible but have a thick shell. The wood is hard, heavy, strong, and very flexible, making it a favored wood for tool handles. It has a nut that ranges from shagbark size to a large egg size. Its kernel can match the Persian walnut in size. The shell is generally thicker than a shagbark, requiring a good nutcracker or vise to break through it to get at the nut meat inside. Shellbark hickory nuts have internal shell ridges like the shagbark that make kernel removal difficult. In other respects, the shellbark is similar to the shagbark. Generally, the shellbark hickory needs the long hot summers found further south to ripen the nuts.

Minimum for canadien zone 4b.

The shellbark hickory or big shagbark hickory is sometimes called Kingnut Hickory, as it is sometimes. more

The shellbark hickory or big shagbark hickory is sometimes called Kingnut Hickory, as it is sometimes called as another hickory specie that is native to the mildest regions of Ontario and widespread in eastern USA. Attesting to some of its characteristics. It is a slow-growing, long-lived tree, hard to transplant because of its long taproot. reaching an height of 60 to 80 feet and spreading to 40 to 60 feet.

Shellbark hickory grows best on deep, fertile, moist soils, most typical of the order Alfisols. It does not thrive in heavy clay soils, but grows well on heavy loams or silt loams. Shellbark hickory requires moister situations than do pignut, mockernut, or shagbark hickories (Carya glabra, C. alba, or C. ovata), although it is sometimes found on dry, sandy soils. Specific nutrient requirements are not known, but generally the hickories grow best on neutral or slightly alkaline soils.

The nuts, largest of all hickory nuts, are sweet and edible but have a thick shell. The wood is hard, heavy, strong, and very flexible, making it a favored wood for tool handles. It has a nut that ranges from shagbark size to a large egg size. Its kernel can match the Persian walnut in size. The shell is generally thicker than a shagbark, requiring a good nutcracker or vise to break through it to get at the nut meat inside. Shellbark hickory nuts have internal shell ridges like the shagbark that make kernel removal difficult. In other respects, the shellbark is similar to the shagbark. Generally, the shellbark hickory needs the long hot summers found further south to ripen the nuts.

Minimum for canadien zone 4b.


3. Hazelnut (Corylus sp.)

Shelby/Flickr

The hazelnut, or filbert, performs best in moderate climates, but hazels need 800 to 1,200 chill hours to flower and break dormancy. Too far south, they may flower too early or out of sequence with pollination. Although hazels bear both male and female flowers, they are not self-pollinating and need at least two different cultivars because some cultivars won’t pollinate each other. Growers should plant four to six different cultivars to get consistent crops.

In America, eastern filbert blight fungus has limited commercial hazelnut orchards to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, but the development of blight-resistant and cold-hardy hybrids may enable the hazelnut to become a sustainable crop for much of the United States and southern Canada. The plant can be a 3-foot shrub or a 30-foot tree, depending on rootstock and pruning. Grafted or layered hazels will start producing within two to three years and can stay productive for 60 years.

Disease-resistant and cold-hardy hazelnuts have the potential to become a valuable part of the sustainable-agriculture movement, according to Tom Molnar, PhD, hazelnut expert at Rutgers University.

“We’re right on the edge,” he says. The trees are very low input, “something that you could take care of on weekends.”

Hazelnuts require only a few (if any) sprays for bud mites or blights, compared to grapes, peaches or apples, and need much less pruning. Most hazels grow naturally as large multistemmed shrubs. Even with a bush, you’ll still be able to harvest a crop, says Molnar. But if suckers around the base are pruned two or three times per year to leave a single tree trunk, all the energy goes into the mature wood, which equals more flowering and sooner bearing. Single-trunked trees are also easier to maintain for weed control, mowing the orchard and harvesting.

“They’ll do really well on soils that are moderately acidic, and they respond very well to nitrogen fertilizer,” Molnar says. Weed control will keep trees healthy, but his test trees haven’t needed pest control.

Hazelnuts are drought-tolerant and will grow where other crops won’t, such as on slopes and in marginal soils.

Molnar admits that planting more than 1 acre or so may not be a wise investment, as yield consistency is one of the things being tested in Rutgers University trials.

“But there’s a lot of potential,” he says. “For the hobby or backyard gardener—for your own consumption or growing for a local farm market—I think it’s a great plant!”


Scavenger Hunt for Hican Nuts

Join Gardening Know How on their scavenger hunt for Hican Nuts! For more information on this nut, which is a naturally occurring hickory-pecan hybrid, click here. If you have Hican Nuts, photograph them and share them with us hash-tagged #GKHpichunt via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram! All photo submissions will be judged by Gardening Know How staff and one grand prize winner will be selected.

WHAT DO YOU WIN?

  • The prestige of being a published photographer! Your photo ( credited to you ) will be featured in an upcoming article on the Gardening Know How website! How is that for some great bragging rights?!
  • A $25 gift certificate to one of the following five seed retailers of your choice: Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, Burpee, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Jung Seed or Seed Savers Exchange!

You have a week to complete this scavenger hunt mission!
Contest starts 8 a.m. EST on Monday, January 25th and ends 8 a.m. EST on Monday, February 1st!

  • Photo submissions must be original and the submitting photographer must hold all rights to the work.
    Originality of photos will be verified by Gardening Know How.
  • Photographers must have explicit permission from any people whose faces are recognizable in their photographs.
  • Multiple photo submissions are allowed provided each photo is unique.
  • Photos taken of Hican Nuts in past years also qualify.
  • Photographers retain copyright in their submitted work.

GOOD LUCK & HAPPY HUNTING!

UPDATE 2/3/2016: Congratulations to Janet Cassidy , the winner of the Scavenger Hunt for Hican Nuts!


Lesser-Known Hickory Tree Facts

Every whiff of hickory-scented meat rising from a backyard barbecue grill pays homage to one of America's iconic trees. A dozen of the world's 18 hickory tree (Carya spp.) species call the U.S. their home. They rule alongside oaks (Quercus spp.) in the eastern hardwood forests of USDA plant hardiness zones 4 through 9. We drill down on some lesser-known hickory tree facts.

Hickory Nuts

  • Eighteen species of hickory trees grow around the world and the nuts from each of them are unique in their size, taste and shell characteristics.
  • Shagbark and shellbark hickories (Carya ovata, Carya lacinosa) are generally regarded as having the tastiest nuts. Their drawbacks are thick shells and small nutmeats.
  • Pignut (Carya glabra) hickory nuts have thin shells with large kernels, but their inconsistent flavor ranges from very bitter to deliciously sweet.
  • Pecan trees (Carya illinoinensis) are the only hickories commercially cultivated for their nuts.
  • Even though they grow on trees, hickory nuts technically aren’t tree nuts. They’re drupes, egg-shaped fruits with a fleshy layer surrounding their hard-shelled seeds. So a hickory’s nutmeats are actually its seeds.
  • Some hickory nuts have shells fragile enough to crack just by squeezing two of them together. Others are tough enough to need pounding with a hammer.
  • Soaking the nuts overnight before cracking makes it easier to remove the nutmeats whole.

Hickory Bark

Two hickory species stand out in the forest because of their easily identifiable leaves and bark.

  • Shagbark and shellbark hickories take their names from the loose plates of gray bark curling away from their trunks.
  • The shellbark’s bark plates loosen in 3- to 4-foot strips. They’re longer, narrower and less shaggy than the shagbark’s plates.
  • An extract of oven-toasted, simmered shagbark hickory bark makes sweet, spicy smoky syrup when simmered again with sugar.
  • Native Americans and early settlers peeled off the flexible inner bark from both trees each spring. They wove it into baskets, rope and chair seats.

Other Hickory Tree Facts

“Hard as hickory” doesn’t begin to capture the combination of density, hardness, stiffness and toughness found in hickory wood. That’s why it’s favored for use in axe and hammer handles, baseball bats, golf clubs and many other items that take a regular pounding.

Shagbark hickories make great shade trees where high winds are a problem, thanks to their steep, sturdy taproots and tall, straight trunks. Occasionally, they cross pollinate with pecans to produce ‘Hican’ offspring prized for improved cold tolerance and large, uniquely flavored nuts.


Watch the video: How to Grow Pecan Trees