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Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra)

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Summary

A widespread hickory in Eastern North America, and the most abundant hickory in the Appalachians, especially in the Ohio river basin.

Range - Expand

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Native

This tentative map is based on the FHWA's ERA. This data lacks information on Canada, but also overestimates native ranges, especially around the edges, as this post explains. We have not yet reviewed or fixed this map.

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Habitat

Mostly found in upland hardwood forests, often co-dominant with white oak and northern red oak. However, also occurs on a wide variety of other sites, including wet bottomland forests, stable sand dunes.

Prefers light, well-drained, loamy soil, but occurs in a variety of soil types.

In the Appalachians, often found filling in areas where American chestnut has been killed by the chestnut blight.

Less fire-tolerant than most oaks.

Life Cycle

Pignut hickory is a long-lived, slow-growing tree. Seeds germinate in spring, following a period of cold dormancy. Seeds rarely remain viable longer than one season.

Initial growth of seedlings is very slow. Seedlings are shade tolerant in the southeastern part of their range, but less so farther northwest.

Seed production usually begins around 30 years of age, peaks between 75 and 200 years, and continues as long as 300 years. Large seed crops are produced either every other year, or sometimes, every year.

Although both mammals and birds eat the seeds, mammals are more important than birds in seed distribution. In upland areas where this species often grows, gravity also helps distribute the seeds.

Can resprout if top-killed by fire or cutting. Resprouts less often than many other hardwood trees, but sprout growth is rapid. Sprouts are more likely to survive if they originate underground.

The long lifespan of this tree can allow it to persist for a long time as a dominant canopy tree in forests where it would normally not be shade-tolerant enough to regenerate.

Faunal Associations

The nuts are an important food source for many mammals and larger birds.

Uses

Pignut hickory produces some of the hardest, strongest wood of any tree species in North America. It is tough, elastic, and shock-resistant. However, it is difficult to work with and can cause cutting edges to wear quickly. It
is also susceptible to rot and insect damage. Wood from faster-growing trees tends to have better properties than that from slower-growing trees.

The wood also has a high heat content, making it attractive as firewood, and it has a distinctive aroma that is used in producing smoked foods.

The nuts are edible to humans, but not widely consumed.

Closely related to red hickory (Carya ovalis), which is able to hybridize with this species; these two taxa are often treated as a complex rather than separate species. Occasionally, C. ovalis is treated as a hybrid of this species with shagbark hickory (Carya ovata). This species can also hybridize with bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis).

There are numerous other Carya sp. overlapping with this one in range. Often, multiple species will occur in the same forest.

Hickories are in the Juglandeae tribe of the Juglandaceae family, and the next-closest relatives in much of their range are walnuts (Juglans sp.); the most common species in North America is the black walnut (Juglans nigra).

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Carya glabra (Pignut) | Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder (About This Site)

Pignut Hickory | Virginia Tech Dendrology Factsheets (About This Site)

Pignut Hickory | Silvics of North America (About This Site)