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Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata (Mill.) K. Koch)

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Range - Expand

Native or Not Present
Introduced or Not Present

This tentative map is based on our own research. It may have limited data on Canada and/or Mexico, and there is some subjectivity in our assignment of plants as introduced vs. expanded. Read more in this blog post.


Prefers deep, moist, rich, well-drained soils, but occurs in a wide range of soil types, and can tolerate clay soil. Mostly intolerant of flooding, although populations found on floodplains may have more tolerance to these conditions. A slow-growing tree that exhibits moderate shade tolerance, it is typically a mid-to-late successional species, although it can be replaced by more shade-tolerant species on the richest sites. Due to its heavy nuts and slow growth, it can be slow to recolonize areas where forests have been cleared.

In the northern part of its range, it is mostly found on slopes in upland areas, whereas in the south it is more common in bottomland forests, where it occurs on locally well-drained sites.

Codominant in oak-hickory forests, but also occurs as a minor component in many other forest types. In the absence of disturbance, tends to replace early-successional, more shade-intolerant species including honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos), black walnut (Juglans nigra), bur oak, white oak, black oak, and, black cherry.

Exhibits some resistance to fire but less than many oak species; this species usually benefits from fire suppression. At the western border of its range, fire suppression has allowed it to move into prairies, although this process is slow.

Life Cycle

Seedlings germinate after long period of cold dormancy, but can sprout in a range of sunlight conditions, including full sun to moderate shade in forests. Seedlings quickly establish a long taproot.

Saplings can persist for years under a closed canopy, and grow rapidly in response to gaps.

Trees begin producing seed at about 40 years of age, but production does not peak until 60-200 years, with some trees continuing to produce seed with ages as long as 300 years. Seed production is high every 1-3 years. Seeds are primarily dispersed by squirrels and chipmunks, also by gravity on upland sites. The extinct passenger pigeon may have also helped disperse the seeds, but extant birds are less important for distributing seeds.

Animals tend to eat all the seed during years of low production, leading the tree to only reproduce successfully on masting years.

In response to fire or other top-killing disturbances, smaller trees resprout from the stump and larger trees often resprout from roots.


The nuts are eaten by people. Although less widely cultivated than the pecan (Carya illinoinensis), after that one this is the most-frequently-cultivated hickory, and makes up the bulk of nuts commercially sold as hickory.

Also used in landscaping as a large shade tree.

The wood is hard and durable and has a variety of uses. It is also an outstanding firewood, with high heat content, and a tendency to burn steadily. It is sometimes used to impart a hickory-smoke flavor to foods.

Helps to reclaim strip mining sites and lead pit mines due to its tolerance of lead and zinc in the soil.

Several other Carya species occur in North America, all of them native. This species is closely related to butternut hickory (C.
), pecan (C. illinoensis), and shellbark hickory (C. laciniosa), and hybridizes with each of these species.

These species are more distantly related to walnuts (Juglans sp.) which also overlap in their range.

Shagbark Hickory | The Wood Database (About This Site)

Shagbark Hickory | Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) (About This Site)

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Carya ovata (Shagbark Hickory) | USDA PLANTS Database (About This Site)

Carya ovata | Go Botany (About This Site)

Carya ovata (Shagbark Hickory) | Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder (About This Site)

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

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

Carya ovata | Biota of North America Project (BONAP) (About This Site)

Carya ovata | NatureServe Explorer (About This Site)

Carya ovata | Flora of North America (About This Site)

Shagbark Hickory | Maryland Biodiversity Project (About This Site)

Carya ovata (P.Mill.) K. Koch (Shagbark hickory) | Digital Atlas of the Virginia Flora (About This Site)