Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata)- Zone 4
Characteristics of the tree
Rare in its native Canada, the Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) is a magnificent tree, one of nature’s masterpieces. It is well known for its use in smoking, but it also produces delightful nuts tasting similar to pecans.
Pecan nuts are not hardy enough to grow in Canada, but the delicious nut of the Shagbark Hickory is very similar to a pecan in flavour and texture. The nuts measure generally between 3 and 4.5cm in length, and they are quite easy to gather and extract. They grow within a thick green husk, either singly on the tree or in pairs. The husks dry and begin to turn brown and crack open as the nuts mature, and when ripe, they generally fall to the ground. By this time, some nuts will have husks that are already partially open, and they are easy to remove.
The shell is a little harder to crack than an almond, but it can be easily done with a standard nutcracker. The sweet and nutritious nuts can be enjoyed as they are as a snack, used anywhere you would use a pecan nut – we have used them to make a hickory-nut pie with great results! They are generally ready to harvest around late September – and as soon as you see them falling to the ground, it is an emergency to collect them before the squirrels do!
The Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) is native to Canada and eastern United States. Rare in numbers here, this huge tree can grow to more than 25 meters (82 feet) in height and can live for up to 350 years. Its unique bark often peels in very long vertical strips, and its roots are exceptionally deep and strong. A one-foot-tall seedling has roots 3 feet long! (Which is why we sell only small hickories :)) During spring, its bulging leaf buds look like amazing flowers.
While the shagbark hickory can produce nuts alone, it tends to give uneven harvests in this case, and produces much more reliably in areas where there is another tree of the same species planted nearby. It can start to give some nuts at ten years old, but only begins to really give decent harvests at around 40 years old, meaning that when you plant one of these trees, it is really an act of generosity towards future generations! Apart from the nutritional value of its nuts, its hard and dense wood has considerable value, and has been used to make tool handles and furniture. It was also favoured as wood fuel, as its heat has high value and is long-lasting; and the particular, pleasant aroma of its smoke has led to it being used extensively in smoking food. Those we propagate can survive in zone 3, but will only have time to mature their nuts in zone 4 and warmer.
The Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) is considered to be shade resistant. This means that if planted in a completely shaded area it will not die – but it won’t grow much either. In order for it to grow, it needs to be exposed to sunlight. The Shagbark Hickory prefers rich and well drained soils, but grows naturally in a wide variety of soils.
Shagbark hickory can grow to impressive heights, reaching 25 metres or 82 feet in height – but it takes quite a long time to get there, being relatively slow-growing. This illustration shows a 40-year-old shagbark hickory, which has reached a height of 12 metres, or 35 feet. This is the approximately the age at which it begins to produce decent harvests of nuts.
You should note that this illustration is meant only to give a general indication of what you can expect, and the growth of your tree might look somewhat different. The development of a tree depends on the soil type, irrigation, fertilisation and climatic conditions. What we show here is based on our observation of the growth of shagbark hickory in zone 4, in rather poor soil. In zone 5, or in a richer soil, it could be faster.
All our shagbark hickory trees are sold bare-root, without pots. They have been cultivated directly in our soil. Bare-root trees must be taken out of the ground and shipped during their period of dormancy, which is why we only ship trees in the spring. A big advantage with these kinds of trees is that they take up very little space, and can therefore be easily shipped by mail all over Canada!
This photograph shows a 1-2-foot shagbark hickory tree, just like one that you might receive. Depending on the height you choose at the time of purchase, the tree might be smaller (below 1 foot in height).