Hickory is a type of tree, comprising the genus Carya, which includes around 18 species.[2] Five or six species are native to China, Indochina, and India (Assam), as many as twelve are native to the United States, four are found in Mexico, and two to four are from Canada.[3][4] A number of hickory species are used for products like edible nuts or wood.

Hickory at Morton Arboretum
Accession 29-U-10
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Fagales
Family: Juglandaceae
Subfamily: Juglandoideae
Tribe: Juglandeae
Subtribe: Caryinae
Genus: Carya
Type species
Carya tomentosa (Poir.) Nutt.[1]

Hickories are deciduous trees with pinnately compound leaves and large nuts. Hickory flowers are small, yellow-green catkins produced in spring. They are wind-pollinated and self-incompatible. The fruit is a globose or oval nut, 2–5 cm (0.8–2.0 in) long and 1.5–3 cm (0.6–1.2 in) diameter, enclosed in a four-valved husk, which splits open at maturity. The nut shell is thick and bony in most species, and thin in a few, notably the pecan (C. illinoinensis); it is divided into two halves, which split apart when the seed germinates.


The name "hickory" is from a Native American word, from the Algonquian or perhaps the Powhatan language. It is a shortening of pockerchicory, pocohicora, or a similar word, which may be the name for the hickory tree's nut, or may be a milky drink made from such nuts.[5] The genus name Carya is Ancient Greek: κάρυον, káryon, meaning "nut".

Species and classification

The genus Carya is in the walnut family, Juglandaceae. In the APG system, this family is included in the order Fagales. Several species are known to hybridize, with around nine accepted, named hybrids.[2][6] Beaked hickory (Annamocarya sinensis) is a species formerly classified as Carya sinensis, but now considered its own genus, Annamocarya.

Asian hickories

Carya sect. Sinocarya

  • Carya dabieshanensis M.C. Liu – Dabie Shan hickory (may be synonymous with C. cathayensis)
  • Carya cathayensis Sarg. – Chinese hickory
  • Carya hunanensis W.C.Cheng & R.H.Chang – Hunan hickory
  • Carya kweichowensis Kuang & A.M.Lu – Guizhou hickory
  • Carya poilanei Leroy – Poilane's hickory
  • Carya tonkinensis Lecomte – Vietnamese hickory[7]

North American hickories

Carya sect. Carya – typical hickories

  • Carya floridana Sarg. – scrub hickory
  • Carya glabra (Mill.) Sweet – pignut hickory, pignut, sweet pignut, coast pignut hickory, smoothbark hickory, swamp hickory, broom hickory
  • Carya laciniosa (Mill.) K.Koch – shellbark hickory, shagbark hickory, bigleaf shagbark hickory, kingnut, big shellbark, bottom shellbark, thick shellbark, western shellbark
  • Carya myristiciformis (F.Michx.) Nutt. – nutmeg hickory, swamp hickory, bitter water hickory
  • Carya ovalis (Wangenh.) Sarg. – red hickory, spicebark hickory, sweet pignut hickory (treated as a synonym of C. glabra by Flora N. Amer.)
  • Carya ovata (Mill.) K.Koch – shagbark hickory
    • C. o. var. ovata – northern shagbark hickory
    • C. o. var. australis – southern shagbark hickory, Carolina hickory (syn. C. carolinae-septentrionalis)
  • Carya pallida (Ashe) Engl. & Graebn. – sand hickory
  • Carya texana Buckley – black hickory
  • Carya tomentosa (Poir.) Nutt. – mockernut hickory (syn. C. alba)
  • Carya washingtonensis Manchester – Miocene of Kittitas County, Washington

Carya sect. Apocarya – pecans


Hickory is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species. These include:

The hickory leaf stem gall phylloxera (Phylloxera caryaecaulis) also uses the hickory tree as a food source. Phylloxeridae are related to aphids and have a similarly complex life cycle. Eggs hatch in early spring and the galls quickly form around the developing insects. Phylloxera galls may damage weakened or stressed hickories, but are generally harmless. Deformed leaves and twigs can rain down from the tree in the spring as squirrels break off infected tissue and eat the galls, possibly for the protein content or because the galls are fleshy and tasty to the squirrels. The pecan gall curculio (Conotrachelus elegans) is a true weevil species also found feeding on galls of the hickory leaf stem gall phylloxera.

The banded hickory borer (Knulliana cincta) is also found on hickories.

Evolutionary history

The earliest ancestors of hickories are identified from Cretaceous pollen grains. The Carya as we know it first appears in Oligocene strata 34 million years ago. Fossils of early hickory nuts show simpler, thinner shells than modern species with the exception of pecans, suggesting that the trees gradually developed defenses to rodent seed predation. During this time, the genus had a distribution across the Northern Hemisphere, but the Pleistocene Ice Age beginning 2 million years ago completely obliterated it from Europe. The distribution of Carya in North America also contracted and it completely disappeared from the continent west of the Rocky Mountains. Since fossil records show North America as having the largest number of Juglandaceae species, it is likely that the genus originated there and later spread to Europe and Asia.


Hickory nuts (Carya spp.), dried
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy2,749 kJ (657 kcal)
18.25 g
Dietary fiber6.4 g
64.37 g
Saturated7.038 g
Monounsaturated32.611 g
Polyunsaturated21.886 g
12.72 g
Tryptophan0.139 g
Threonine0.422 g
Isoleucine0.576 g
Leucine1.027 g
Lysine0.497 g
Methionine0.300 g
Cystine0.271 g
Phenylalanine0.713 g
Tyrosine0.454 g
Valine0.730 g
Arginine2.086 g
Histidine0.389 g
Alanine0.662 g
Aspartic acid1.368 g
Glutamic acid2.885 g
Glycine0.708 g
Proline0.571 g
Serine0.806 g
VitaminsQuantity %DV
Thiamine (B1)
0.867 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.131 mg
Niacin (B3)
0.907 mg
Pantothenic acid (B5)
1.746 mg
Vitamin B6
0.192 mg
Folate (B9)
40 μg
Vitamin B12
0.00 μg
Vitamin C
2.0 mg
MineralsQuantity %DV
61 mg
0.738 mg
2.12 mg
173 mg
4.610 mg
336 mg
436 mg
8.1 μg
1 mg
4.31 mg
Other constituentsQuantity
Water2.65 g

Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

Some fruits are borderline and difficult to categorize. Hickory nuts (Carya) and walnuts (Juglans) in the Juglandaceae family grow within an outer husk; these fruits are sometimes considered to be drupes or drupaceous nuts, rather than true botanical nuts. "Tryma" is a specialized term for such nut-like drupes.[8][9]


Hickory wood is very hard, stiff, dense and shock resistant. There are woods that are stronger than hickory and woods that are harder, but the combination of strength, toughness, hardness, and stiffness found in hickory wood is not found in any other commercial wood.[10] It is used for tool handles, bows, wheel spokes, carts, drumsticks, lacrosse stick handles, golf club shafts (sometimes still called hickory stick, even though made of steel or graphite), the bottom of skis, walking sticks, and for punitive use as a switch (like hazel), and especially as a cane-like hickory stick in schools and use by parents. Paddles are often made from hickory. This property of hickory wood has left a trace in some Native American languages: in Ojibwe, hickory is called mitigwaabaak, a compound of mitigwaab "bow" and the final -aakw "hardwood tree".[11] Due its grain structure, hickory is more susceptible to moisture absorption than other species of wood, and is therefore more prone to shrinkage, warping or swelling with changes in humidity.[12]

Baseball bats were formerly made of hickory, but are now more commonly made of ash. Hickory is replacing ash as the wood of choice for Scottish shinty sticks (also known as camans). Hickory was extensively used for the construction of early aircraft.

Hickory is also highly prized for wood-burning stoves and chimineas because of its high energy content. Hickory wood is also a preferred type for smoking cured meats. In the Southern United States, hickory is popular for cooking barbecue, as hickory grows abundantly in the region and adds flavor to the meat.

Hickory is sometimes used for wood flooring due to its durability in resisting wear and character. Hickory wood is not noted for rot resistance.

A bark extract from shagbark hickory is also used in an edible syrup similar to maple syrup, with a slightly bitter, smoky taste.

The nuts of some species are palatable, while others are bitter and only suitable for animal feed. Shagbark and shellbark hickory, along with pecan, are regarded by some as the finest nut trees. Pecans are the most important nut tree native to North America.[3]

When cultivated for their nuts, clonal (grafted) trees of the same cultivar cannot pollinate each other because of their self-incompatibility. Two or more cultivars must be planted together for successful pollination. Seedlings (grown from hickory nuts) will usually have sufficient genetic variation.

It is an excellent wood for fuel due to its density.[13]

See also


  1. "Carya Nutt". TROPICOS. Missouri Botanical Garden. Retrieved 2009-10-19.
  2. "Carya Nutt". Plants of the World Online. Royal Botanical Gardens Kew. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  3. Flora of North America: Carya
  4. Flora of China: Carya
  5. Online Etymology Dictionary, entry "hickory".
  6. USDA Plants Database Profile for Carya (hickory)
  7. "Subordinate Taxa of Carya Nutt". TROPICOS. Missouri Botanical Garden. Retrieved 2009-10-19.
  8. Identification of Major Fruit Types Archived 2011-11-20 at the Wayback Machine
  9. "Nut Photos". waynesword.palomar.edu.
  10. Important Trees of Eastern Forests, USDA, 1974
  11. Valentine, Rudolph 2001. Nishnaabemwin Grammar, Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p.485).
  12. "Shrinking, Warping and Perfect Boards". LignomatUSA. Lignomat.
  13. Grauke, L. J. "Hickories- Economic Botany". aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu. Retrieved 4 August 2019.
  • Philips, Roger. Trees of North America and Europe. Random House, Inc., New York. ISBN 0-394-50259-0, 1979.
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