Saturday, May 11, 2013

Shagbark Hickory

emerging hickory leaves can sometimes resemble praying hands
 © Dave Spier

A week of warm weather has created a green paradise in the northern Finger Lakes region of New York. Among the many transformed deciduous trees, the Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) leaves have emerged. When the giant bud scales first peeled open, the "fingers" of miniature leaves resembled "praying hands." Once fully opened, the hickory's feather-compound leaves become distinctive. There are five (sometimes seven) leaflets with four opposite and one at the tip. The smallest are the inner, the middle pair are larger and the terminal leaflet is the largest. All are toothed and long-pointed. By the time it's done growing, a compound leaf can reach over a foot in length.

young hickory leaves unfolded and growing

hickory flowers are wind pollinated

Shagbarks, aptly named for the long, peeling shreds of bark, can easily grow to a height of 60 to 90 feet. The record is 120 feet. The wood is strong and elastic and was once prized for tool handles, gunstocks, skis and chair backs. When burned, it gives off a lot of heat and makes high-grade charcoal.

Shagbark Hickory bark
In late summer and early fall, the thick-walled nut husks split into four sections and release the four-ridged nuts which are good to eat. (Squirrels, possums, Wild Turkeys and Wood Ducks would agree.) The nuts also can be ground in a meal-like flour or crushed and boiled to separate the oil. Rabbits and deer browse the twigs. In late winter, the trunks can be tapped in the manner of collecting maple sap.

child holding hickory nuts, some with the husk on (Bayberry Environmental Education Center, Junius, NY, when I was a naturalist there)

Hickories are related to walnuts and butternuts (Juglans spp.) which have numerous leaflets, all roughly the same size. All these trees are in the same family (Juglandaceae) along with pecans.

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