Carya ovata (Mill.) K. Koch

Common names

Shagbark Hickory


Juglans ovata Mill.; C. alba Nutt.

Article sources


New Trees

A tree 70 to 120 ft high in a wild state, very distinct in its loose grey bark, which comes away from the trunk in broad flakes 1 ft or more long, each flake attached by its middle; young shoots covered with pale down. Leaves 8 to 14 in. long (considerably more in young, vigorous trees), composed of five leaflets, the three upper ones of which are obovate, often very narrowly so, and considerably the largest; the lower pair ovate to ovate-lanceolate; all long-pointed and toothed, edged when young with a fringe of hairs; glabrous above, downy beneath when young, later glabrous. The leaflets vary much in size; in adult trees the three terminal ones are 5 to 7 in. long, 2 to 3 in. wide, with the lower pair less than half the size; but in young trees I have measured the terminal leaflet 12 in. long and 5 in. wide, with the other four in proportion. Male catkins in threes, 3 to 5 in. long, hairy. Fruit borne singly or in pairs, roundish, flattened at top and bottom, 1 to 2 in. long. Nut white, four-angled.

Native of eastern N. America, where it is spread over a large territory; introduced early in the seventeenth century. It thrives very well in England when young, and is one of the most striking of fine-foliaged trees. At Kew, the leaves turn a beautiful yellow in autumn. Of the hickories producing edible nuts, this is the most valuable in the United States, but it has no value in this respect in Britain. The largest tree noted by Elwes and Henry (1908) grew at Botley Hill, Hants; it was 75 × 514 ft and supposed to have been planted by W. Cobbett in 1820. What is probably the same tree is now about 85 ft high and 714 ft in girth (measurement by P. H. B. Gardner, 1967). There is a specimen at Albury Park, Surrey, 68 × 6 ft (1966).

C. ovata is best distinguished from other hickories by the combination of shaggy bark and leaves with five leaflets, glabrous beneath when mature.

C. × laneyi Sarg. – A natural hybrid between C. ovata and cordiformis found wild in western New York.

From the Supplement (Vol. V)

specimens: Kew, 85 × 514 ft (1979); Osterley Park, London, on Lawn, 80 × 612 ft and, in Woods, 85 × 512 ft (1982); Albury Park, Surrey, the tree measured in 1966 was blown down two years later; Nymans, Sussex, 75 × 4 ft (1985); Coolhurst, Sussex, 80 × 534 ft (1979); Hollycombe, Liphook, Hants, 92 × 334 ft (1984); White-knights, Berks., 53 × 534 ft in 1908, now 80 × 814 ft (1979); Swallowfield, Berks., 75 × 714 ft (1974); Westonbirt, Glos., Broad Drive, 75 × 412 ft (1974); Antony House, Cornwall, the tree measured in 1971 proves to be Juglans nigra; Fredville Park, Hythe, Kent, 70 × 914 ft (1973).

† C. carolinae-septentrionalis (Ashe) Engl. & Graebn. Hicoria c.-s. Ashe – Perhaps not specifically distinct from C. ovata, this differs from it in having lanceolate leaflets, sometimes three in number, and also in its fruits. In cultivation at Wakehurst Place, Sussex.

From New Trees

Carya ovata (Mill.) K. Koch

Shagbark Hickory, Shellbark Hickory

This species was described by Bean (B516, S147) and Krüssmann (K285), and was comprehensively reviewed by Andrews (2007).

Carya ovata var. australis (Ashe) Little

Carolina Hickory

Syn. C. carolinae-septentrionalis (Ashe) Engl. & Graebn.

Var. australis has slender, glabrous branchlets that turn black when they fall. Terminal buds reddish brown to black and largely glabrous. Leaves 20–30 cm long; leaflets 4–19 × 1–6.5 cm. Staminate catkins to 6 cm long. Fruits 2.5–3 cm long and wide. In comparison, var. ovata has stout, hirsute branchlets that retain their colour when they fall. Terminal buds tan to dark brown and tomentose. Leaves 30–60 cm long; leaflets 6–26 × 3–14 cm. Staminate catkins to 13 cm long. Fruits 3.5–4 cm long and wide. Stone & Whittemore 1997, Schaarschmidt 2002. Distribution USA: Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee. Habitat Rocky hillsides, limestone outcrops and wet, low-lying areas between 200 and 1500 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 5. Conservation status Not evaluated.

The Shagbark Hickory is one of the most magnificent of eastern American broadleaved trees, and the source of the famous hickory wood for handles and barbecues, as well as its nuts. The differences between its varieties are rather small and technical, and var. australis makes as good a tree as any other. It is occasionally found in American collections, including one very fine umbrageous specimen at the Morris Arboretum (labelled Carya carolinae-septentrionalis), planted by John Morris some time between 1887 and 1915. This tree is over 30 m in height, dbh 92 cm. A seedling from it is growing at Wakehurst Place. The bark swirls in longitudinal plates and fissures, and is in itself a complete justification for planting this species, never mind its other fine qualities such as turning gold in autumn. Carya ovata (s.l.) is one of the more satisfactory hickories in maritime Europe, and should be planted more.



Other species in the genus