Shagbark Hickory Nuts

Among the different trees that I visit regularly each year in Eliza Howell Park is one Shagbark Hickory tree. It is a tall tree with some low branches providing opportunity for close observation.

It is located in a mostly open area, with scattered trees, within the road loop. In this photo, the Shagbark Hickory is the tree in the center, on the right side of an oak.

Shagbark Hickory trees produce many more nuts some years than others. After a couple of less productive years, this particuler tree has an abundance of nuts in 2021. They are not yet ripe, but they have reached full size and a few have begun to fall.

Shagbark is not the most common species of hickory growing in Eliza Howell, but it is my favorite. It has large nuts that have long been prized by humans as well as consumed by many other animals. Yellow-bud Hickory is more common in the park, but its other name (“Bitternut”) suggests the judgment many make about its taste. Shagbark, on the other hand, is often described as having a sweet taste. It was my choice in a little taste test I did a couple years ago.

Recently I picked up a couple green Shagbark nuts from the ground under the tree and placed them next to Yellow-buds.The difference in size is dramatic.

Hickory nuts have an outer hull covering the shell, a hull that in the case of Shagbark is quite thick. So the nuts are not quite as large as they first appear.

When the nuts ripen and fall, or when the green nuts dry, the hull opens easily (separating into 4 parts) to reveal the nut inside.

The shell then needs to be cracked open for access to the nut meat.

Shagbark nut hulls slowly change from green to brown and the nuts can be harvested when they fall from the tree, at about the time of the first frost. “Picking” them means picking them up.

“Shagbark” Hickory got its name from the peeling strips of bark on the trunk, a characteristic that is very useful In identifying the tree when there are no nuts visible.

The leaves are not as distinctive, but are recognizable. The 5 to 7 leaflets on a stem are slightly rounded and come to a point.

Shagbark Hickory is native and grows wild in much of the Eastern part of the U.S. (The range map is from the U.S. Geological Survey.)

I often get asked by park visitors whether something is edible — usually berries, mushrooms, or nuts. The frequency of the question seems to indicate some interest in foragong, in finding food in what gows wild, as our ancestors did.

Those serious about eating some wild food might want to consider Shagbark Hickory nuts.

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