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red hickory (Carya ovalis)




















red hickory
sweet pignut


Carya glabra (Mill.) Sweet var. odorata (Marsh.) Little
Carya ovalis (Wangenh.) Sarg. var. mollis (Ashe) Sudw.
Carya ovalis (Wangenh.) Sarg. var. obcordata (Muhl. & Willd.) Sarg.
Carya ovalis (Wangenh.) Sarg. var. obovalis Sarg.
Carya ovalis (Wangenh.) Sarg. var. odorata (Marsh.) Sarg.
Carya × ovalis (Wangenh.) Sarg. var. odorata (Marsh.) B. Boivin, nom.

Hicoria ovalis (Wangenh.) Ashe




TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name for red hickory is
Carya ovalis (Wangenh.) Sarg. Carya is the ancient Greek name for wal-
nut; ovalis refers to the egg-shaped nuts.


Until recently, Carya ovalis was not considered a separate species; it was
included as a variation of Carya glabra (some botanical sources still list
Carya ovalis as a synonym for Carya glabra, e.g., Fire Effects Information
System). However, while red hickory is similar to pignut hickory (Carya
glabra), its leaves usually have 7 leaflets instead of 5, may be pubescent
beneath instead of glabrous, and the petioles are red instead of green.


NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States.


a medium to large, slow growing tree with a straight, narrow to thick form-
ing trunk that usually continues throughout the entire height of the tree,
reaching up to 80 feet tall. Occasionally the trunk splits off into two or
three large, upright growing limbs. The branches of the tree are long and
strong, with branches that are closest to the ground bending downwards
and branches near the top of the generally rounded crown growing slightly
upwards with the branches in the middle being horizontal. This is a charac-
teristic of all hickory trees. The tree can live from 100 to 250 years. The
twigs are moderately stout to slender (when compared to the other hick-
ories) and glabrous; leaf scars are 3-lobed to cordate - best described as a
"monkey face", and the terminal bud is small and light brown in color. The
bark of the red hickory is composed of sharp, furrowed bark with deep
crevices in between the scales. On younger trees, the bark becomes very
tight but can also can form sections where the scales occasionally curl up
vertically away from the trunk, much like the shagbark hickory (Carya
ovata). Middle aged trees have tight, shallow furrowed bark that is com-
posed of tough interlocking scales. The coloring can range from grayish to
dark brown with reddish highlights in between scales. The red hickory
bears compound, alternately developing leaves, 8 to 12 inches long, com-
monly producing 7 leaflets, 6 in pairs down the length of the stem, and
ending in one large terminal leaflet. 5 or 11 leaflets have been observed
but are far less common than the regular 7. The leaflets are egg shaped,
with a slimmer base and wider end, and present a serrated leaf edge collect-
ing to form a pointed tip. The leaflets are green above and below and are
richly aromatic. The stems of the leaflets are tinged red or bronze, and
have a bright red base that attaches it to the stem. The twig is brown color-
ed with red veins and periodic blotches resembling venticles. The second-
ary buds are rounded with a fine, blunt point, and the terminal buds are
larger, composed of tightly attached scales that stay firm through winter.
Red hickory is monoecious; males are drooping catkins, with three hanging
from one stalk, 2 to 3 inches long; females are short and found in clusters
at the end of the branches, appearing in mid-spring. The fruit is nearly
globose, 1 to 1 1/2 inches, with a thin husk that mostly splits to base upon
maturation. The husk remains green and fleshy during the summer grow-
ing season and then dries out, thins, turns brown or black once the nut is
ripe. The inner nut is a small, often one to two and a half inches, and is a
light tan color with four ribs along the edges of the nut that meet a the tip
to form a slight notch. The nut meat is edible, and can range from oily and
sweet to oily and neutrally bitter in flavor. The nuts grow in small bunches
of 2 or 3 or singularly on small stalks. The husk remains on the nut after
maturity, and releases a characteristic spicy strong smell. Plants are strong-
ly tap-rooted.


REGENERATION PROCESSES: The flowers are monoecious (individual
flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same
plant) and are pollinated by wind. The plant is self-fertile although better
quality seeds are produced if cross-pollination takes place.


SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Red hickory prefers light (sandy), medium
(loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. The plant also prefers acid, neutral and basic
(alkaline) soils and it requires moist soil. It is usually found growing on
unique formations of nutritious sandy or sandy loam soils over top of rocky
limestone or clay soils. It cannot grow in the shade. Red hickory requirs a
good summer for best development.


SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: The successional information pertaining to
pignut hickory (Carya glabra) is similar if not virtually identical with red


SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Red hickory is in flower from April to


GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Red hickory is primarily a species of the
eastern United States, ranging from Florida to Maine and westward to the
Mississipppi River and terminating at the Great Plains (it does entend into
Oklahoma). It is not recorded as occurring in any Canadian province. The
distribution range of red hickory is slightly less than pignut hickory (and
until recently, the distribution of both would have been treated synony-




Tree specimens can be found on trails marked in red.


       Bleak House
Appalachian Trail/Old Trail
       South Ridge/North Ridge
       Gap Run
       Woodpecker Lane

       Sherman's Mill
Rolling Meadows/ Lost Mountain
       Fish Pond


provided concerning Carya glabra is also applicable to Carya ovalis.

Hickories are consistently present in the broad eastern upland (rich wood
lands and on hillsides) climax forest association commonly called oak-
hickory, but they are not generally abundant. Locally, hickories may make
up to 20 to 30 percent of stand basal area, particularly in slope and cove
forests below the escarpment of the Cumberland Plateau and in second-
growth forests in the Cumberland Mountains, especially on benches. It has
been hypothesized that hickory will replace chestnut (Castanea dentata)
killed by the blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) in the Appalachian High-
lands. On Beanfield Mountain in Giles County, VA, the former chestnut-
oak complex has changed to an oak-hickory association over a period of
50 years. This association is dominated by pignut hickory, northern red
oak, and chestnut oak. White oak, red maple (Acer rubrum), and sugar
maple are subdominant species.


IMPORTANCE AND USES: The nuts of all the hickories are important
food for wildlife, especially squirrels. The seeds of red hickory are thick-
shelled, sometimes bitter.


Red hickory has been used as an ornamental. Trees are late coming into
leaf (usually late May to June) and lose their leaves early in the autumn
(usually in October). During this time they cast a heavy shade. These fac-
tors combine to make the trees eminently suitable for a mixed woodland
planting with shrubs and other trees beneath them.


The wood is heavy, hard, tough and elastic. It has traditionally been used
for making wagons, agricultural implements, and tool handles.


The small, thin shelled (but sweet) seeds can be eaten raw or cooked. The
seed ripens in late autumn and, when stored in its shell in a cool place, will
keep for at least 6 months. The raw sap, when tapped in the spring, has a
sweet flavour.



Back to Inventory of Tree Families and Species

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