Pignut hickory

Carya glabra
Family: Juglandaceae

Natural Historypignut hickory leaves
Leaf of pignut hickory
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida

Pignut hickory is a common tree of eastern North America. Its relatives include the pecan (Carya illinoinensis) and black walnut (Juglans nigra), two of the most important native nut trees in North America. Other common names include sweet pignut, smoothbark hickory, swamp hickory, and broom hickory.

Habitat & Range

Pignut hickory grows in the moist, fertile soils of oak hammocks, bottomland hardwoods, upland slopes, and ridges in association with other oaks and hickories. It ranges from Ontario to central Florida and from the east coast to the Mississippi River from southern Michigan to Mississippi.

Wildlife Use

The pignut hickory nuts are important in the diets of squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, black bears, foxes, rabbits, birds, smaller rodents, and whitetail deer.

Human Use

The wood is a valued lumber, as is the wood of other hickories. It is a hard and heavy wood, and is used to manufacture handles for different tools, basketry, agricultural implements, floorings, cabinets, and veneer for furniture. The wood also makes excellent fuel and the nuts are edible. Historically, the wood was made into wooden wheels because it is dense, has bending qualities, and can withstand compression and shock better than most other woods. Early settlers were able to boil the bark in vinegar to extract a black dye.


 

Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: Pignut hickory is a large tree that reaches heights of 80 to 135 feet, 1 to 2 feet in diameter. It has a long, clear bole that spreads into a narrow, oblong crown.
Leaves: The leaves are pinnately compound, alternately arranged, and deciduous. Each leaf has 5, rarely 7, lance-shaped leaflets that are 4 to 6 inches long by 2 to 3 inches wide. The sessile leaflets usually have glabrous, dark yellowish-green upper surfaces while the underneath surface is paler and glabrous, occasionally pubescent along the midrib. The leaf base is rounded and the leaf apex tapers to a long point. The terminal leaf is the largest leaflet. The margins of all the leaflets are serrated. The rachis is slender, smooth, and glabrous.
Twigs: The twigs are stout, reddish-brown, and glabrous. The pith is homogeneous.
Bark: The gray bark is deeply furrowed between narrow, interlacing ridges, which are often scaly at the surface.
Flowers: The pignut hickory is a monoecious species. The male flowers are dropping catkins yellow-green in color, with 3 hanging from 2 to 3-inch-long stalks. The very short female flowers grow in clusters at the end of the brances.
Fruit: The fruit is a pear-shaped nut that is 1 ΒΌ inches long. It is thick-walled, unridged, and encased in a thin husk that only splits half way open. The inside of fallen nuts, when split open, resembles the snout of a pig. The seed is small and usually sweet.
Similar Trees on the Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest List:
Several other plants on our list also have alternate, pinnately-compound leaves.

 

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