Plant for nut milks, meats, and oil; for timber or tools; for an alley-cropped orchard tree or a tall canopy tree in the woods and waterways!
Hardy from Zones 4-9. 75-100 feet tall, 50-75 wide.
Finding a tougher wood than hickory is hard. A rare combination of dense and shock-resistant, the light sapwood and dark heartwood lend themselves to tool handles, wheel spokes, drumsticks, and Shinty sticks, a game from the Scottish Highlands. The strong flexible wood of this Walnut relative is also used for bow-making. The Ojibwe word for Hickory is mitigwaabaak, a blend of words for “bow” and “hardwood tree.” The name Hickory comes from another indigenous word, pawcohiccora in Algonquin, that refers to the delicious oily nutmeat. Carya are pretty common in the canopy of the Great Eastern Forest. Around twenty different species grow in their native range from the eastern United States down to Mexico.
Critters, including human critters, love Hickory nuts! Pecans are the most commercialized Hickory variety (see our separate entry!), but Shagbark and Shellbark are also rich in nutty nutritious oils. The Bitternut is the most common species in our neck of the southeastern woods and the nuts can be pressed into an incredible cooking oil (check out our friend Bill Whipple’s work at Acornucopia for more information!). Cracking nuts for meat takes a long time, so we also make lots of milk! Cherokee recipes often used nut oils produced by crushing nuts and boiling for long periods of time. For milk, simply crack open the nut and boil both the meat and shell for at least 20 minutes. Add a little Maple syrup or cream if you’re so inclined. We often are. We’ve loved drinking this hearty brew throughout the winter. You could even boil Hickory milk over a fire of hot-burning Hickory wood while eating meats smoke-cured with Hickory bark!
We currently grow Shellbark, (laciniosis), desired for woodworking and firewood and will bounce back as a good coppice tree. They grow well in riparian areas and bottomlands, though slowly and take years to mast, but they have the largest nut of all Hickories. We also have Pecans, which are a Hickory, but check out our separate entry for that tree!
We propagate our Shellbark from nuts we harvest.