This slow-growing deciduous tree has a dense, rounded canopy and thrives in sunny, moist areas and a variety of soils, reaching a height of 80-120’ feet. In fall, the glossy green leaves turn a warm golden brown. Also known as kingnut hickory, shellbark produces the sweetest and largest nuts of all the hickories. The common name “shellbark” refers to the mature bark, or “shell,” peeling away in strips. Laciniosa is another term that means “to shred or cleft into narrow divisions.” Shellbark is distinguished from other species by its thick, orange twigs, larger nuts, and bark that is somewhat less shaggy than shagbark hickory. Though self-fertile, cross-fertilization leads to an increased amount of higher quality nuts. Several insects may reduce nut crops, including the hickory bark beetle, pecan weevil, and hickory shuckworm. Resistant to verticillium wilt and deer.
Although becoming rarer in the wild, shellbark is typically found in moist bottomlands, wet forests, and on moist ground near streams, rivers and floodplains. Most suited for park-like areas where large size and leaf/fruit/twig litter are not a problem.
Typically grows 80’ tall and 40’ wide if sited in open areas.
Thrives in full to part sun; young trees are more shade-tolerant.
Grows on acidic, alkaline, loamy, moist, rich, sandy, wet, and clay soils. Very tolerant of summer drought.
Yellowish-green male catkins hang in clusters of three and are 5-8” long. Female catkins are short and spiky on ends of branches. Husked, egg-shaped nuts are 1-3” long and appear singly or in clusters of 2 or 3. The 4-ribbed husk splits open easily at maturity.
Glossy, green compound leaves have 7-9 lance-shaped leaflets with serrated margins and golden-brown fall color. Leaflets are much larger near the tip of the compound leaf, while smaller leaflets are found nearer where the leaf attaches to the branch at the base of the stem.
Smooth, gray bark gradually roughens and develops large plates divided by narrow, shallow fissures. Plates peel easily and are slightly curled.
The leaves of the shellbark hickory are eaten by 231 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including the royal walnut, imperial, hickory tussock, and regal moths, as well as the eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly. Early flowers provide pollen for bees in spring. The high-fat nuts are consumed by deer, foxes, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, wild turkeys, and other animals. Large, mature trees also provide excellent nesting habitat for a range of birds, and the shaggy bark provides daytime roosting sites for bats.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
Hickory nuts are rich in minerals and fatty acids that benefit the cardiovascular system. A tea made from the inner bark is said to be warming and stimulating to the digestive tract, promoting absorption, bile flow, and helping to reverse constipation.
Native Americans stored huge quantities of nuts to make "hickory milk," a nutritious staple of much of their cooking. Pioneers viewed the wood as an excellent source of fuel to heat their cabins. The trees may be tapped for syrup.
Hickory timber is valued for its tough, stiff, shock-resistant qualities. Uses vary from parquet floors and furniture to tool handles and sporting goods.
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