Shagbark Hickory

In the late fall, it can be hard to find a lot of color in the landscape. Many of our flowers are starting to fade for the winter and the days are getting shorter and colder. One of my favorite things about fall is all the wonderful leaf colors through the landscape. One of my favorite trees for good fall color would be Shagbark Hickory which turns a golden yellow color in the fall. Featured Image is from Nicholas A. Tonelli, from Flickr Creative Commons License.


Shagbark hickory, Carya ovata, is a native tree that grows up to 60-80 feet tall. It has compound leaves that consist of five leaflets, or on very rare occasions seven leaflets per leaf. The leaflets are oblong with a point at the tip and are serrate along the edges. Each leaflet is 4-6 inches long and up to 2.5 inches wide, while the full leaf is 8-14 inches long. Shagbark hickory trees are so named because they have bark that tends to get “shaggy” or exfoliates as the tree ages. They are hickory trees, so they have a hickory-type nut that is edible and quite sweet. One of the best features of shagbark hickory, is the beautiful golden, yellow color that the leaves turn in the fall.

Growing Habit

Shagbark Hickory is a tough tree that will withstand drought conditions. It can also tolerate moderately shady conditions. Shagbark hickory is adaptable to many different soil conditions, as well. However, it does not tolerate poorly drained soils and it should not be placed along streets. Shagbark hickory trees can be grown on an acreage either as a specimen tree due to its amazing fall color and interesting bark habits or as a shade tree, they also grow well in forested areas.


There is a close relative, Shellbark Hickory, Carya laciniosa, with leaves that are larger and typically with 7 leaflets. The nuts are also larger from Shellbark hickory. Both develop shaggy bark as they age, but it is more pronounced in Shagbark Hickory.

Environmental Benefits

Shagbark Hickory can be grown in large groupings for the nut or wood production. The nuts are relished by wildlife including squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, and birds including turkeys, bluejays, woodpeckers, nuthatches, and grosbeaks. As for wood production, shagbark hickory trees are used for tool handles because the wood is very strong and durable, which aids in its exceptional growth in Nebraska because it can withstand high winds and strong storms. It also makes great firewood and smoker wood for smoking meat to get a nice hickory smoked flavor.

Shagbark Hickory is a native tree that is very adaptable to many different growing locations. It has unique shaggy bark and a wonderful yellow fall color. So the next time you are looking for a new tree for your landscape, consider Shagbark Hickory.

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