Monday, July 10, 2017

The Bitternut Hickory - Carya cordiformis

The Bitternut Hickory - Carya cordiformis also called the Bitternut or Swamp Hickory, is a deciduous tree that can reach heights upwards of 100 feet tall and 2-3 feet in diameter. It is able self prune by quickly forming a long limb free bowl, that leads up to a large rounded crown. Bitternut Hickory is named for the nuts which are so bitter that almost nothing will eat them, Squirrels will even ignore them unless nothing else is available. Bitternut Hickory can be found growing throughout the Eastern United States with the exception of the New England states and Northern portions of the Great Lakes area.

Image Citation (Leaves): Paul Wray, Iowa State University,

The leaves on the Bitternut Hickory are 6-10 inches long with seven to eleven narrow leaflets ranging in size from 4-6 inches long. The leaflets are bright green on top and paler in color with a light fuzz below. The leaflet margins are fine to coarsely toothed . Throughout all seasons the buds at the branch tips are bright sulfur yellow in color. The nuts are encased in an almost round shaped husk that has four ridges and is speckled with tiny yellow scales.  The bark on young trees is smooth, gradually becoming tight and interlacing as the tree ages.  The thin bark changes from a network of interlaced ridges to long, flat ridges and shallow fissures towards the crown area.

Image Citation (Bud): Chris Evans, University of Illinois,
Image Citation (Bark): Vern Wilkins, Indiana University,

The wood from the Bitternut Hickory is used commercially in manufacturing where products require tough and resilient wood.  Butternut Hickory lumber is also a popular wood choice for smoking meats and open fire cooking applications.  Pioneers extracted the oil from the nuts to use as fuel for oil lamps.  The Butternut Hickory has been used in some Urban settings because of it's ability to withstand vigors of construction on wooded lots. 
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