Native Hickories of North America
The hickory family (Carya sp.) was one of two dominant species in the oak-hickory forest ecosystem that once dominated much of North America’s eastern woodlands from New York to Texas. Hickory trees are second only to oak trees in their importance as a hard mast producer throughout most of the Eastern United States. In at least one regard, hickories are actually superior to oaks: they produce mast annually (many oak species produce acorns only once every 2-3 years) and produce good mast crops more consistently than oaks. This makes them a very important autumn food source for many wild animals, including whitetail deer, wild turkey, and squirrels.
Some hickory nuts are also favorites of the local two leggers. The best-tasting hickory nuts are considered to be from the Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), the Shellbark hickory (Carya laciniosa), and the pecan (Carya illinoinensis). The pecan in particular is considered to be a delicacy and is featured in many classic American recipes. The leftover shells are widely used to smoke meat. Other uses for pecan shells include garden mulch and plywood filler.
There are more than 20 hickory species native to North America, including the following:
- Mockernut hickory (Carya alba)
- Water hickory (Carya aquatica)
- Bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis)
- Scrub hickory (Carya floridana)
- Pignut hickory (Carya glabra)
- Pecan (Carya illinoinensis)
- Shellbark hickory (Carya laciniosa)
- Nutmeg hickory (Carya myristiciformis)
- Red hickory (Carya ovalis)
- Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata)
- Sand hickory (Carya pallida)
- Black hickory (Carya texana)