TREES & plants

Shagbark hickory

Leaves of shagbark hickory.

Plant a shagbark hickory in a large landscape for excellent shade. This Midwest native is named for its bark, which peels away in large, flat, curving plates, giving the tree a shaggy appearance. As a member of the walnut family, the hickory produces edible nuts.

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

Botanical name: 
Carya ovata
All Common Names: 
shagbark hickory
Family (English): 
Family (Botanic): 
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area, 
  • Illinois, 
  • North America
Planting Site: 
  • Residential and parks, 
  • City parkway, 
  • Wide median
Landscape Uses: 
  • Parkway/street, 
  • Shade tree, 
  • Specimen
Size Range: 
  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)
Mature Height: 
60-80 feet
Mature Width: 
30-50 feet
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), 
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 4, 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7, 
  • Zone 8, 
  • Zone 9
Soil Preference: 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Acid Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Alkaline Soils: 
  • Tolerant
Salt Spray: 
  • Tolerant
Soil Salt: 
  • Intolerant
Drought Conditions: 
  • Tolerant
Poor Drainage: 
  • Intolerant
Planting Considerations: 
  • May be difficult to find in nurseries
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Fall color, 
  • Edible fruit, 
  • Attractive bark
Season of Interest: 
  • Early winter, 
  • Mid winter, 
  • Late winter, 
  • Early spring, 
  • Mid spring, 
  • Late spring, 
  • Early summer, 
  • Mid summer, 
  • Late summer, 
  • Early fall, 
  • Mid fall, 
  • Late fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
Shape or Form: 
  • Irregular, 
  • Oval
Growth Rate: 
  • Slow
Transplants Well: 
  • No
  • Cavity-nesting birds, 
  • Game birds, 
  • Migrant birds, 
  • Small mammals, 
  • Songbirds
More Information: 

Tree & Plant Care

A long-lived large tree with a straight trunk.
Best grown in well-drained soil in large landscapes.
Develops a long taproot, making it difficult to transplant.

Disease, pests and problems

No serious problems

Disease, pests and problem resistance

Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 5

Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata)Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata)photo: John Hagstrom
Found in upland woodlands and savannas.

Bark color and texture

Mature trees have gray bark that exfoliates in long flat plates with outwardly curving ends giving the tree a shaggy appearance; shaggy bark has year-round appeal.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Alternate,  8 to 14 inches long pinnately compound leaves with 5 to 7 leaflets with serrated margins
Terminal buds are 1inch long and hairy.
Fall color is golden brown.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Relatively inconspicuous; tiny male flowers in 3 to 4 inch long,  pendulous catkin; small female flowers are in terminal spikes.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Fruit is a rounded nut with a thick  four-sectioned husk.
Edible nut ripens in the fall.


Carya ovata or Shagbark hickory