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TREES & Plants

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 fruits called nuts.

Botanical name: 
Carya ovata
All Common Names: 
Shagbark hickory
Family (English): 
Walnut
Family (Botanic): 
Juglandaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Tree
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (foliage falls off)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area
  • Illinois
  • North America
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
Growth Rate: 
  • Medium
  • Fast
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial sun (4-6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial shade (4-6 hrs indirect light daily)
Tolerances: 
  • Dry sites
  • Occasional drought
  • Occasional flooding
  • Road salt
Soil Preference: 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Inconspicuous
Size Range: 
  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)
Shape or Form: 
  • Irregular
  • Oval
Landscape Uses: 
  • Specimen
  • Shade
Time of Year: 
  • Early winter
  • Mid winter
  • Late winter
  • Early fall
  • Mid fall
  • Late fall
More Information: 

Size and Form

60 to 80 feet high and 40 to 50 feet wide; irregular to oval form

Tree & Plant Care

A long-lived large tree with straight trunks.
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

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 5
Found in upland woodlands and savannas.

Attracts birds & butterflies

Larval host for the banded hairstreak butterfly.

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.

Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata)Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata)photo: John Hagstrom

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

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