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Red hickory

Leaves of red hickory.
Red hickory is sometimes referred to as pignut hickory or false shagbark hickory. It has a slightly shaggy bark and good golden-yellow fall color. The nuts are edible and are attractive to wildlife. 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 ovalis

All common names:

red hickory, pignut hickory, false shagbark, small pignut

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):


Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks,
  • City parkway

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Tree


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Parkway/street,
  • Shade tree,
  • Specimen

Size Range:

  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)

Mature Height:

60-100 feet

Mature Width:

60-80 feet

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8

Soil Preference:

  • Moist, well-drained soil


  • Dry sites,
  • Occasional drought,
  • Wet sites,
  • Alkaline soil

Acid Soils:

  • Tolerant

Alkaline Soils:

  • Tolerant

Salt Spray:

  • Intolerant

Soil Salt:

  • Intolerant

Drought Conditions:

  • Moderately Tolerant

Poor Drainage:

  • Tolerant

Ornamental Interest:

  • Edible fruit

Seasons of Interest:

  • early fall,
  • mid fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Inconspicuous

Shape or Form:

  • Round

Growth Rate:

  • Slow

Transplants Well:

  • No


  • Browsers,
  • Game birds,
  • Migrant birds,
  • Small mammals

More Information:

Tree & Plant Care

Spring transplant only; develops a long taproot, making it difficult to transplant.
Like all hickories, debris from its fruit drop from late summer throughout autumn, making fall cleanup in urban areas more challenging.

Disease, pests, and problems

Potential problems include anthracnose, hickory bark beetles, galls.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 5

Midwestern native commonly found in upland woods.

Bark color and texture 

Bark is dark gray with interlacing ridges.  With age it takes on a very slightly shaggy look.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Alternate, compound leaves have 5 to 7 ovate leaflets. 
Leaves medium green with serrate margins.  Fall color is golden brown.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Relatively inconspicuous; tiny male flowers in drooping clusters of catkins; small green female flowers in spikes.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Fruits  are nuts with four-ridged husks.  The husks will split t the base when ripe.
The nuts are edible.

Location of Carya ovalis (Red hickory) at the Arboretum