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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):


Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks,
  • City parkway,
  • Wide median

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:

60-80 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


  • Dry sites,
  • Occasional drought,
  • Occasional flooding,
  • Alkaline 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

Seasons of Interest:

  • early winter,
  • midwinter,
  • late winter,
  • early spring,
  • mid spring,
  • late spring,
  • early summer,
  • midsummer,
  • 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.


Location of Carya ovata (Shagbark hickory) at the Arboretum