fbpx Shellbark hickory | The Morton Arboretum

Shellbark hickory

 A mature shellbark hickory showing the slightly loose, platy bark.

Shellbark hickory is a large tree with shaggy bark and good yellow fall color. It has a deep taproot, so it is difficult to transplant. The nuts produced are edible.

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 laciniosa

All common names:

shellbark hickory, big shellbark hickory, kingnut hickory, big-leaved 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:

75-100 feet

Mature Width:

50-75 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:

  • Wet soil


  • Wet sites,
  • Occasional flooding

Acid Soils:

  • Moderately Tolerant

Alkaline Soils:

  • Intolerant

Salt Spray:

  • Intolerant

Soil Salt:

  • Intolerant

Drought Conditions:

  • Intolerant

Poor Drainage:

  • Tolerant

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 fall,
  • mid fall,
  • late fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Inconspicuous

Shape or Form:

  • Oval

Growth Rate:

  • Moderate

Transplants Well:

  • No


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

More Information:

Tree & Plant Care

A long-lived large tree with a straight trunk.
Best grown in moist to wet soils in large landscapes.
Develops a long taproot, making it difficult to transplant.

Disease, pests, and problems

This tree produces large nuts and when the crop is heavy, a quantity of litter can be produced under the tree.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 10

Found primarily in wet bottomlands.

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.  Nearly as shaggy as the bark of Shagbark hickory.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Alternate,  pinnately compound leaves with 7 to 9 leaflets with serrated margins.
Terminal buds are 1 inch long.
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 an oval nut with a thick, 5 to 6 sectioned husk.  The largest nut produced by a native hickory (2 1/2 inches long)
Edible nut ripens in the fall.

Location of Carya laciniosa (Shellbark hickory) at the Arboretum