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Shellbark HickoryCarya laciniosa

  • Shellbark Hickory - Carya laciniosa
  • Shellbark Hickory - Carya laciniosa
  • Shellbark Hickory - Carya laciniosa

A native of moist bottomlands and floodplains of the United States, the shellbark hickory was once a common sight. Only few stand in nature today, but when you do encounter one, it is a memorable sight. Drooping lower branches. Large yellow-green leaves. Shaggy bark curling up at the ends.

While this nut tree is not very widely planted, you needn’t shy away. It’s a slow grower to be sure, but the long-living shellbark hickory will reward patient tree planters with strong limbs, few natural pests, low maintenance and large nuts.

Hardiness Zones

The shellbark hickory can be expected to grow in Hardiness Zones 5–8. View Map

Tree Type

This is a nut-producing tree, yielding nuts for human and wildlife consumption.

Mature Size

The shellbark hickory grows to a height of 60–80' and a spread of around 40' at maturity.

Growth Speed Slow Growth Rate

This tree grows at a slow rate, with height increases of less than 12" per year.

Sun Preference

Full sun is the ideal condition for this tree, meaning it should get at least 6 hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day.

Soil Preference

The shellbark hickory grows in acidic, alkaline, loamy, moist, rich, sandy, wet and clay soils. It is drought-tolerant.


This tree:
  • Yields a ripened nut crop in the fall. The sweet kernels are covered with a ¼" thick husk and a hard, light brown shell.
  • Produces the largest of all hickory nuts. With husk intact, the fruit is 1¾–2½ long.
  • Begins to bear nuts in 10–12 years if grown from seed.
  • Develops a thick, light gray, shaggy bark with ends curving up once the tree reaches 4–8" in diameter.
  • Features compound, alternate leaves up to 22" long that consist of 5–9 large, fine-toothed leaflets.
  • Develops a taproot, making it difficult to transplant.
  • Is self-fertile, but it is best to plant more than one tree for best results.
  • Looks similar to the more prevalent shagbark hickory.
  • Grows in an oval to rounded shape.

Wildlife Value

The leaves of the shellbark hickory are eaten by deer and other browsers while the nuts are consumed by deer, bears, foxes, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, wild turkey and other animals. It provides nutrition for bees in early to late spring.


The shellbark hickory played a role in forging our nation. Its tough, shock-resistant wood was used to make gunstocks, ramrods and tool handles. This hickory tree also provided food on the frontier and dozens of useful products and medicines.