Guest blog post by Ethan Johnson, plant records curator at The Holden Arboretum
Carya ovata (shagbark hickory)
Light: full sun
Soil type: moist, acid to neutral
Mature size: 70’- 90’ or more by about 2/3’s as wide
Best location: USDA Zones 4b-8b
Source: Through a landscaper or by mail order
Carya ovata, a ruggedly handsome tree, is native to eastern North America from Iowa to Quebec, south to Texas and Georgia. Disjunct populations occur in the mountains of northeastern Mexico. It is the larval food for luna moth, walnut sphinx and also the royal walnut moth whose larval stage is called hickory horned devil. The hickory horned devil starts out by camouflaging itself as a bird dropping before trying to intimidate would-be predators. Surprisingly, the walnut sphinx caterpillar can “whistle” at potential attackers to put them off.
Hickories are in the walnut family (Juglandaceae). The name Carya comes from Greek mythology, and is the name of a maiden who the God Dionysius turned into a walnut tree once he could no longer have his way with her. Hickory is derived from the Powhatan (Virginia Algonquian) language.
Shagbark hickory was a quintessential tree of the early American frontier. Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, was given the name “old hickory” by the men under his command in recognition of his toughness. Jackson planted a grove of shagbark hickories at the Hermitage, his Tennessee home. Sadly, the original trees were destroyed by a tornado in 1998.
There are a number of shagbark hickories at The Holden Arboretum. Many shagbarks were preserved during construction of the Helen S. Layer Rhododendron Garden including several in Heath Vale, near Oak Pond and Sturm Bog. There is a distinctive 95’ tall double-trunked specimen at Lantern Court in the wood line north of the house. Closer to the Corning Visitor Center, in the Arthur S. Holden Sr. Hedge Collection, is a fine young Carya ovata ‘Holden’. This grafted tree, planted in 1984 now measures about 43 feet tall and 30 feet wide. Shagbark hickories typically begin bearing nuts at 40 years of age when grown from seed and have heavy crops at intervals of 1-3 years. Carya ovata ‘Holden’ was selected from a large old tree with weeping branches in Hudson, Ohio (1966, named in 1970) by Holden’s landscape architect William A. Strong.
If you missed this article in the latest edition of Leaves, consider joining The Holden Arboretum’s membership to keep up-to-date on planting tips, upcoming events, and nature hikes!