Hickory trees

Hickories are a very common tree in the forests of Frederick County. There are five varieties of hickory that are native here: the pignut, mockernut, shagbark, shellbark and bitternut hickory. These ripe hickory nuts are ready to fall. They serve as food for raccoons and bears.

Pignut and mockernut hickories prefer upland areas and are often associated with oaks in an oak and hickory forest. Oak and hickory forests are the most common forest cover type in Frederick County, making up about 60 percent of our forest land base. Shagbark hickories are more common to the north and are often part of our northern hardwood forests that are found at higher elevations in the northwest part of the county around Wolfsville and Sabillasville.

Bitternut hickories prefer damper areas and are often found in wide floodplain areas such as the Monocacy River. Shellbark hickories are a tree more common to the Midwest, but they are scattered around our county, as well. Shellbarks are often associated with farms, and they seem to be more abundant in the western part of the county around Middletown or Myersville.

The name hickory comes from the Powhatan tribe in Virginia. The genus of the hickory “Carya” comes from a figure in Greek mythology.

Hickories are part of the walnut family; they have compound leaves that are attached to the branch in an alternate fashion. The trees have separate male and female flowers that are called “catkins,” which form in the spring. Hickories develop a hard nut with an outer husk during the fall. Squirrels, foxes, bears and raccoons are fond of these nuts.

Hickories have large taproots and they exhibit slow, steady growth. They can develop in moderate shade, so they often develop slowly in the understory of a forest and eventually reach a place in the canopy as the forest matures. Therefore, hickories are often part of older growth forest associations.

Hickory wood is very hard, stiff and heavy, as well as extremely shock resistant. Once used for golf club shafts and wagon wheels, hickory is often used for tool handles, flooring and any application where strength and shock resistance are important.

Hickory smoke is very fragrant, and it is often used in charcoal. It makes excellent firewood, but it is one-season wood because it can rot if it lies around too long.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Note for 2/26/2017