The scientific name of hickory trees is Carya species. Their genus name is derived from the Greek word for nut, while the species name varies according to cultivar. They share the same plant family with pecans and walnuts. In fact, these and pecan trees are similar to each other. Many hobbyists find it challenging to differentiate between the two, when they are planted together. With the arrival of the autumn season, their deep green leaves turn bright yellow or golden in color.
Indigenous to Eastern North America, there are several varieties of hickory trees. If you know the basics of tree identification, identifying them will be easy for you. Some key features that help in differentiating this deciduous tree from others are canopy shape, leaf shape, bark, and nuts.
- A young hickory tree appears somewhat broad and round, while at maturity, it is perfectly straight and grow to about 80 - 100 feet. The tree spread is relatively narrow as compared to its height.
- Coming to its leaf identification, the pinnately compound leaf is arranged alternately. It measures 8 - 22 inch in length and bears 5 - 14 leaflets, depending upon the tree species. The individual leaflets are elongated oval in shape, dark green in color, smooth textured, and are less viened.
- Another characteristic attribute of these trees is their brownish gray-colored bark. It is not smooth like other nut bearing trees. In mature ones, bark is rough with ridges and cracks. The peels curl slightly, thereby giving a shaggy look.
- The male and female flowers are borne separately. While green male flowers are developed in clusters on an elongated inflorescence, the female flowers are inconspicuous. The mode of pollination is anemophilous, meaning they are pollinated by wind.
- Last but not the least, examine the nuts of these deciduous trees. They are about 1 inch in diameter, and break open easily when dried. At the ripe stage, the outer layer splits up into four sections and inside, you will find a thin, white-colored edible nutmeat.
The facts about this tree's application is known to us since a long time. This extremely hard wood is used in furniture works, and in making wooden tools and equipment. Speaking from cultivation point of view, these are hardy trees that are tolerant to USDA hardiness zone 4 and above. If you are planning to include them in your landscape design, you should be knowledgeable about the following aspects:
Planting Site and Soil
Hickories grow best in full sunlight, but they can tolerate partial shade condition. The ideal soil for inducing their optimal growth is rich, loamy soil that has no drainage problems. So, before planting one, prepare your garden soil to meet these requirements.
Basically, there are two main types of hickory trees: true and pecan varieties. They differ in terms of the number of leaflets present per leaf petiole. While a true variety possesses 5 - 7 leaflets, the pecan type bears 9 - 17 leaflets per leaf. Both these varieties bear edible nuts in fall.
For growing this tree, you can opt for seed plantation. While propagation by young trees is possible, the deep tap roots may get damaged during transplanting trees. Hence, hickory tree seeds collected during fall are used more often for plantation.
Sorting of viable seeds can be done by soaking them in water. The ones that sink are viable, while those that float on water will not germinate. For quick germination, seeds are soaked for 4 days. This preparatory step loosens the hull for easy germination of seeds.
Planting these trees from seed is best done in fall or spring, after last frost is over. Dig soil and place hickory nuts about 4 inch below the top soil surface. This will provide ideal condition for germination of their seeds. The roots will develop first and continue to grow for few weeks, before sprouting of the upper leafy part takes place.
Note that your task of planting these trees is not over with placing viable nuts in soil alone. You need to keep a watch over the area, and protect them from attacks by chipmunks and squirrels. These creatures are fond of eating nuts, and they may dig soil for the nutty meal. Also, during germination period, you are expected to keep the soil moist at all times, but do not make it wet or soggy, as it will cause root rotting of your young hickory plants.