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11/15/16- Shagbark Hickory

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by Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist

With gun season opening up this weekend (November 19), many hunters are hoping that deer eat dirt because that is what takes the place of green patches right now! The drought of 2016 has certainly taken a toll on the supplemental feeding plans of many hunters and landowners. Fortunately, deer and other wildlife can consume some fruits and nuts that are plentiful in the woods right now. An important family of trees that is important to wildlife is the walnut or Juglandaceae family. In particular, hickories are the most beneficial to wildlife. I would like to look at shagbark hick in particular because of its physical characteristics, habitat, and uses.

Physical characteristics

            Shagbark hickory or Carya ovata is easily identified because it literally has shaggy bark. It can grow to be almost 90 feet tall and forms a funky canopy. The leaves take on the notorious hickory shape with 5 leaflets. The leaves do have teeth on them and some have tufts of hair on them as well. An interesting characteristic of the shagbark hickory leaf is that it smells like apples when it is crushed or torn. It does produce a nut that is similar to other hickory nuts, but is edible. The trees do not begin producing fruit until they are at least 10 years old, but even after that they are very inconsistent. Large quantities can be expected from age 40 and up.  It is most closely related to the shellbark hickory.


Shagbark hickory thrives best on moist soils or on river valleys. It always can be found on slopes or ridges and on limestone outcrops, especially in the northern counties of Alabama. It is mostly absent from the lower coastal plains. Isolated populations do exist in Mexico. The Southern shagbark hickory is more common along rivers and streams in Alabama and Tennessee as well as Georgia.


Hickory wood is one of the strongest woods known to man. It is used for wooden handles on tools and other implements as well as furniture and produces some of the toughest timber. The nuts are used just as commonly as pecans in the northern part of the U.S. but they are also relished by many wildlife species. Black bears, bobcats, raccoons and deer love the nut of the shagbark hickory. It has been documented that even mallards will ingest the nut. For the history buffs out there, Andrew Jackson was nicknamed “Old Hickory” because of how tough he was. When he died, they placed his grave amongst a hickory grove in Tennessee and six shagbark hickories were part of the grove. Unfortunately, the trees were damaged by Mother Nature in 1988 and have not been replanted.

Shagbark hickory as well as Pignut and other hickory species are very beneficial to wildlife. The nuts these trees produce are readily consumed by deer and provide nutrients that those poor green fields cannot. So, do not fret about your patches being dirt this year; instead move to the woods! Find yourself a well-traveled wildlife trail (and possibly a Shagbark hickory too) and catch the elusive whitetail on the move!

By: Red Clay

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