Seed of the Week: Shagbark Hickory

As Sara pointed out, our mystery seeds from last week were from a shagbark hickory, Carya ovata.

Shagbark hickory trees are found growing naturally throughout the eastern United States.

Shagbark hickories are easy to identify because, as their name suggests, the trees have bark that peels off in patches.

Even relatively small trees exhibit this trait.

The leaves are pinnate, with five leaflets.

They turn a lovely yellow color in the fall.

Here is a short video that gives more details about how to identify a shagbark hickory.

As the video mentions, the hickory is prized for its wood.

The nuts are found in a thick husk, which opens as they ripen. Although the “nutmeats” inside are fully edible, the shells of the nut are tough and it is hard to remove the seeds inside. That is probably why shagbark hickories aren’t grown for commercial production like their cousin the pecan, Carya illinoensis. If you work at it, however, the resulting nuts are worth the extra effort. Hickory nut cakes and pies are delicious!

People also make shagbark hickory syrup. Apparently the syrup is made from the bark rather than the sap, at least according to some websites like this one:  Making Shagbark Hickory Syrup.

Have you ever eaten hickory nuts or hickory syrup? Do you have a favorite recipe?


  1. Robert Lauchlan

    Do you know of sources of Shagbark Hickory, carya ovata, nuts for planting? I want to plant such nuts on a farm in Missouri, USA, and am having great difficulty finding sources of such nuts for planting. No wonder, and very sad, these trees are difficult to find and rare, if you can not find sources of such nuts for planting. I stress, I do not want the nuts to eat them, but to plant them. Robert

  2. Roberta


    Let me see what I can find. I’ll send an e-mail if I find a source.

  3. Gwenn

    I actually have these growing on our farm. Not sure about seeds but can research how to harvest seeds and send you some. I also live in Missouri, south of St. Louis.

  4. Crescendo

    We have these all over our place, along with shellbark hickories, black walnuts and several other varieties of hickories. The shagbarks are great for nuts, and also for the syrup which is made from the bark, and the shellbark has much larger nuts. Both the shagbarks and the shellbarks are a pain to shell, though, and digging out the bits of nutmeats is tedious at lest, so some people make what they call “hickory milk” by summering the crushed nuts, including the shells, in water and cane sugar.

    If you are still interested in nuts to plant, please contact me at and I’ll be happy to send you a few for the cost of postage. They are pretty easy to start, and while collecting nuts today, we came across a shellbark hickory nut that had already started sprouting, so I promptly put it in a pot. I’ll figure out where I want it come spring, but I’m leaning toward putting it by the road, where we have already planted black walnuts, native pecans and Dunstan chestnuts.

    In another ten or twelve years we’ll have a fabulous little nut orchard going, which will hopefully give us enough nuts that we can leave most of those in the woods to the deer and other critters. I was thrilled when we bought our place, almost three years ago, to discover that we already had a number of shagbark and shellbark hickories, as well as black walnuts and native persimmons, as they are all species I had planned on planting had they not already been here.

    Needless to say, we have a LOT of wildlife, and as a girlfriend in Florida notes, you can’t beat yard food. 😉

  5. Crescendo

    Oops – meant to say “tedious at best.”

  6. Betty

    I have three adult trees growing on my property. They are 25 to 75 yrs of age. They only show shag bark when they are about 25 yrs. old and only then have I observed that they give off fruits. There is a great tendency for a worm to be inside of many and that nut is light in weight. I have never seen them producing a tap root and therefore I do not know how long it takes to produce a young sapling. You are right about the meat that is inside the shell. My best method of cracking the shell is placing it in a vise until it separates.

  7. Roberta

    Congratulations on your trees. Shagbark hickories are special trees, even if it is a bit more work to eat the nutmeats. Thanks for sharing.

  8. henry breeden

    I found this nut while hunting squirrels this season and they are large compared to other hickory’s I found. I want to try to grow trees using the nuts but not sure if I need to crack the shell or just plant the nut in the ground. any suggestions?

  9. Roberta


    This website ( suggests hickories need a period of cold to germinate, called stratification. If you planted the nut outdoors in the fall, it would have a good chance.

    You might also want to verify the species you have:

    Good luck!

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