Common Nut Trees of Virginia
Some of the common nut trees native to Virginia make excellent landscaping tools, providing you with compound leaves of interest, nuts and attention-grabbing bark. Although walnut trees grow in Virginia, easily the most common nut trees in the Old Dominion State are species of hickories. Some, such as the shellbark hickory, have appealing features but are uncommon throughout Virginia, while other hickories are much more widespread.
In fertile areas, the mockernut hickory (Carya alba) may attain 100 feet, but most grow to between 50 and 70 feet. Mockernut hickory is common in Virginia, growing where the ground drains reasonably well. Mockernut hickory has aromatic foliage of a compound nature, as do most hickories. The nut of this Virginia species is extremely dense, making access to the kernel it contains very difficult, giving the tree its name. Mockernut hickory trees are hard to find in commercial nurseries, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The tree is also hard to transplant, since when young a long taproot emerges. If mockernut hickories exist near where your new home is will be built, consider saving the tree for your landscape. The bark’s deep furrows and dark gray color make it appealing.
Bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis) works as a shade tree or as an ornamental specimen tree in Virginia, where it is common. Bitternut hickory grows to 80 feet, has from five to nine leaflets comprising its compound leaves and the tree changes to yellow in autumn. Bitternut hickory grows in partly shady sites and in full sunshine. Damp areas are the best spot to plant this species. Bitternut hickory’s nuts are too bitter for people to consume, but squirrels and other wildlife will do so. Bitternut hickory has an easily identifiable feature – its deep yellow winter leaf buds. Bitternut hickory has gray bark with shallow ridges when older. One benefit of this tree is that its decomposing leaves have high calcium content, making the soil richer as they rot beneath the tree.
In the wooded suburbs of its range, which includes all of Virginia, the pignut hickory (Carya glabra) is an “important shade tree,” according to the National Forest Service. Pignut hickory is not usually an ornamental nut tree, because other trees have features that are more attractive. However, as a source of food for wildlife, the pignut hickory is vital and it is a tree worth saving on your land. In Virginia, species such as the black bear, red fox, chipmunk and wild turkey depend upon the nuts for food. Pignut hickory grows to 75 feet on average in areas featuring dry soil, although it will develop in moist uplands on occasion. Pignut hickory has compound leaves with five, sometimes seven, leaflets. The young trees have a smoother bark than mature specimens, with the older pignut hickories having ridged, scaly bark. Hogs dined greedily on these nuts in colonial times, which gave the tree its odd name, notes the Virginia Department of Forestry.