The majority of hickory trees grow in the eastern U.S.; central Texas is about as far west as hickories grow. The trees feature compound leaves and a long taproot, as well as nuts that are edible, but bitter. Hickories make solid ornamental species and are famous for their strong wood, which many individuals burn to flavor meats.
The bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis) takes its name from the bitter taste of its nuts, which even squirrels will pass up, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The bitternut hickory can grow as tall as 100 feet, making it among the largest of the hickory trees. The tree produces flowers called catkins, which bloom in April and eventually develop into the thin-shelled, inch-long nuts. The compound leaves are as long as 6 to 9 inches, with around 7 to 11 shiny green leaflets comprising one leaf. This species requires moist soil to grow. It is one of the more rapidly growing hickories. Bitternut hickory, like most hickories, is a difficult species to transplant due to the presence of its long taproot. However, you can grow this hickory from its seeds, which you can collect from September through November beneath the tree.
The water hickory (Carya aquatica) is the tallest of the hickories, with some capable of growing to almost 115 feet, although most specimens are in the range of 60 to 80 feet tall. As its name indicates, this hickory prefers damp ground, making it a good choice for swampy ground. The mature trees feature bark that breaks into plate-like scales and is a shade of light brown mixed with red. The leaves have from 7 to 9 leaflets and the nuts are bitter, but ducks favor them, as does other wildlife. Water hickory grows best in partial shade, and although in the wild it grows along riverbanks and in wetlands, it can exist in well-drained soil as well.
The black hickory (Carya texana) is a smaller hickory and a popular ornamental type, growing to about 40 feet high. Black hickory is a tree of the rich Texas bottomlands, but adapts well to sandy and rocky soils. Also called Texas hickory, this species makes a good shade tree and has attractive and deeply furrowed black bark. Black hickory has from five to seven leaflets on its leaves. The tree prefers slight shade, and its reddish flowers bloom around March. The tree exhibits a slow growth pattern like many hickories trees; it is a good choice to prevent erosion around your property.
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