Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 938 Carya glabra

Common Names: pignut hickory Family: Juglandaceae (walnut Family)
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pignut hickory tree
These pignut hickories are in fall color.


The pignut hickory usually has a smooth straight trunk and a narrow oblong crown. One of the smallest hickories, the pignut usually gets no larger than 60-80 ft (18.3-24.4 m) tall, with a maximum trunk diameter of 2-3 ft (0.6-0.9 m), and a crown spread of 20-30 ft (6.1-9.1 m). Really large specimens can exceed 100 ft (30.5 m) in height, however, and develop a wide spreading crown. The national champion (on St. Simon Island, Georgia) is 105 ft (32 m) tall with a crown spread of 125 ft (38 m) and a trunk diameter at breast height of 5 ft 4 in (1.6 m). Like other hickories, pignut hickory has deciduous, alternate, pinnately compound leaves. The leaves are 8-12 in (20.3-30.5 cm) long have 5 or 7 (usually 5) leaflets, each 3-6 in (7.6-15.2 cm) long with the terminal leaflet being the largest. The leaves are without hairs and dark yellowish green above, paler beneath, turning rich golden yellow in fall. The dark gray bark is thin and, in mature trees, broken into flattened diamond shaped scales by a network of shallow crisscrossing fissures. The male flowers are in hanging catkins and produce enormous quantities of pollen which is dispersed by wind to the female flowers which are borne in clusters at the tips of branches. The dark brown husk of the fruit is 1-2 in (2.5-5 cm) long, smooth and splitting open only partially at maturity. The nut, about 1 in (2.5 cm) long, is slightly flattened with a very thick shell and the small kernel within is usually bitter.

Pignut hickory
Pignut hickory's scaly bark.


Pignut hickory, Carya glabra, is probably the most abundant hickory in eastern North America, with a range extending from southern Ontario to central Florida and west to Iowa and East Texas. It grows on well drained sites, on ridges and in pastures, and especially in mixed hardwood forests along with blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica) and several species of oak, including red oak (Quercus rubra), black oak, post oak and white oak (Quercus alba).


Partial shade to full sun. Light: Widely adapted to eastern North America, the pignut hickory can tolerate normal droughts, but may abort its nuts in very dry years. Moisture: Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 9. Propagation: Hickories have very long taproots and are thus difficult to maintain in containers and difficult to transplant successfully. Propagate pignut hickory from seed. The best way is to plant the nut in a large, deep container (or better yet in the ground where you want it to grow) and leave outside through the winter. The nuts will germinate in spring and develop a long taproot, with only minimal above ground growth the first year. The little tree will begin to grow above ground in its second year.
Pignut hickory
Pignut hickory nut and compound leaf.


The hickories are seldom planted in managed landscapes because of their slow growth, large size and penchant for dropping enormous quantities of leaves and fruit. The very long taproot makes them exceedingly difficult to transplant. However, if you already have a pignut hickory in your landscape, you have a fine specimen tree and one that will reward with deep golden fall color that persists for several weeks in October and November. Pignut hickory grows fairly fast (compared to other hickories) on good sites with ample moisture, first bearing in 20-40 years and peaking in productivity around 100 years of age. Some specimens have been dated at over 400 years of age. The nuts are an important food for wildlife, but are too small, too bitter and encased in too thick a shell for most people. The light brown wood is hard and dense, and used for construction, tool handles, athletic equipment, fuel, smoking meats and for charcoal.


There are some 25 species of hickories, including the pecan and the distinctive shagbark hickory. Most are native to eastern North America, with just a couple native to China.

Green hickory wood is preferred for smoking meats, and as a fuel there is no equal to hickory. A cord of hickory wood has about the same heating capacity as a ton of coal.


The abundant pollen, released in early spring, causes "hayfever" in some people.

Steve Christman 2/9/01; updated 10/14/03, 12/12/05

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Carya species profiled on Floridata:

Carya glabra

( pignut hickory )

Carya laciniosa

( shellbark hickory, kingnut hickory, big shellbark hickory )

Carya ovata

( shagbark hickory, shellbark hickory, scalybark hickory )

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