Bitternut Hickory – Carya cordiformis

Bitternut Hickory – Carya cordiformis
Family Juglandaceae – Nut Trees
Also called bitternut, swamp hickory,
or pignut hickory.

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Bitternut Hickory in Autumn Foliage

Bitternut hickory is probably the most abundant and most uniformly distributed of all the hickories. It grows throughout the eastern United States from southwestern New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and southern Quebec; west to southern Ontario, central Michigan, and northern Minnesota; south to eastern Texas; and east to northwestern Florida and Georgia. It is most common, however, from southern New England west to Iowa and from southern Michigan south to Kentucky.

Bitternut hickory grows in moist mountain valleys along streambanks and in swamps. although it is usually found on wet bottom lands, it grows on dry sites and also grows well on poor soils low in nutrients. In the northern part of its range, bitternut hickory is found on a variety of sites. It grows on rich, loamy, gravelly soil in low wet woods, and along the borders of streams in Michigan, but it is also found on dry uplands. In the southern part of its range, bitternut is more restricted to moist sites.

It reaches its largest size on the rich bottom lands of the lower Ohio River Basin. In the southeastern part of its range, bitternut grows on overflow bottom land, but in its southwestern range, it is common on poor, dry, gravelly upland soils. Bitternut is not found in the mountain forests of northern New England and New York, nor at higher elevations in the Appalachians.

Bitternut Hickory fall foliage
Bitternut hickory develops a dense root system with a pronounced taproot. It is windfirm and can be transplanted more successfully than any other hickory species. Saplings are easily damaged by fire, and older trees also are susceptible to fire damage because of the low insulating capacity of the hard bark.

Nuts of all hickory species are susceptible to attack by the hickory nut weevil (Curculio caryae). Another weevil (Conotrachelus aratus) attacks young shoots and leaf petioles. The Curculio species are the most damaging, often destroying 65 percent of the hickory nut crop.

Bitternut is used for lumber and pulpwood. Pecan hickories such as bitternut are not equal to true hickories in strength, hardness, or toughness. Hickory species are most desirable for charcoal and fuelwood; pecan hickories are less desirable than the true hickories. Bitternut hickory ranks third in heating value among hickories; it burns with an intense flame and leaves little ash. Because bitternut hickory wood is hard and durable, it is used for furniture, paneling, dowels, tool handles, and ladders. It is a choice fuel for smoking meats.

The 7th President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, was affectionately known as "Old Hickory," likening the strength and toughness of his agressive personality to hickory wood. Jackson was seen as a great General and  military commander, primarily for his defeat of the British Expeditionary Force at the battle of New Orleans in 1815. He was also a rich slaveowner and an enforcer of the Indian Removal Act, which forced hundreds of thousands of Native Americans to relenquish their lands and decamp to the Indian Territory (now the State of Oklahoma). What a guy.

Bitternut Hickory in Summer Foliage
This Bitternut Hickory was started from seed 25 years ago.

Bitternut hickory seeds are eaten by wildlife but are of little value for human consumption because of their high tannin content, and extreme bitterness and astringency. Early settlers used oil extracted from the nuts for oil lamps. They also believed the oil was valuable as a cure for rheumatism. Bitternut hickory is desirable as an ornamental or shade tree, and the dense root system provides good soil stability. –USDA Forest Service Handbook, Silvics of Forest Trees of the United States
1. Melvin J. Baughman and Carl Vogt Growing Black Walnut  University of Minnesota
2. Rick Callahan, Associated Press July 2004 DNA test catches tree poachers in Indiana
3. Richard C. Funt, Jane Martin, Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet HYG-1148-93: Black Walnut Toxic to Plants, Humans and Horses
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Family Juglandaceae – Nut Trees – Walnut, Hickory, Butternut, Pecan
The Walnut family is a large group of deciduous, aromatic trees including the commercially important nut-producing trees. The Persian walnut (Juglans regia) is one of the major nut crops of the world.
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