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CARYA cordiformis

Image of Carya cordiformis

Gerald L. Klingaman

Family

Juglandaceae

Botanical Name

CARYA cordiformis

Plant Common Name

Bitternut Hickory, Pignut Hickory, Swamp Hickory

General Description

One of the best hickories for ornamental use, bitternut is a tall deciduous tree from eastern North America. Its straight trunk and strong spreading branches form an oval or cylindrical crown. The gray bark is rough and flaky at its surface, lacking the deep fissuring and plate-like scales typical of other hickories. The compound leaves are divided into 7 to 9 lance-shaped leaflets, with one leaflet at the tip and the others paired. They emerge from yellow buds somewhat later than the leaves of most other hickories. The foliage turns yellow in fall. Inconspicuous flowers appear in spring, with male flowers borne in drooping catkins on second year wood, and female flowers in short spikes at the tips of the new growth.

Pollination is by wind. Yellow-brown, spherical, thin-husked fruits ripen in fall, each fruit containing a brittle-shelled nut with a small bitter reddish brown kernel at its center. The nuts are valuable to wildlife, but often with a bitter, astingent taste that can still be off-putting to many animals. This tree has hard, tough, dense wood that is valuable for furniture making, wood flooring and tool handles. Slow- and clean-burning, it is excellent for fuel or for adding a pleasing flavor to smoked meats.

Give bitternut ample space and sunlight. Its long taproot grows best in deep well-drained soil. Use it in groups or as an individual specimen in parks, large residential properties, or naturalistic plantings.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    9 - 1

  • Sunset Zone

    1a, 1b, 2a, 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6

  • Plant Type

    Tree

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun

  • Height

    50'-80' / 15.2m - 24.4m

  • Width

    35'-50' / 10.7m - 15.2m

  • Native To

    Northeastern United States, Mid-Atlantic United States, Southeastern United States, Central United States, Canada

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral, Alkaline

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Loam, Sand

  • Growth Rate

    Medium

  • Water Requirements

    Average Water

  • Habit

    Oval/Rounded

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Insignificant

  • Fragrant Flowers

    No

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    No

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    No

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Usage

    Shade Trees

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes