Kingnut or shellbark hickory is a large tree growing to heights of 100 feet with trunk diameter of 3 to 4 feet. The trunk is usually straight and has drooping lower branches. The tree is slow growing and reproduces from seed and stump sprouting, living to be 100 - 200 years old.
are divided into three groups comprised of the pecans, the shagbarks, and
the pignuts. Kingnut (also called shellbark) hickory is in the shagbark
group, which is distinguished from the others by large terminal buds, bark
that peels off in long, sometimes curling strips, and thick twigs. Kingnut
hickory is further distinguished from other hickories by its orange-brown
dotted twigs which may be slightly hairy.
hickory bark is light gray and smooth when the tree is young, breaking
into long, shaggy, curling strips when the trunk is 4 – 8 inches in diameter.
The leaves are alternate, pinnately compound, with 5 - 9 lance-shaped leaflets. The leaflets, which are pointed at the tip and finely toothed at the edges, are up to 10 inches long and half as wide. The entire leaf is quite large - up to 24 inches long. Leaflets are dark green and smooth on the upper surface and paler and slightly hairy below.
and female flowers are born separately on the same tree (moneocious), the
males as drooping catkins, both of which appear after the leaves have begun
to unfold in the spring.
are up to 2 1/2 inches in diameter, more or less round, with the husk divided
all the way to the base in four sections. They are light brown and have
very tiny, orange speckles. They ripen in August - October and have
very sweet seeds that are sold commercially for human consumption.
hickory nuts are edible and sold commercially. Squirrels also eat the nuts.
The wood is hard, very strong, and close grained. It is used for tool handles,
agricultural implements, interior finishing, and for fuel. Native Americans
used kingnut hickory medicinally for pain.