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Illustrated key of hickories

main tree key    back to simple-leaved tree key 

(Modified from a text key to common trees of Radnor Lake by W.G. Eickmeier)

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Compare Carya (hickory) features
Compare Carya fruits (hickory nuts)

1. Leaflets mostly 11 or more (5 or more pairs plus terminal), fruit with obvious wings:
Carya illinoinensis (pecan)  Note: because this tree is frequently planted, it is not clear how often it occurs naturally in this area.
top: wild fruit, bottom: cultivated fruit

1. Leaflets mostly 9 or fewer (4 pairs plus terminal), fruit without wings or with less obvious wings: go to 2






2. Leaflets mostly 5 to 7 (2 or 3 pairs plus terminal): go to 3

2. Leaflets mostly 7 to 9 (3 or 4 pairs plus terminal): go to 5






3. Bark thin ridged but not shaggy, fruit splitting only partially to base:
Carya glabra (pignut hickory)

3. Bark with large shaggy plates on medium to large trees, fruit husk easily splitting to base when mature: go to 4






4. Terminal leaflets about 1/4 as wide as long.  Fruit often wider than long.  Twigs slender.  Common in the vicinity of cedar glades:
Carya carolinae-septentrionalis (southern shagbark hickory)       Compare shagbark hickories.  Note: considered by some to be a subspecies of Carya ovata


4. Terminal leaflets about 1/3 to 1/2 as wide as long (although possible hybrids may have narrower terminal leaflets).  Fruit about as wide as long.  Twigs thick.  Common on dry ridges and slopes: 
Carya ovata (shagbark hickory)    Compare shagbark hickories.






5. Buds yellow, bud scales not overlapping (see terminal bud):
Carya cordiformis (bitternut hickory)

5. Buds not yellow, bud scales overlapping (see terminal bud): go to 6






6. Bark on medium to large trees with large shaggy plates, leaflets velvety below:
Carya laciniosa (shellbark hickory or kingnut hickory)    Compare shagbark hickories.

6. Bark shallowly to deeply furrowed, but not with large shaggy plates: go to 7






7. Leaflets without pubescence, bark furrows deep:
Carya ovalis (red hickory)

7. Leaflets with pubescence, bark furrows shallow:
Carya tomentosa (mockernut hickory)