The Carya ovata is of the Plantae kingdom. Its family is the Juglandaceae which is where all walnut type trees are joined (Mill). This native tree is better known by its common name, the shagbark hickory. It is a medium to large tree as records show it can reach to 40 meters tall and over a meter in diameter. The average is found to be only 20 meters high, and only 51 centimeters in diameter (Tirmenstein, 1991). It depends on where they grow. If they are found in a crowded forest, they must be slender to fit in. They also end up with fewer branches throughout the tree, with the leaves only appearing at the top where it can reach the sun. But if the tree was found out in the open, it would be much wider and have many more branches all throughout the tree.
The interior wood of the shagbark hickory is a hardwood that is described as white with a reddish interior. The bark of the tree’s bark is similar to rough strips of paper overlapping one another. The color of the bark is a standard grey/brown while the leaves are a smooth eye shape (George, 1988). The nuts that the trees produce are encased in a smooth hard shell that is at first green, but then turns into a pale brown.
As most trees, this tree lives for a long time. It takes almost 40 years for it to mature to the point of reproduction and another 20 years for the tree to enter into its prime. This tree will live on for hundreds of years to follow. The shagbark hickory is hardy but slow to mature. And can withstand varying climates and altitudes. Up in the north east, the trees are adjusted to living at a higher altitude than they are down in the south. When introduced to fire, the tree may not die. The part of the tree that is above ground will be burned but the roots are somewhat protected from the high heat. This allows the tree to continue to grow. But this also leaves the tree vulnerable to disease and rot. Fires also allow nutrients to reenter the soil which actually helps the shagbark hickory to grow and become more prolific. This tree can withstand heat as high as 46 degrees Celsius without occurring damage.
It is very resilient to soils as well. The tree has grown in areas even with high lead and zinc content. In the south, this tree has spurred in mined areas or in swamping fields. Even in areas with high concentrations of clay, the tree is prolific.
Not all animals enjoy the shagbark hickory, but many can eat it. Deer prefer other means of food but if food is scarce, they will turn to eat it. The nuts of the shagbark hickory are mainly eaten by birds and mammals. Mammals may include varying types of foxes, chipmunks, mice, rabbits, and black bears. And the types of birds found to feed on the nuts of the tree include crows, bluejays, woodpeckers, ducks and turkeys. These nuts are great for consumption for animals because they contain protein, carbohydrates, and fats for them (Tirmenstein, 1991). Bears are one of the few large mammals that can consume the nuts, but they work well for preparation of their hibernation.
This tree not only provides food as a producer but is also a shelter for many birds, squirrels, and chipmunks. Birds will make nests on them while small mammals will make dens. And the animals return the favor of shelter by spreading the seeds of the shagbark hickory. Squirrels and chipmunks are found to be the two major animals that help the tree reproduce. When the tree reproduces, it often combines and ‘mates’ with varying types of hickory trees. Since different species of hickory are viable, this allows the reproduction to be more successful and enables the survival of the tree. The shagbark hickory is an important part of the ecosystem. It plays a significant role and without it, many animals would be impacted.
Carya Ovata [internet]. ITIS Integrated Taxonomic Information System [Internet]. Reston, VA. [updated 2015 Jan 5. cited 9-28-16] . Available from: http://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=19242
George A. Petrides, Janet Wehr. 1988. A Field Guide to Eastern Trees. Boston, MA. Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 100.
Rebertus, Alan J., Shifley Stephen R., Richards R. Hoyt, and Roovers Lynn M. 1997. Ice Storm Damage to an Old-growth Oak-hickory Forest in Missouri. The American Midland Naturalist. p. 48-61.
Robison, S. A., and B.C McCarthy. 1999. Growth Responses of Carya Ovata (Juglandaceae) Seedlings to experimental Sun Patches. American Midland Naturalist. p. 69-84. ProQuest.
Strole, T.A., Anderson, R.C. 1999. White-tailed deer browsing: species preferences and implications for central Illinois forests. NCASI Technical Bulletin. 2(781):520-521.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory. [cited 10/9/16] Available from: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/