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Bitternut hickory is a large, native north American tree, best reserved for larger landscapes. It has large, compound leaves, a 1 inch, four-part nut, and yellow fall color. Like all hickories, debris from its fruit drops from late summer throughout autumn, making fall cleanup in urban areas more challenging.

This species is native to the Chicago region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. 

  • Family (English) Walnut
  • Family (botanic) Juglandaceae
  • Planting site City parkway, Residential and parks, Wide median
  • Tree or plant type Tree
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Large tree (more than 40 feet)
  • Mature height 50-70 feet
  • Mature width 40-50 feet
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily), Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Acid soil, Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, Dry sites, Occasional flooding
  • Season of interest early fall, mid fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous
  • Shape or form Oval, Round, Upright
  • Growth rate Slow
  • Transplants well No
  • Planting considerations May be difficult to find in nurseries
  • Wildlife Cavity-nesting birds, Game birds, Migrant birds, Small mammals, Songbirds
  • Has cultivars No

Native geographic location and habitat: 

C-value: 7. Bitternut hickory is commonly found in low, wet areas, but it can also grow in dry upland sites. 

Bark color and texture: 

The gray-green bark has tight narrow ridges which become scaly on older bark. The bright yellow terminal buds are showy in winter.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture: 

The alternate, compound leaves have 7 to 11  lance-shaped leaflets. The leaves are yellow-green with serrate margins and are paler underneath. The fall color is yellow brown.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size:

The flowers are relatively inconspicuous. The tiny male flowers are in drooping clusters of catkins. The small green female flowers are in spikes.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions: 

The fruits are nuts with four-winged husks and are thin-shelled. The nut is bitter and inedible.

Plant care: 

Bitternut hickory prefers deep, moist, well-drained soils, but is often found in drier conditions. Transplant in spring only as it develops a long taproot, making it difficult to transplant. Like all hickories, debris from its fruit drops from late summer throughout autumn, making fall cleanup in urban areas more challenging.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances: 

This tree has no serious problems. It is tolerant of black walnut toxicity.


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