Content Detail

Shellbark hickory is a large tree with shaggy bark and good yellow fall color. It has a deep taproot, so it is difficult to transplant. The nuts produced are edible. 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 75-100 feet
  • Mature width 50-75 feet
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Wet soil
  • Tolerances Occasional flooding, Wet sites
  • Season of interest early winter, midwinter, late winter, early fall, mid fall, late fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous
  • Shape or form Oval
  • Growth rate Moderate
  • Transplants well No
  • Planting considerations May be difficult to find in nurseries
  • Wildlife Browsers, Game birds, Migrant birds, Small mammals
  • Has cultivars Yes

Native geographic location and habitat:

This midwestern native is found primarily in wet bottomlands. C-Value: 10.

Bark color and texture:

Mature trees have gray bark that exfoliates in long flat plates with outwardly curving ends giving the tree a shaggy appearance. The shaggy bark has year-round appeal. Nearly as shaggy as the bark of shagbark hickory.

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

Alternate, pinnately compound leaves have seven to nine leaflets with serrated margins. Terminal buds are 1 inch long. Fall color is golden brown.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size: 

Relatively inconspicuous, the tiny male flowers are in 3 to 4 inch long, pendulous catkins. The small female flowers are in terminal spikes.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions: 

Fruit is an edible, oval nut with a thick, five to six sectioned husk that ripens in the fall. The largest nut produced by a native hickory, it is 2 1/2 inches long.

Plant care:

A long-lived large tree with a straight trunk. Best grown in moist to wet soils in large landscapes. Develops a long taproot, making it difficult to transplant.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances: 

This tree produces large nuts and when the crop is heavy, a quantity of litter can be produced under the tree. Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.


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