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Intro to Trees of Indiana: Pignut Hickory

The classic and trusted book "Fifty Common Trees of Indiana" by T.E. Shaw was published in 1956 as a user-friendly guide to local species.  Nearly 70 years later, the publication has been updated through a joint effort by the Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Indiana 4-H, and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and reintroduced as "An Introduction to Trees of Indiana."

A printed copy of the full publication is available for purchase for $7 in the Purdue Extension Education Store. The field guide helps identify common Indiana woodlot trees.

Each week, the Intro to Trees of Indiana web series will offer a sneak peek at one species from the book, paired with an ID That Tree video from Purdue Extension forester Lenny Farlee to help visualize each species as it stands in the woods. Threats to species health as well as also insight into the wood provided by the species, will be provided through additional resources as well as the Hardwoods of the Central Midwest exhibit of the Purdue Arboretum, if available. 

Line drawing of a pignut hickory leafThis week, we introduce the Pignut hickory or Carya glabra.

This tree is identifiable by its five-leaflet compound leaves and its small, smooth round nut with a partially open husk at the top. The pignut hickory has smaller buds and finer twigs than its cousins shagbark and mockernut hickory, and its nut is smooth and not ribbed. Its alternately held leaves are typically five leaflets, but may be seven leaflets, sometimes held on the same tree. The bark typically has long, running ridges that are medium or dark gray in color.

Pignut hickories grow to a mature height of 50-60 feet tall, but can be over 100 feet tall. They grow mostly on upland sites or in other places with good soil moisture drainage from New Hampshire west to Iowa and south to Texas and east to northern Florida except for the flood plain of the Mississippi River from Memphis south.

According to the Hardwood and Lumber Veneer series, hickories are broken up into two groups based on the number of leaflets on each leaf. The first group, the true hickories, include shagbark, shellbark, mockernut and pignut varieties. The second group, called the pecan group, includes true pecan and bitternut hickory.

According to the Wood Database, hickory is among the hardest and strongest of woods native to the United States.  Boards with contrasting heartwood and sapwood create a rustic appearance which is sometimes marketed as Calico Hickory. Pignut hickory takes glues, stains and finishes well and it responds well to steam bending.

Hickory is used in the kitchen cabinet industry as well as to make flooring and furniture. Products made from hickory are often marketed as pecan, regardless of the species used. Because of its hardness, strength, toughness and resiliency, hickory can be used to make tool handles, such as sledge hammers, axes, picks and hammers, due to its ability to withstand the impact that occurs with these tools. Hickory is also used to make ladder rungs, wheel spokes, drumsticks, skies, golf club shafts and gymnastics bars. It is also prized for smoking meats, making skewers and for use as a fuel wood due to its high density and high thermal energy content when burned.

Pecan hickories have a density of 46 pounds per square foot, while true hickories range from 50 to 78 pounds per square foot. Hickory is rated is one of the better woods for bending and is an excellent wood for boring.

Other Resources:
Hickory and Pecan Species in the Hardwood Lumber and Veneer Series, The Education Store, Purdue Extension's resource center
Sustaining Our Oak-Hickory Forests - Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment, The Education Store
The Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment: 2006-2016, The Education Store
Indiana Forestry and Wildlife: The Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment, The Education Store
Fifty Trees of the Midwest app for the iPhone, The Education Store
Native Trees of the Midwest, The Education Store
Shrubs and Woody Vines of Indiana and the Midwest, The Education Store
Investing in Indiana Woodlands, The Education Store
Forest Improvement Handbook, The Education Store
ID That Tree, Purdue Extension-Forestry & Natural Resources (FNR) YouTube playlist
Woodland Management Moment , Purdue Extension-FNR YouTube playlist

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