Hickory nut, kingnut hickory, shellbark hickory
(Carya laciniosa – Family Juglandaceae)
Hickory trees are large, growing to more than 100 feet, and are found along the upper Mississippi and Ohio Rivers in the US. The nuts consist of an outer husk that is fleshy and green at first, but becoming brown and dry with maturity before splitting into four to six sections, revealing an inner seed that looks more like its relative, the walnut. Men have long gathered these nuts, usually after the squirrels, chipmunks, mice, and birds. The name hickory comes by way of the Algonquin Indians, who called the nut “powcohicora,” which was adapted by the settlers to pohickory and then finally hickory. The settlers particularly liked them as they would keep in the shell for a year or two. American natives used them to make “hickory milk,” which made a rich addition to their foods. They pounded them into flour, put them into soups, and used the oil for both cooking and for their hair.
– White hickory, mockernut, bullnut (Carya tomentosa) comes from a smaller tree that grows in the eastern part of the US from the Mississippi valley to the pine forests of the coastal plains along the Gulf of Mexico and the southern Atlantic coast. The kernel is very small but sweet. It probably received its nicknames from the Early European colonists who used a heavy hammer-type instrument called a “mokker” to break open the stubborn nut.
– Pignut, redheart hickory (Carya glabra) grows through the southern US states on a tree that usually reaches 60-80 feet in height but can, like other hickories, grow to over 100 feet. The nuts are small and unridge with a sweet, but sometimes bitter, taste. The pignut represents a group of other hickory species that are sometimes rare, but often bear small, inedible nuts. A few of these are bitternut hickory (C. cordiformis), nutmeg hickory (C. myristicaeformis), water hickory (C. aquatica), sand hickory (C. pallida), and black hickory (C. texana).
– Shagbark hickory (C. ovata) is so named because the bark is shaggy in appearance but it is also the most abundant and popular. The yield of nuts is low but the kernels have a good sweet flavour much like that of a pecan.
– Shellbark hickory (C. laciniosa) is a lowland counterpart of the upland shagbark hickory. It also has a distinctive bark and bears larger fruits than the shagbark. The nuts are considered to be the best of the hickories.
– Mockernut, white hickory, bullnut (C. tomentosa) has such a thick shell that a hammer is needed to obtain the nut from out of the shell. Mokker is the Dutch word for hammer, and thus the name.