Tree Tuesday - Ozark Trees - Hickory and Its Nuts
On our 10 acres homestead we have several hickory trees. There is a fairly large one in our front yard, a couple by the sheep, and countless ones in the woods. Some branches are low enough I can get a glimpse of their immature nuts. (I'm trying so hard to be a grown up here.)
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation's website:
Hickory is an important part of Missouri's oak-hickory forest. Eight species of hickory are found in Missouri. We know that numerous species of hickory were also in the ancient forest of Europe, northern Africa, Asia and North America before the Ice Age.
Many hickory species have disappeared and today there remain 17 species worldwide. There are two each in mainland China and Mexico. The other 15 are found in the central hardwood forest of the eastern and southern United States and Canada.
Hickory nuts are important food for many species of wildlife. Squirrels, turkeys and ducks all feed on the nuts, which are often preferred over acorns.
Hickory leaves are alternate and compound. Their flowers:
...are simple and compound in appearance and emerge in the spring with the leaves. Both male and female appear on the same tree. The male flowers occur on cylindrical drooping clusters called catkins. The catkins are usually three-branched with several catkins appearing at the base of the current season's growth. The female flowers are few in number and relatively inconspicuous, appearing near the tip of the new growth. The female flowers are wind-pollinated by pollen from the male flowers.
This is according to "Trees of Missouri: Field Guide" by Don Kurz.
My grandparents had a few hickory trees in their yard when I was growing up. My cousins and I would gather the nuts and take them to a large metal step they had leading to their back porch. Someone would have to sneak Grandpa's hammer out of the wood shop and then we'd get cracking! Hickory nuts require no cooking. You can eat them raw! They were always a little more difficult to open than other nuts. It's almost like their made of wood themselves. You had to get Grandma's nut pick from the tray in the living room because the meat doesn't fall out. You have to pick it out a little at a time. That was a lot of work for little nibbles!
I have taught my kids the joy of cracking hickory nuts. The only thing that has changed is that I have them wear safety glasses. I'm not dealing with pieces of rock hard nut in someone's eye.
We use hickory when we smoke meat. It's probably our favorite flavor and is always super easy to acquire.
Hickory is also used to make tool handles. It is heavy, hard, strong and impact resistant.
MDC also says:
Hickories are divided into two major groups: the pecan hickories and the true hickories. True hickories have mostly five to seven leaflets with a large egg-shaped bud at the end of each twig. Pecan hickories have more than seven sickle-shaped leaflets and an elongated, flattened terminal bud.
In Missouri, pecan, bitternut and water hickory are members of the pecan hickory group. Shagbark, shellbark, mockernut, pignut and black hickory are members of the true hickories.
Hope you enjoyed learning about the Hickory tree. Have you ever eaten from it? What was your experience like? Do hickories grow where you live? Tell me in comments!