Hickory Trees In Virginia – 4 Most Common Species

One of the top-of-mind plants for many plant lovers is the hickory (Carya). It brings many benefits, from the cool shade, delicious nuts, and eye-catching appearance to quality wood.

So, not too surprised by its popularity!

This article focuses on common hickory trees in Virginia, helping you understand more about the most common species through their characteristics and identification steps.

What Are The Hickory Trees In Virginia?

hickory trees in virginia
Hickory Trees In Virginia

Large hickory trees, easily found in North America, come from the Juglandaceae (walnut family). Currently, there are 18 species of this plant around the world.

Some most popular hickory trees in Virginia are Mockernut, Shagbark, Pignut, and Bitternut.

Let’s find out each species by the brief description below!

Mockernut Hickory Trees (Carya tomentosa)

Mockernut, also known as White, Whiteheart, or Big-Bud Hickory. The first thing to notice is that this plant can easily grow to 100 feet tall.

The Mockernut can live for more than 500 years. So, if we plant hickory tree saplings today, our future generations will benefit from those wonderful plants.

This native tree requires good drainage conditions. It will thrive in rich and well-drained soils but can still live in dry weather.


The compound leaves are structured pinnately, growing alternatingly with a 7 to 12 inches length. Normally, there are 7 to 9 small, highly pointed, and serrated leaflets.

They are orange to brown at the bottom with a hairy surface. They’re in dark green at the top. This plant can range from gray to black. Also, it has deep furrows that make it look netted.


Mockernut can be used for multiple purposes as its wood is durable, strong, and hard. For example, it’s material for kitchen tool handles, skis, chairs, desks, baseball bats, fuelwood, timber, etc.

Shagbark Hickory Trees (Carya Ovata)

This plant is also called the Scalybark or Shellbark. Shagbark trees are among the tallest sand hickory trees with nuts in Virginia, reaching up to 120 feet.

They often can be found in damp, wet conditions, rich soil along streams, and moist areas.


This American hickory tree has pinnate-structured compound leaves. They range in size from 8 to 14 inches. Each of these has five leaflets, which are smooth, tapering edges that resemble saws.

The female flowers are usually small and grouped at the very end of the branches. The male ones are yellowish-green catkins that dangle in groups of three.

The nuts are typically around 2 inches with an almost spherical shape. When fully grown, they will have a thick bark divided into 4 lobes, separated at the base.

Besides, it has a light gray bark that peels off into thick patches and curves outwards at the ends.


Thanks to its strong and durable wood, it is often used to manufacture a wide variety of things, including tool handles, flooring, firewood, furniture, and even smoked meat production.

In addition to many wildlife species using its nuts, many early natives used these nuts as their main source of nourishment.

Pignut Hickory Trees (Carya glabra)

Another prevalent hickory oak tree in Virginia is the Pignut. This type is typically found in dry soils on slopes or mountain tops. Pignuts are 1-3 feet in diameter and grow 50 to 75 feet when fully developed.


It grows spreading branches that produce a tall, thin canopy. Like the previous one, the Pignut has 5 (sometimes 7) narrowly pointed leaflets on pinnately compound leaves.

Three male blooms hang on a single stem, about 2 or 3 inches, and seem like catkins. On the other hand, the female flowers are smaller and gather in bunches at the terminals of the petiole.

The nut has a pear or spherical shape. The Pignut hickory species is easily recognized by its smooth, light gray bark, which is present on young trees.

The mature trees have significantly darker gray colors with distinct interlocking, shaggy-topped ridges.


Pignut is a valuable material due to its thick, sturdy, robust, and flexible wood. It is perfect for uses like skateboarding thanks to its impact resistance.

Besides, it’s a great choice for firewood. Pignut nuts are loved by rabbits, raccoons, squirrels, turkeys, foxes, etc., making this tree a vital food source.

Bitternut Hickory Trees (Carya cordiformis)

The last name of native hickory trees in Virginia is Bitternut, also known as swamp hickories. While it thrives in moist, fertile soil slopes and lowlands, it can also tolerate a variety of soils, including dry soil.


This is a straight-trunk tree. They have a huge, rounded, or pyramid-shaped canopy that grows from 40 to 70 feet in height and is 1-2 feet wide.

The leaves develop alternately and have 7 or 9 oval, toothed leaflets. Those usually come in the yellowish green above and paler shade below.

The male blooms are also yellow-green, drooping 3 to 4 inches. The females are short and four-angled. The husk of Bitternut hickory fruit is thin, yellowish-dusty, with a 4-lobed structure.


Like other variants, the reddish-brown Bitternut’s heartwood is firm and heavy. So, it can be used as a source for furniture, flooring, wood pulp, handles, firewood, pallets, and smoked meats.

What Are The Characteristics Of Hickory Trees In Virginia?

hickory oak tree
Characteristics Of Hickory Trees In Virginia

Although there are many species, these plants share some common characteristics. Let’s look at the following aspects!

The Bark

Hickory bark identification first comes with a harsh texture. It has vertical scaly ridges and furrows along the trunk.

Several species have more shaggy bark because the plates go curly at the peak and bottom. The scaly bark is usually gray, darkening with age.

The ridges on the bark can be shallow or deep. They also can be spaced closely or widely apart. When they mature, the dark bark will peel off without much effort.

The Leaf

The tall, narrow leaves of this plant include numerous leaflets. They grow oppositely along the petiole. The hickory leaf is from 6 to 22 inches.

There is a leaf blade at the end, so the number of leaflets is odd. The leaflets are oblong or oval with a pointed tip. They also feature serrated edges.

The Nut

The hickory nuts first resemble green balls before turning a firm, light brown color. They have an egg-like form with a golf-ball size.

It’s a form of a drupe, a single seed with a kernel. The kernel is slightly sweet and fleshy inside the hard shell. This inside flesh is in shades of tan or white.

Shagbark hickory or Pecan trees are the greatest varieties of Virginia tree nuts.

How To Identify Hickory Trees?

trees with nuts in virginia
Recognize Hickory Trees

Step 1

Check the leaflets. Some features in hickory leaf identification that we can count on:

  • Shape: long and quite narrow leaves
  • Size: depending on certain species, but the average leaflet length is between 2 to 8 inches
  • Characteristics: mostly serrated edges. Some are sharply-pointed teeth or rounded serrations

Step 2

Inspect the compound leaves. Compound leaves of hickory trees develop from a rachis. Besides, they typically have five to seven leaflets. At the rachis’ tip, leaves are noticeably bigger.

Step 3

Check the bark.

The bark develops patterned vertical ridges. These ridges may be shallow or profound, widely spaced or slightly apart, but they are always vertical.

As the tree ages, the bark develops raised edges and peels off from top to bottom over time.

Step 4

Examine the nuts.

The husk or outer shell is quite hard. This husk has a line through the center. They begin out as green before hardening to a brown shade.

The thickness of the husk varies depending on the species of hickory. The edible flesh is usually white or tan.

Step 5

Pay attention to the pith

The pith (heartwood) is solid, tan, and 5-sided. Take a look at the cut surface of the branch. If it has a tan core with five sides or a star-like shape, it’s hickory.

Besides, we can cut a little branch off and split it in half lengthwise to test the solidity. The wood is solid if it doesn’t resemble a sponge or honeycomb.


To sum up, the most popular hickory trees in Virginia are Mockernut, Shagbark, Pignut, and Bitternut. Although there are multiple hickory tree species, they somehow share common features.

So, if we get stuck trying to identify this plant, don’t worry! We only need to look carefully at it step-by-step, from leaves, bark, nuts, and wood.

Samuel Mark

Hello I am Samuel. Samuel's Garden is a garden blog where I share my experiences in garden caring and tree growth. Hope you enjoy it!

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