Carya ovata, the shagbark hickory, is a common hickory in the eastern United States and southeast Canada. It is a large, deciduous tree, growing up to 27 m tall, and will live up to 200 years. Mature shagbarks are easy to recognize because, as their name implies, they have shaggy bark. This characteristic is, however, only found on mature trees; young specimens have smooth bark.
The shagbark hickory's nut is edible and has a very sweet taste.
The leaves are 30–60 cm long, pinnate, with five (rarely three or seven) leaflets, the terminal three leaflets much larger than the basal pair. The shagbark hickory ismonoecious. Staminate flowers are borne on long-stalked catkins at the tip of old wood or in the axils of the previous season's leaves. Pistillate flowers occur in short terminal spikes. The fruit is a 2.5– to 4.0-cm-long drupe, an edible nut with a hard, bony shell, contained in a thick, green four-sectioned husk which turns dark and splits off at maturity in the fall. The terminal buds on the shagbark hickory are large and covered with loose scales. The word "hickory" is said to have come from the Algonquian Indian word "pawcohiccora". Shagbark hickory nuts were a significant food source for the Algonquians. Red squirrels, gray squirrels, raccoons, chipmunks, and mice are consumers of hickory nuts. Other consumers include black bears, gray and red foxes, rabbits, and bird species such as mallards, wood ducks, bobwhites, and wild turkey.
There are two designated varieties:
- Carya ovata var. ovata (northern shagbark hickory) has its largest leaflets over 20 cm long and nuts 3.0–4.0 cm long.
- Carya ovata var. australis (southern shagbark hickory or Carolina hickory) has its largest leaflets under 20 cm long and nuts 2.5–3.0 cm long.