Saturday, January 17, 2009

BITTERNUT HICKORY - Carya cordiformis, Wang., Koch

THERE ARE SEVEN READILY recognizable hickories in Missouri but bitternut hickory is the only hickory tree which has long, sulphur-yellow colored buds. It is widely distributed over the state.

The nut is nearly globe-shaped and covered by a thin husk which is partially winged along the lines where it splits. The kernel is bitter but the squirrels don't seem to mind it. For them it is an important winter food which they store in hollow trees and bury in the ground. Forgotten buried nuts become new trees. The leaf, ranging from 6 to 10 inches long, is compound with 7 to 9 elliptically shaped leaflets. They are usually broadest above the center with toothed edges. These leaflets are supported from hairy stalks and are dark yellow-green and smooth above, pale and slightly hairy below.

In winter, this tree can be identified by its slender, pale gray twigs which are dotted with corky rises. The bark is nearly smooth and light gray when young, remaining on the trunk for several years. As the tree ages the bark becomes shallowly furrowed with thin interconnecting ridges.

Small bitternut hickory trees will grow in dense shade under the tops of sugar maple, white oak, white ash, and black walnut among others and still survive. It is a moderately fast growing tree, but short lived compared with other hickories.

Bitternut hickory wood is used to some degree in making handles, but is used largely for making charcoal for outdoor barbecuing. This wood smoke gives meat a rich flavor and aroma. Some meats are smoke cured with hickory because of its distinctive taste. It also makes an excellent fuelwood for cook stoves, furnaces or fireplaces.

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