Species of the month, February 2021: Pignut Hickory

Species of the month, February 2021:

Pignut Hickory, Carya glabra

by Mary Gartshore

Pignut Hickory nuts have thin husks that split ¾ of the way down. The heart-shaped nut is thick-walled.
Pignut Hickory nuts have thin husks that split ¾ of the way down. The heart-shaped nut is thick-walled. Photo by Mary Gartshore.

Canada’s four hickory species occur in Norfolk County: Bitternut, Shagbark, Pignut and
Shellbark. The uncommon Pignut or Red Hickory (Carya glabra) often goes unnoticed in our landscape but can occur as a majestic lawn tree with the owners unaware of its unique qualities.

Pignut Hickory foliage turns a brilliant golden orange in the fall like this one photographed in Clachan, Middlesex County not far from the Thames River. Most Pignuts in southern Ontario are confined to roads and hedgerows and are in danger of disappearing altogether under modern farm and roads practices. Photo by Mary Gartshore.

In one case, a lawn tree is 30 m tall and with a diameter-at-breast height (DBH) over one meter. It is estimated to be 325 years old, having started as a seedling about 1695. Pignut Hickory in southern Ontario is associated with uplands near creeks and rivers flowing into or out of Lake Erie. Along the Grand River, Pignut occurs as far north as Cambridge.


Pignut occurs as two types: sweet and not so sweet (worthy for pigs only). I just tasted a
few samples and they are sweet but without the fine flavour of Shagbark and Shellbark. Indigenous peoples made delicious milk from crushed Shagbark nuts boiled in water until the oil rose and shells sank. A quick check of webpages showed photographs of Pignuts being treated the same way.

To grow hickories, soak and store nuts in moist peat moss, in a plastic bag, for five months, overwinter and in a refrigerator. Plant on a site where you want the tree

Pignut Hickory bark is rougher than Bitternut Hickory but not shaggy like Shagbark Hickory. Photo by Mary Gartshore.

to grow. Protect from rodents. During the first eight years, the tree will not grow much in height but will put on a huge taproot. When it has stored enough energy, serious top-growth will begin. Pignut is very good at growing

in almost any situation. However, do not expect a nut crop for 35 years. This is a tree for generations to come. See Pignut Hickories at the north end of the Shirley and George Pond Nature Reserve.


Note:  We do not recommend that our readers try eating unfamiliar wild plants.