Shagbark hickory, Carya ovata, was voted as the 2011 Tree of the Year by the "Great Plants for the Great Plains" panel from the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum. This tree should be used in more landscapes because it is native to Nebraska and it can withstand our unpredictable weather much better than other trees.
Shagbark hickory is a beautiful tree that grows up to 60-80 feet tall. The shagbark hickory will grow very well in all parts of southeast Nebraska because it is native to this area. The deep taproot will help it withstand drought conditions. Carya ovata has compound leaves that consist of five leaflets. On very rare occasions, they will have seven leaflets per leaf, according to Kim Todd, Professor of Horticulture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The leaflets are oblong with a point at the tip and have serrate or jagged edges. Shagbark hickory trees are so named because they have bark that tends to get "shaggy" or exfoliate as the tree ages. They have a hickory-type nut that is edible and very tasty. One of the best features of shagbark hickory is the beautiful yellow-orange color that the leaves turn in the fall.
Shagbark hickory trees can be grown on an acreage either as a specimen tree due to its amazing fall color and interesting bark habits or as a shade tree. They can be grown in large groupings for nut or wood production. The nuts are relished by wildlife including squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, as well as birds such as turkeys, bluejays, woodpeckers, nuthatches, and grosbeaks. As for wood production, shagbark hickory trees are used for tool handles because the wood is very strong and durable. This strength helps it withstand the high winds and strong storms of Nebraska. It also makes great firewood and smoker wood for smoking meat to get a nice hickory smoked flavor.
Carya ovata is a tough tree that will withstand drought conditions. It can also tolerate moderately shady conditions. Shagbark hickory is adaptable to many different soil conditions, as well. It does not tolerate poorly drained soils, however, and should not be placed along streets. You do have a lot of leeway in where you can plant this amazing tree on your acreage.
When selecting trees to plant on your acreage, consider the shagbark hickory. This native tree looks good throughout all seasons of the year, from the beautiful green foliage in the spring and summer, to the amazing yellow-orange colored leaves in the fall, followed by the interesting shaggy bark for the winter months. Shagbark hickory is an underutilized tree in Nebraska that you should consider planting on your acreage as a specimen tree, as a shade tree, or for fruit production.