and Deciduous Forest Trees

of Southern Ontario

Bitternut Hickory
Carya Cordiformis

Location in Ontario: Bitternut Hickory grows throughout the Deciduous Forest Region, along the Ottawa River and along part of the St. Lawrence River.

Bitternut Hickory leaves and bark, University of Guelph Arboretum

Genus Carya: Leaves are compound and alternate. All are medium sized trees, except for Shellbark Hickory which is large. Trees are slow growing with hard, heavy wood. The seeds are hard-shelled nuts contained in a husk. Trees are monoecious (male and female flowers on the same tree). Emerging leaves are flower-like, with pink bud scales resembling flower petals. Ontario has four species of Carya; Bitternut and Shagbark Hickory, and the Carolinian trees Red and Shellbark Hickory.

TREE FACT: Ash and Hickory are similar, both with compound leaves. Ash leaves are opposite while Hickory leaves are alternate.

A roadside row of Hickories, including Shellbark, Shagbark and Bitternut. Spring, Norfolk County.

Habitat: Bitternut Hickory prefers moist soil.

Landscape Use: Bitternut Hickory is a medium to large sized tree with a tall, slender form. It is slow growing. Bitternut Hickory has attractive, large compound leaves and produces nuts, which are mostly bitter tasting, but can be edible.

TREE FACT: Bitternut Hickory is a "pecan" hickory, but with an inedible nut, unlike Pecan trees (which are not native to Canada). The other Hickories in Ontario are "True Hickories". They differ mostly in their nut husks and wood.

Bitternut Hickory leaves are alternate and compound with 7 to 11 leaflets with fine teeth. The leaves have a high calcium content which helps to improve soil. Bitternut Hickory can be identified by its yellow buds. Emerging leaves are flower-like, with pink bud scales resembling flower petals.

Distinctive yellow buds of Bitternut Hickory

FALL COLOUR WATCH:  yellow to gold to bronze

Bitternut Hickory is monoecious with male and female flowers on the same tree. The flowers are small and green, and appear in May. Pollen flowers are in catkins, and seed flowers are in small upright clusters.

Bitternut Hickory in flower

Fruit: Bitternut Hickory seeds are hard-shelled nuts contained in a husk. The husks split open into four sections in the fall. The nuts are an important food source for small mammals and birds. Bitternut Hickory produces nuts after 30 years, with good seed crops every 3 to 5 years.  

Bitternut Hickory nuts are, well, bitter.
Some trees have nuts which are less bitter
and can be used for eating.

Bark:  The bark is gray with shallow fissures. 

Bitternut Hickory is a medium sized tree up to 25 metres.

Wood: Bitternut Hickory wood is hard and heavy. The wood is used to make tools handles and sports equipment.
Specific gravity: 0.66
Janka Hardness: 1500 lb
Wood Comparison Chart

TREE FACT: Bitternut hickory is the wood used to make smoked hickory flavouring.

Huge Bitternut Hickory, Norfolk County