April’s fool – this is NOT a flower!

 

shagbark hickory I77A7704© Maria de Bruyn resDuring North Carolina’s early spring weeks, visitors to wooded areas may be delighted by newly emerging shagbark hickory saplings (Carya ovata).

shagbark hickory I77A7683© Maria de Bruyn

The slender young trees show off their new leaves at the ends of branching twigs, creating lovely patterns against the sky and other foliage. Eventually, they may reach a height of some 100 feet (30 meters) and, if not felled by storms, floods or other means, they may get as old as 350 years.

When I first saw these little beauties, I thought that they had wonderful spring flowers in hues of orange, rose and yellow. The “flowers” were at the base of clusters of pinnate leaves and they were often quite lovely.

shagbark Noah Shagbark hickory tree IMG_0185© Maria de Bruyn

It turns out that I had been fooled not only on April 1st, but the whole spring season in past years. Only recently did I find out that the shagbarks don’t have spring flowers at all – the curling petals are actually the scales of the buds from which the leaves emerge! The male and female flowers appear in late summer and early fall.

shagbark hickory I77A7708© Maria de Bruyn res

When the shagbark reaches the age of about 10 years, it begins to produce hickory nuts, reaching its full nut-bearing potential around the age of 40 and continuing to produce until about 100 years. The nuts are eaten by many species, including humans, squirrels, raccoons, chipmunks, black bears, mice, foxes and birds.

shagbark hickory I77A7679© Maria de Bruyn res

The shaggy bark, found in mature but not young trees, is used to help flavor syrups. I must admit that these trees attract my attention much more in the spring than other times of year – those flower-like bud scales are gorgeous!

 

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