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Plant of the Week: Carya cordiformis

Plant of the Week! Most people are familiar with Carya ovata, Shagbark Hickory, but Carya cordiformis, Bitternut Hickory, is actually more widespread. The tree’s range includes the entire eastern half of the U.S. and Canada, the Midwest, and south to Florida and Texas. It is commonly found in wet bottomlands but can also grow in upland woods. As its name suggests, the nuts of this tree are quite bitter and not a staple food for wildlife. However, Bitternut hosts many insects that provide food to woodpeckers, warblers, and other birds. This tree is prone to forming cavities, which provide shelter for birds and small mammals. It’s most easily identified by its rich yellow buds; another common name is Yellow-bud Hickory. According to Native Plants of the Midwest by Alan Branhagen, the leaves are a stunning turquoise as they first begin to emerge. Sounds like a good excuse for some early spring hiking!


An easy way to ID Carya cordiformis is by its yellow buds (which are more vibrant in person!) Thanks to Matthew Alan Smith​ of Riveredge Nature Center for the great Winter ID class!

Carya cordiformis bark can have differing characteristics from tree to tree. It tends to be smoother farther up on the trunk.

Bitternut forms cavities when injured, making it a useful tree for wildlife shelter.

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