Height: The mockernut hickory tree reaches about 80 feet in maximum height, but it is usually shorter
Lifespan: Like most hickories, it’ll reach ages of about 200 years
Fall Foliage: Very attractive, bright gold; a gem of autumn
Range: Most common in the southeastern United States, but extending across the Mississippi River and north into New England
Typical Habitat: Rich, fertile uplands, including areas with fairly gravely soil
The Mockernut Hickory Tree: A Key Component of the Forest
Valued for its wood, wildlife value, and glorious fall color, the mockernut hickory tree is a vital part of several forest types, including most notably (wait for it…) hickory-oak forests. It is a large tree, which plays a vital role in the forests it helps create. It’s thick-shelled nuts are a prized food source for squirrels and other rodents capable of penetrating their tough shells.
One of (if not the) most common hickories in the eastern United States, the mockernut hickory is more commonly found along ridges and hillsides than damp bottomlands. It’s also planted by landowners at times, but you’ll see plenty of them in natural areas — particularly in the piedmont of the eastern U.S.
This tree doesn’t grow or mature terribly quickly, but once it is settled in it’ll continue to produce nuts for a long time. This makes it very important for the long-term health of forest ecosystems.
The Mockernut Hickory Tree: Identification Tips & Tricks
Broadly speaking, hickory trees are fairly easy to identify. They all have compound leaves, which are alternately arranged on the tree.
While honey locusts (Gleditsia triacanthos) also bear leaves with this same arrangement, they’re generally less common than hickories. Ash trees (Fraxinus ssp.) and the ash-leaf maple (Acer negundo) also have compound leaves, but they’re arranged in opposite (paired) fashion.
But you can note that hickories lack thorns, have thick bark, and — often, most obviously — produce large quantities of thick-shelled nuts.
That said, distinguishing hickory trees from each other is not particularly easy. You’ll often have to consider several characteristics, which rule in and out several other species found in the east. This includes the leaves, bark, habitat, buds, and fruit (nut).
But casual nature-lovers in the piedmont will likely run into one of two species: the mockernut hickory tree or the pignut hickory tree (Carya glabra).
The best way to distinguish these two species is simply by glancing at the shell of the nuts. Those of the mockernut hickory are very thick, while pignuts have very thin shells. In fact, the common name “pignut” refers to the fact that pigs readily dined on them.
The Mockernut Hickory Tree: Additional Information
Fortunately for those interested in this species, there is an abundance of further reading material available. To start, check out these resources:
- Florida Native Plant Society: A great resource for nature lovers seeking quick-and-easy facts about the mockernut hickory.
- U.S. Forest Service: A comprehensive guide to the species, including notes on its fire ecology.
- Missouri Botanical Gardens: Great information, including several photos of mockernut hickory trees.