Carya cordiformis

Species Native to Missouri
Common Name: bitternut hickory 
Type: Tree
Family: Juglandaceae
Native Range: Eastern North America
Zone: 4 to 9
Height: 50.00 to 80.00 feet
Spread: 30.00 to 50.00 feet
Bloom Time: April to May
Bloom Description: Green
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Shade Tree, Street Tree
Flower: Insignificant
Fruit: Showy
Tolerate: Black Walnut


Best grown in humusy, rich, medium to wet, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Best performance occurs in moist soils. Plants are generally intolerant of shade. This tree needs a large space within which to grow. It may be difficult to transplant because of long taproot.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Carya cordiformis, commonly called bitternut hickory, is a medium to large, broadly columnar, deciduous tree that typically grows 50-80’ tall with an irregular, oval-rounded crown. It is native to forested areas (wet bottom lands to some upland dry sites) in the eastern and central U.S. and Canada. In Missouri, it is found throughout the state in a variety of locations including low woods, river bottoms along streams, sloughs, ponds and slope/bluff bases (Steyermark). Compound, odd-pinnate, light to medium green leaves (each to 6-12” long) have 5-9 ovate-lanceolate leaflets. Leaflets grow 3-6” long. Leaves turn yellow in fall. Non-showy, monoecious, green flowers bloom in April-May, with the male flowers in catkins (to 4” long) and the female flowers on short spikes. Female flowers give way to fruits (inedible rounded nuts), but only after the tree reaches about 25 years old. Each nut is encased in a husk which splits open in fall when ripe. Although the nuts are, as the common name suggests, bitter tasting and unpalatable to humans, some mammals (e.g., squirrels) eat them. Smooth gray bark develops ridges as it matures. Buds turn a bright mustard yellow in winter, which can be a significant aid in tree identification. Several species of moth are attracted to the foliage.

Genus name comes from the Greek word karya used for walnut trees.

Specific epithet comes from Latin cordata (heart-shaped) in probable reference to the fruit husks.


No serious insect or disease problems. Hickory bark beetle, pecan weevil, borers and twig girdler can be problems in some areas of its range. White heart rot, anthracnose, leaf blotch, powdery mildew, leaf spot, catkin blight and crown gall are occasional diseases. Large trees can produce considerable litter through twig, leaf and fruit (nut) drop.


A tall ornamental shade tree for large properties and parks. Wood is strong and has been used in the past for yokes, wheels, tool handles, ladders and furniture. Wood is also used as firewood.