A hickory tree is a type of hardwood tree belonging to the walnut family and scientifically classified under the genus Carya, an Ancient Greek word meaning "nut." The hickory tree has large, flat leaves and produces seeds stored inside the nuts that grow on it. It is famous for its edible nuts and its strong wood makes it an excellent building material. About 15 species currently exist in North America, while about four to five species are found in Eastern Asia.
Hickory trees can live 100 years or longer and grow to heights of 100 feet (30.48 m). Long roots anchor them into the ground and keep them standing even in harsh winds or storms. Most species of hickory have leaves that turn bright yellow in the fall, and all species lose their leaves in the winter. New leaves grow in the spring and small, petal-less flowers appear. Yellow-green in color, the flowers rely on the wind to pollinate them.
The nuts are popular for their taste and both squirrels and people fight to collect them. The ones that aren't eaten or harvested may grow and eventually split open to reveal the seeds inside. Once the seeds fall to the ground, a new hickory tree can grow.
Different types of hickory trees have grown in popularity over the years. The pecan tree is a type of hickory also known for the edible pecan nuts that grow on it. The Shagbark hickory tree is well known for its unusual bark. It appears very shaggy and hangs in thick strips along the trunk. It produces a very sweet tasting type of nut, the largest nut of any in the hickory tree family.
Plant enthusiasts can typically identify the hickory tree by its leaves. Aside from growing large and flat, they usually are clustered in groups of three to five and the entire span of these groups is over 1 foot (0.304 m) long. Full grown trees are also extremely tall and in the fall they have nuts growing on them or lying around the base of the tree.
Each hickory tree has a slightly different type of nut, but they share the same basic features. The nuts start out round and green, but over time they harden into a thick, brown outer shell. A seam runs around the middle where the two halves are connected. Once cracked open, a mostly round, white or tan seed comes out. The inner seed, or nut, is roughly the size of a gumball.