kingnut, Carya laciniosa

Picture of kingnut

kingnut, Carya laciniosa

Kingnut is also known as shellbark hickory, big shagbark hickory and shagbark hickory.  Although shellbark hickory is the accepted common name in the US, kingnut is the original name in the Bluegrass.  We prefer the name kingnut because it is historically significant, and because the name shellbark is often confused with shagbark.  Kingnut refers to the huge nuts, the largest of any hickory.  Hickory is an Algonquin word, originally powcohiccora. 

The botanical name, Carya laciniosa, comes from a Greek word for nut (κάρυον), probably referring to walnut (hickories are only found in North America), and Latin laciniosa, meaning shredded or fringed, and referring to the extraordinary bark.

Range:  Midwest, with increasing frequency to the west.  Kingnut is the most important upland hickory in the Bluegrass.

Habitat:  Kingnut is found throughout its range along stream banks, and is rarely found far from streams, except in limestone habitats, where it is a common upland tree.  It is very common as an upland tree in the Bluegrass and regenerates readily.

Life History:  Kingnut is a slow-growing long-lived tree. There are no old tree records for kingnut, but many Bluegrass trees are likely to be over 200 years old.  Like other hickories, it is mast fruiting, producing abundant crops at irregular intervals.  The huge nuts are dispersed by squirrels and gravity. The nuts germinate in spring and a deep taproot develops quickly in good soil.  Shoot growth is slow and even on good sites the tree may only reach 2 ft. in height in 5 years.

Form:  Shellbark hickory is a stout tree, with a large bole and little taper in older trees. The branches are thick and rigid. Large trees grown in the open have more compact crowns than the other Venerable Trees.

Uses:  Kingnuts were important food sources for Shawnee and other people and for early settlers and their livestock.  Though rarely harvested today, the nuts are large and delicious.  The wood of shellbark hickory has been used like other hickories for tool handles, furniture, flooring and veneer.

Largest known kingnut:  56 inches diameter, 139 feet tall, 80 ft. crown spread, Greenup County, KY

Largest Bluegrass kingnut: 56 inches diameter, 139 feet tall, 80 ft. crown spread, Greenup County, KY

Oldest kingnut:  Unknown

Hybrids: Shellbark hickory is known to hybridize with sweet pecan, Carya illinoinensis, shagbark hickory, C. ovata, and bitternut, Carya cordiformis.  Hybrids are not commonly observed in the Bluegrass.

Range map of kingnut.
Range and importance value. of kingnut, Carya laciniosa.
Kingnut, Carya laciniosa
Large kingnut
Carya laciniosa-3786-Edit
Kingnut fruit
The large petioles (leaf stalks) of kingnt, Carya laciniosa, remain on the tree through the winter.
The rachis (leaf stem) of kingnut often remains on the stem through the winter.