University of FloridaSolutions for Your Life

Download PDF
Publication #FOR 267

Carya aquatica, Water Hickory 1

Michael G. Andreu, Melissa H. Friedman, Mary McKenzie, Heather V. Quintana, and Robert J. Northrop2

Family

Juglandaceae, walnut or hickory family.

Genus

Carya stems from the Greek word caryum, meaning "nut" or "nucleus."

Species

The species name, aquatica, is the Latin term for "growing in or under water."

Common Name

water hickory, swamp hickory, bitter pecan

The two common names, water hickory and swamp hickory, both refer to the tree's habit of growing in the wet soils of stream banks and floodplains. Its other common name, bitter pecan, stems from the bitter taste of the tree’s seeds.

Description

This deciduous Florida native is found in wet but well-drained soils along stream banks and flood plains throughout the southeastern United States. It ranges from the eastern Carolinas, south to central Florida, and west to eastern Texas. It grows best in full sunlight or partial shade, and can reach heights of 60 to 70 feet. The pinnately compound leaves are alternately arranged and can grow to between 9 and 15 inches long. Seven to 17 lance-shaped leaflets with finely serrate margins appear on each leaf and range in length from 3 to 10 inches. The topside of the leaflet is dark green and glossy, while the underside is a paler green with sparse pubescence (or hairs) present along the veins. Water hickory bark is gray or light brown with narrow cracks that give rise to reddish scales. When mature, the bark looks shaggy with flakey plates. Small greenish flowers bloom in the spring. Male and female flowers bloom on the same branch between April and May, with male flowers occurring in three-stemmed clusters called "catkins," while 2 to 10 female flowers appear on short stalks. The bitter nuts or pecans are enclosed in a dark brown, 1- to 1 ½-inch-long, thin-shelled husk, which splits along four winged seams to release the nut.

Figure 1. 

Leaf, fruit, and bark on Carya aquatica.


Credit:

CA Floristics, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Allergen

Pollen in the hickory genus ranges between highly allergenic to extremely allergenic.

Applications

Commercial/Practical

Water hickory wood is not structurally stable and is therefore commonly used for fuel rather than lumber. Historically, members of the Carya genus have had various uses, including the production of dyes, baskets, bows and arrows, corn beaters, blow gun darts, and tool handles.

Medicinal

The Cherokee tribe used various members of the Carya genus to make medicines to address colds, excessive bile, small cuts and abrasions, and sore mouths.

Wildlife

Water hickory is a dominant species in floodplains and therefore plays an important role in purifying water that travels from the uplands into the bottomlands. Water hickory's presence in floodplains also contributes to wildlife habitat, and water hickory nuts are a food source for ducks, squirrels, and other wildlife.

References

Austin, D. F. 2004. Florida ethnobotany. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Borror, D. J. 1988. Dictionary of root words and combining forms (1st ed.). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.

Burns, R. M., B. H. Honkala, and coordinators. 1990. Silvics of North America: Volume 2. hardwoods (Vol. 2). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Florida Forest Stewardship. 2006. Trees of Florida: Juglandaceae. Retrieved from http://www.sfrc.ufl.edu/Extension/ffws/tfjug.htm#aquatica

Gledhill, D. 1989. The names of plants (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge.

Godfrey, R. K. 1988. Trees, shrubs, and woody vines of Northern Florida and adjacent Georgia and Alabama. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press.

Haehle, R. J. and J. Brookwell. 2004. Native Florida plants: Low-maintenance landscaping and gardening. Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing.

Little, E. L. 2005. National Audubon Society field guide to trees, Eastern region. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Ogren, T. L. 2000. Allergy-free gardening: The revolutionary guide to healthy landscaping. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.

Footnotes

1.

This document is FOR 267, one of a series of the School of Forest Resources and Conservation, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date June 2010. Reviewed April 2013. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Michael G. Andreu, associate professor of forest systems, School of Forest Resources and Conservation; Melissa H. Friedman, former biological scientist, School of Forest Resources and Conservation, IFAS, University of Florida, Plant City Center; Mary McKenzie, former research assistant, School of Forest Resources and Conservation; Heather V. Quintana, former research assistant, School of Forest Resources and Conservation; and Robert J. Northrop, Extension forester, Hillsborough County Extension


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.