Awbury Tree of the Month: Shagbark Hickory

Awbury’s “Year of Trees” kicks off with one of our most useful and versatile native species.  

2023 is the Year of Trees at Awbury Arboretum, a local “tree museum” where you can step into a renown collection of native, champion, specimen and heritage trees, on 56 extraordinary acres of landscaped gardens, natural ecosystems, and even historic architecture back from the days the property was a country retreat for the prominent Cope family in East Germantown.

To celebrate this arboreal occasion, they’re highlighting an exceptional tree every month, which we’re proudly featuring in The Local paper. January’s pick is the shagbark hickory, which thrives throughout most of the Eastern US, from Quebec to Minnesota, and south thru Georgia and Texas. This big, impressive tree is easy to identify by its unique, smoke-gray bark that looks like it’s peeling off the trunk. Indigenous peoples would boil this bark, and apply it to relieve aching muscles and arthritic pains — they’d also use teas from young shoots and leaves to treat headaches.

In addition to its medicinal properties, the boiled bark also makes a sticky, smoky syrup that’s great on pancakes, in meat marinades and as a surprising note in cocktails. Shagbark hickory’s sweet, flavorful nuts are known as the tastiest of all hickories, which provided a dense caloric treat for many early American diets, as they were an abundant food that stored and traveled well. Shagbark hickory became a symbol of the Pioneer Age, providing reliable sustenance and also a remarkably durable, flexible wood that was ideal for tool handles, wagon wheels, horse tack — anything that required strength and shock-absorption.

More Fun Facts about the Shagbark Hickory: 

  • Andrew Jackson, infamous U.S. Major General and 7th president of the United States, earned the nickname “Old Hickory” due to his determination and toughness – both of which reminded many of the unbreakable hickory tree. In 1830, he began planning the construction of his tomb at The Hermitage, his plantation in Tennessee. The grave site was surrounded by a variety of trees, including six Shagbark Hickories.
  • Shagbark Hickory wood makes great firewood; not only does it have a pleasant aroma, but it holds the second highest heat potential of all firewood behind only the Black Locust tree. Its wood is also prized for use in smoking meat.
  • Hickory nuts were a food source for Native Americans, who used the kernel milk to make corn cakes and hominy.
  • The largest Shagbark Hickory in the United States is located within Anne Arundel, Maryland; standing at about a hundred feet tall with a crown spread of 107 feet.

More details in author and expert Dan Sardaro’s fascinating article at, where you can follow his excellent blog with a whole calendar of special “tree-mendous” events throughout the year. Dan is a novice birder and author of Awbury’s 2022 “Year of Birds” series, 2018 series on Pollinators, “From Wasps to Wind” and 2019’s series on natural fibers. (He is also a former Awbury Arboretum intern.)

Main Entrance: One Awbury Road
Farm & Education Center: 6336 Ardleigh St
AdventureWoods: 6060 Ardleigh St

The Arboreum’s beautiful grounds are open FREE to the public from dawn to dusk, 365 days a year. Maps available for self-guided tours at the main office, located in the Francis Cope House (Tues – Thurs, 10AM – 4PM or by appointment). Dogs on leash welcome — except not in the garden beds, please. Also available as a unique event venue. Learn more at; follow on Facebook and Instagram.

About Awbury Arboretum 12 Articles
Awbury Arboretum is the largest remaining open green space in Germantown. Its 56 acres are landscaped in the English romantic style, with open meadows, ponds, woods and rolling hills. Awbury’s mission is to preserve and interpret their historic house and landscape, in order to connect the community with nature and history. Awbury is free and open to the public every day (dawn til dusk). More info at Follow them on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter: @awburyarboretum

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