hickory, any plant of the genus Carya of the family Juglandaceae (walnut family); deciduous nut-bearing trees native to E North America and south to Central America except for a few species found in SE Asia. The pecan (C. illinoinensis) is one of the most important nut trees of the United States. This tree, the tallest of the hickories, is native from S Illinois through the Mississippi valley to central Texas and Mexico. A rich food (containing 70% or more fat), the pecan is the most popular American nut after the peanut and is used as a table delicacy, in ice cream, and for confectionery, especially the traditionally Southern pecan pies and pralines. Cultivated varieties with unusually thin shells, called paper-shelled pecans, have been developed, but wild pecans are also gathered and sold in quantity. Other hickories having edible nuts that are marketed to a lesser extent include the shagbark hickory (C. ovata) of the E United States, the shellbark hickory (C. laciniosa), chiefly of the Midwest and South, and the mockernut, or white, hickory (C. alba or C. tomentosa) of the E United States. The hickory nut of commerce is usually that of the shagbark (the names shagbark and shellbark are often used interchangeably), which has a relatively thin shell. Native Americans made a food of ground hickory nuts. The abundant oil or fat of the nuts was a staple article in the diets of both Native Americans and early colonists. The pignut (C. glabra) has small nuts of variable quality, usually bitter, that have been used as mast for fattening hogs. Many hickories have been so exploited for their valuable wood that they are in danger of extinction. The wood of several species is extremely hard, heavy, strong, and elastic. It is a preferred wood for golf clubs, wheel spokes, and tool handles and wherever strength and resilience are required. Prairie schooners often carried hickory sticks on their westward treks to replace broken wagon parts and ox yokes. The wood, used also for furniture, is prone to decay in moisture. Shagbark hickory is the most valuable for timber. Hickory is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Juglandales, family Juglandaceae.
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