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Uses of Bitternut Hickory Wood

Updated on October 27, 2016

What so great about Bitternut Hickory Wood?

The hickory tree hardwood is close-grained with a pale to reddish brown heartwood and white sapwood with fine brown lines. This gives hickory wood it’s distinct texture and popularity in use for interiors and as floorboards. The thing that we need to understand first about wood structure and it’s resultant usage is that, trees which grow slowly tend to have growth rings that are set closely together making them weak. However, rapidly growing trees have greater spacing in their growth rings and as a result are quite sturdy making them useful in manufacturing lumber for construction, furniture etc. The bitternut hickory tree has a slow growth rate compared to other hickory varieties and thus has inferior quality wood than most of them. It tends to develop cracks when cut with machinery and even when handled by handheld tools. It tends to develop deep fissures making it hard to work with. Having said that, bitternut wood is strong enough to be used for manufacturing crates, wooden boxes, flooring and interiors. On the other hand, bitternut wood reacts superiorly to steam bending and comes in handy for some segments of furniture making and other fields requiring shape modulation through heat and steam. Earlier, it was used for manufacturing wooden wheels.

The wood of bitternut can be harvested without harming the environment by cutting trees because stumps left in the ground regenerate new leaves as do the root and root collars. It is a faster way of replenishing the damage done than growing a whole new tree without the guarantee of successful transplantation. The redeeming qualities of bitternut as hickory wood are it’s shock resistance potential and high thermal energy content. Like most of the other hickory tree varieties, bitternut wood too offers great shock resistance that make them perfect for tool handles as in hammer and axe. Also, they come in handy while making sports equipment like lacrosse stick and musical essentials like drumsticks. Due to the wood’s superior flexibility, Native Americans use bitternut wood for the construction of their bows. The bitternut hickory tree provides high quality pulpwood and firewood too. Because of their high thermal energy content, they make excellent barbecue charcoal that burns for quite a long time providing even heat and leaving very little residue at the end. The wood in it’s firewood form too works perfectly in fireplaces, furnaces and other wood burning stoves and ovens leaving behind again very little ash. Used in fireplaces, they infuse the surroundings with a beautifully mild hickory tinged aroma. Their olfactory speciality along with great burning capacity makes them the preferred wood for smoking cured meat enjoyed greatly by food savants. The next time you order a smoked dish at the restaurant, try to identify if it has a hint of hickory to it or not, you may be pleasantly surprised.


Bitternut Hickory as the Landscape Fixture, If it wasn't already great!

Though in spring, the stars of your garden are mostly the multi-hued flowers, autumn mostly relies on vibrant colors of the fall tree leaves for added interest. Trees tend to sport blazing canopies ranging from the vivid red of oak and ash trees to the bright yellows of maple and hickory. The American hardwood hickory tree has multiple qualities ranging from being quite handy providing habitat to a large variety of wildlife to providing shade, wood and nuts for human use. These are also one of the preferred trees to be transplanted to spacious backyards for their shade as well as autumn colors. If you are looking for a variety of hickory to grace the backyard of your house, choosing bitternut tree would be quite a good idea. However, they require lots of water in the summer months and so rainwater harvesting would be a recommended.

  • Transplantation friendly: Transplanted, these trees have the most success rate compared to other hickory varieties as they are not very choosy about soil type or quality. They can grow as easily in swampy land as relatively dry ones, though they flourish in water-logged soil better. Also, bitternut hickory trees can withstand even low nutrient soil. These trees have quite a dense network of roots with stump sprouting qualities that come in handy during the whole process. The bitternut trees can handle frost damage very well, thus ensuring durability.
  • Long-suffering: Though it is one of the shortest living hickories, 200 years is quite long in human terms. The bitternut tree’s interesting ability of stump and root sprouting makes them quite hardy trees too. Even if damaged by fire or broken down, these trees regenerate quite easily. Their strong trunk and dense network of supporting roots with a long taproot gives them great stability in stormy wind situations ensuring safety of nearby structures. An interesting fact to know, by the age of 10 years, root network of a bitternut hickory tree spans almost double the width of it’s canopy making it one of the most stable high-reaching trees. This quality really counts while making a decision for backyard landscaping.
  • Autumn colors: The hickory tree leaves turn a beautiful and vibrant shade of yellow during autumn, even more so than the neighborhood maple. Due to their thick canopy with leaves that are less prone to insect and disease damage than other varieties, bitternut trees are quite popular as additions to spacious suburban gardens. Also, the bitternut hickory leaves shed only annually making maintenance quite easy.
  • Winter special: Some hickories provide winter interest in the garden through their vertically curling or peeling bark. The bitternut hickory tree offers color even in winter. The unique sulphur yellow terminal bud against a pale twig backdrop presents quite a striking view. Sometimes, these buds take on more of an orange hue but still remain distinctively identifiable.

National Treasure, " Butternut Hickory Tree"

Occurring in clusters of other dominant tree varieties, the bitternut hickory tree has learnt to adapt well. While the young tree can thrive in partially sunny conditions under other big shady trees, the mature bitternut tree adjusts the size of it’s canopy according to space available. With so much competition around, this hardwood tree reaches out with it’s dense network of expansive roots and can make do with even very little amounts of available soil nutrient. Ensuring continuity, the bitternut tree has hybridized with maple and other hickory varieties too. Shagbark and bitternut hybrid is called Laney’s hickory, that with pecan is named Carya brownii and the pignut-bitternut hybrid is called Carya x deareei. One variety of hybrid sugar maple and bitternut tree is also found in southern Quebec. The bitternut hickory also known as the swamp hickory relates closely to pecan hickories in it’s constitution and is grouped alongside it. The bitternut tree is Canada’s only hickory that belongs to the pecan group.

The hickory trees have acquired an unofficial national treasure status due to their unequivocal concentration in the United States. Over the years, the bitternut hickory trees have played a key role ecologically and still continue to do so. Learning more about how they interlink with our lives, will help us connect and empathize with them better as fellow living creatures.

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