Carya myristiciformis

C. myristiciformis (F. Michx.) Nutt. Nutmeg Hickory

Nutmeg hickory occurs in scattered populations from the mountains near Monterrey, Mexico, north to central Arkansas and east to the coast of South Carolina. It is found on moist, rich soils, typically as a minor associate in the Swamp Chesnut Oak-Cherrybark Oak Forest Type. In this forest type, nutmeg hickory is associated with shagbark, shellbark, mockernut and bitternut hickories, white ash, Shumard oak, and black tupelo. Fowells (1965) noted that the distribution of nutmeg hickory is a lmost identical to that of Durand oak, Quercus durandii var. durandii, and suggests that the species may represent a relic flora. Nutmeg hickory tree s are said by Sargent (1918) to be "nowhere abundant", while Fowells (1965) describes the species as abundant only near Selma, Alabama. The very restricted distribution of the species should alert us of the need to recognize and conserve this handsome tree (distribution map).

Nutmeg hickory is one of the most easily recognized Carya species, having characteristics of buds, leaves, fruit and bark which are distinctive. Shoots of the current season are silver in early spring and retain a metallic shine throughout the season, due to the presence of peltate scales. Terminal buds are about 5 mm long, plump, and are often golden in color, sprinkled with silvery peltate scales. Scales also cover the lower leaf surface, giving it a silver sheen in early spring which often changes to bronze or gold as the season progresses. Upper leaf surfaces are green, with scattered silver scales. The shiny silver of the lower leaf surface flashes against the darker green of the upper leaf surfaces when the canopies are rustled by winds, making the tree the most attractive hickory. Leaflet number is highly variable, ranging from 5 to 11. The fruit is nearly spherical, and is conspicuous by its coloration; nuts are reddish brown covered with silver stripes and resemble the spice seed nutmeg, Myristica fragrans, from which the tree gets both its scientific and common names. Husks are thin (2 mm), golden with scales, and have pronounced sutures from the tip to the base. Nuts have very thick shells and sweet kernels.

The bark of the tree is brownish gray and exfoliates in plates. Trees are typically medium sized (< 2 ft dia.) and single trunked with strong limb structure. The reduced growth rate of nutmeg hickory compared to pecan is evidenced by comparison of the growth rate in cm/yr of 50 sections from each species (10 sections per tree from 5 trees per species); average growth for pecan was 1.17 cm/yr, while that for nutmeg hickory was only 0.85 cm/yr, or about 73% the rate for pecan (Grauke & Boudreaux, unpublished). Despite the slower growth of stocks, pecan scions grafted on hickory had greater survival (64% on nutmeg vs 20% on pecan) and made faster growth (5.27 cm dia/scion in hickory vs 2.82 cm dia/scion in pecan) than pecan on pecan stocks.

Sargent (1918) considered the nutmeg hickory to have characteristics which united Sections Apocarya and Carya, which could otherwise be considered distinct genera. The valvate bud scales and thin husk with prominent wings are typical of Section Apocarya, while the small number of leaflets and thick shell of the nut, lacking lacunae, are typical of Section Carya. As evidence to the intermediate position of this taxon, Britton (1889) considered it a representative of Section Euhicoria (=Carya).

Wood of C. myristiciformis is considered comparable to that of C. aquatica and inferior to other hickories (Boisen and Newlin 1910). The small nuts have such thick shells that, despite the sweet kernel, most nuts lie where they fall under the tree, being of little use to wildlife. Little research has been conducted on nutmeg hickory. Dr. Clinton Graves at Mississippi State University has included this hickory in attempts at interspecific hybridization with pecan (Windham et al., 1981). Some interest was focused on the species as a possible dwarfing rootstock for pecan by Guidry's Nursery in St. Martinsville, Louisiana in the 1970's. Several trees of the species were p lanted by Dr. William Young as border trees in the Ben Hur orchard, Baton Rouge Louisiana.

LJ Grauke , Research Horticulturist & Curator
USDA-ARS Pecan Genetics
10200 FM 50
Somerville, TX 77879
fax: 979-272-1401

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