Posts Tagged ‘mockernut hickory’

Orange you glad it’s Fall?

Our giant white oak has yet to change color or drop leaves but the hickory behind is golden orange.

Here in the South, we never know what kind of fall foliage to expect.  Some years the leaves simply turn brown and slough off.   Other time like this year we have a radiant Autumn with intense leaf color that continues for weeks.

In celebration we have spent a lot of time on the woodland trails and on the back deck admiring the display.

In late afternoon, we can be found gazing to the west toward the mockernut hickory next door which is back-lit by the setting sun.

The hickory is framed by the giant white oak that inspired me to buy this place.

In the fall color department, the white oak is a bit of a slacker.  The hickory, however, has been dependably golden every autumn.

The landscape plants make a nice transition to the orange dogwoods in the edge of the woods.

I have lived here for almost 30 years and have watched the mockernut grow up.  When it was still fairly young, a limb from the white oak topped the hick.  It looked kind of rough and I considered taking it out.  I am so grateful that my better judgement prevailed because the tree outgrew the injury and now the only sign is a slightly kinky leader.

Mockernut hickory is known in the plant world as a sort of prankster.   Its nuts are large and almost round but after the husk falls off, only a tiny nut and even tinier kernel are left.  I think my mockernut was planted by a squirrel who forgot to come back and nibble the tiny kernel.

On the other side of white oak central, I planted a bed – full of Japanese maples, native azaleas, bigleaf magnolia and sweetshrub.

A study in textural extremes - a golden cowcumber leaf has settled in with a threadleaf Japanese maple.

I selected a coral bark maple a.k.a ‘Sango-kaku’ for its intense red winter twigs.  I was disappointed the first fall when the leaves turned yellow instead of red.  I soon learned that after golden yellow, the leaves would morph into a beautiful shade of apricot and stay on the trees for a very long time.

I compensated by planting a threadleaf Japanese maple that does turn red in the fall.  I believe the variety is called ‘Garnet’.  It is quite striking in combination with all the yellow, gold and orange in the area.

I chose three bigleaf magnolias for their  fragrant spring blooms and striking coarse textured leaves.  The leaves of this cowcumber (as they call it in the country) can be up to a yard long.

As I walked through the back garden the other day, one of those enormous cowcumber leaves had drifted down and settled on top of the Garnet threadleaf maple.  It was quite a study in contrast – one of the most coarse textured leaves ever nestled in with one of the finest textured.

Proving once more that Autumn is a season of surprises.


The Hickory that Came With the House

I love my mockernut hickory in spite of his kinky leader.

I bought my tiny house about 25 years ago.  I could say that I chose it because the neighborhood was quiet and it was located near my place of work.    But the real reason I purchased the house was that it was one of the few in my price range and it had an incredibly beautiful 100 foot tall white oak tree (Quercus alba) in the back yard!

The oak, of course, was a remnant of the forest.  I have been quite happy living in its shelter for all these years.

The other forest remnants on the property (a smaller white oak, a southern red oak and a young hickory) were eclipsed by the giant specimen at first.  At one point, I even considered taking the hickory out.  It had suffered some storm damage and developed a kinky leader.

It was not perfect (but then neither am I) so I learned to live with it.

After a few years I identified the hickory as a mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa).  It is a fairly common hickory around here in mixed oak-hickory woodlands.  It feeds the squirrels, chipmunks and other wildlife.  Its nut is edible to humans as well.  It appears to be big and beefy.  However after the thick shuck and shell are taken out of the picture, the kernel is tiny.  I’m sure the name “mockernut” was imparted by an exasperated forager who had put forth a large amount of work to release a surprisingly minute bit of food.

My husband Richard (the grillmaster) ofter requests that I gather green twigs from the mockernut.  He tosses the twigs onto the hot coals to give a wonderful hickory smoke flavor.  It’s easy to gather hickory twigs even in winter because they have enormous buds. The buds have to be big because they hold large compound leaves.

The leaves are so big and complicated that  it takes them a long time to emerge.  When winter is over, the hickory stands with bare limbs until the oaks nearby are fully clothed.   I’m usually watching anxiously and am relieved when the hickory leaves finally unfurl.

The thing I love the most about my mockernut hickory is its beautiful golden fall foliage.   This year was not the prettiest.  Like most trees in my woods which were severely afflicted by the drought, it dropped a good many leaves early.  The display was not as intense as in years gone by but it was golden and it served to remind me that winter was on the way.

I can see the mockernut out of every window on the back of my house and in spite of my criticisms that it was not up to the usual standards, I have stopped dead in my tracks to marvel at the glowing golden leaves quite a few times.  Right now it has the most spectacular fall foliage in the back garden.

The other wonderful thing about my hickory is that he was a gift from God or possibly from a squirrel.

Hickories are incredibly difficult to find in the nursery trade and do not thrive in nursery pots. They are also difficult to transplant.

If not for Sir Squirrel, I’m not sure where I would go in search of a hickory tree.  And now that I’ve lived with one, it would be hard to do without!

If you want to see some pretty fall color pictures check out Dave’s  Fall Color Project at his The Home Garden blog.


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