Shaggy Character

It’s a tree I’ve driven past many times, but that location on Martin Street South in Almonte is where I put my turn signal on.  Whenever I’m heading north for a left turn onto Bridge Street, my attention is always on the busy corner ahead.  A chance meeting while crossing Mitcheson Street in early October sent me looking for this shady character.

This was a tree I hadn’t looked at closely before while traveling along Martin Street South in Almonte.

 After stopping at the homes on either side for permission to have a closer look, I went into sleuthing mode and soon discovered helpful clues. 1st clue:  compound leaves, where a number of leaflets or blades are attached to a single stalk 2nd clue:  pinnate leaves, where the leaflets grow from several places along the stalk 3rd clue:  5 leaflets on the stalk, widest at mid-point, with slightly serrated edges 4th clue:  3 end leaflets much larger than the leaflets at the base 5th clue:  end leaflet largerthan the other 4

The unique compound, pinnate leaves were good clues for identifying this tree.
Although there were a multitude of empty nut husks around the tree on the ground, the neighbours reported that there wasn’t a crop in 2012.

6th clue:  empty 4 sectioned small nut husks on the ground with hard, bony shells.

Cool, it’s a hickory tree.  Which one?  Mockernut hickory is pinnately compound too, but it has 7 to 9 serrated leaflets.  Shellbark hickory, with 5 to 9 leaflets, usually 7, has the largest of all hickory nuts.   7th clue:  sections of peeling shaggy-looking barkappeared to be falling off along the length of the trunk

After looking at the leaves, and finding nut husks on the ground, the shaggy-looking bark was the next clue.
On that sunny fall day, the equation was pinnately compound leaves + 5 leaflets + small nut husks + shaggy bark = shagbark hickory.

I’d never met a shagbark hickory before.  Here in Canada, our native Carya ovata can be found throughout the Carolinian zone of Ontario, northeast to Toronto.  In eastern Ontario, it begins about Brighton and grows eastward along the St. Lawrence River area into Quebec.   It’s also been recorded inland at a few locations, including granite outcrops in the Perth area. Ontario’s Tree Atlas, at http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/en/Business/ClimateChange/2ColumnSubPage/267323.html, notes that shagbark hickory would be suitable for planting in Lanark east and west, as well as Renfrew south.   The nut of the shagbark hickory is edible, and has quite a sweet taste.  It’s a gourmet choice for a wide variety of wildlife, including squirrels, raccoons, black bears, foxes, and birds such as mallards, wood ducks, and wild turkey.  Wild shagbark will produce a good crop every second year.  Grown from seed, it can take 10 or more years for hickory trees to begin producing nuts.

When the leaves came off in the fall, the pattern of branches and the overall structure of the tree was revealed.

This youthful shagbark hickory measures a slender 0.37 m (1.21 ft) in diameter at chest height, and 1.29 m (4.23 ft) in circumference.  Older shagbarks are particularly shaggy in their mature years.  The largest shagbark hickory in Ontario was recorded in 1974 at the Backus Woods in Norfolk County, in the south-western part of the province.  It was 0.95 m (3.12 ft) in diameter, with a height of 32 m (105 ft).  Wow.   Backus Woods is known as the best remaining old-growth forest in the Carolinian zone of Canada.  Some of Ontario’s oldest living trees are growing there.  Here’s a link for additional information http://www.oufc.org/tree-protection-success-stories/.

Look for this month’s tree just off the street between the driveways at 29 and 35 Martin Street South in Almonte.  When you’re out and about in the spring, please let me know when you first notice its leaves emerging.  Thank you to Allan Goddard for nominating this month’s shady character.

Do you have a notable or favourite tree?  Readers are invited to submit their nominations for an honor roll of trees in our area that could be featured in future articles.  You can contact me at 613-256-2018, <ve3nce@rac.ca>, or Neil Carleton, 3 Argyle Street, P.O. Box 1644, Almonte, Ontario, K0A 1A0.  I look forward to hearing from you.   My volunteer columns started in March 2010, as print features, to support the tree planting and tree awareness initiatives of the Mississippi Mills Beautification Committee.  The contact for the Tree Working Group is Ron Ayling, 613-256-4617.  In Carleton Place, the contact for the Urban Forest / River Corridor Advisory Committee is Jim McCready, 613-257-5853.

Until the next column, you’ll find me looking for and hanging out with local shady characters.