water hickory
Carya aquatica

Secondary Names:
bitter pecan

Leaf Type: Deciduous
Texas Native:
Tree Description:

A slender tree of forested wetlands, attaining a height of 100 feet and a trunk diameter up to 2 feet, with its upright branches forming a narrow crown. The branches, twigs, and leaves lack prickles or thorns.

Range/Site Description:

Found throughout East Texas, growing in bottomlands and rich, wet woods.


Alternate, once-compound, 9" to 15" long, with 11 to 15 slender leaflets, though sometimes fewer; each leaflet is 3" to 5" long and 0.5" to 1" wide, lanceolate, and finely-toothed along the margin; the terminal leaflets are usually longer than the ones towards the base of the leaf. Leaves are light green on top, paler beneath, turning yellow in fall.


Male and female flowers borne separately on the same tree in spring; the male in three-branched catkins 2.5" to 3" long, the female in short clusters at the end of the branches.


The fruits are often borne in clusters of 3 or 4; the nut itself is flattened, oval, 1.5" long and 1" wide, pointed, and enclosed in a thin, red-brown, four-angled hull that splits to the base. The shell of the nut is thin, with a bitter kernel, giving it one of its common names, "bitter pecan."


Gray-brown and smooth at first, developing into long, loose, thick, plate-like scales.


Heavy, strong, close-grained, brown, and rather brittle. Probably used only for fuelwood.

Similar Species:

Pecan (Carya illinoinensis) has wider leaflets and a large, cylindrical nut; bitternut hickory (C. cordiformis) has 7 to 11 leaflets, a small, round nut, and sulphur-yellow winter buds.

Interesting Facts:

Several duck species eat the flat nuts during winter when the bottomlands containing water hickory are often flooded for extended periods.

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