Appropriately named, this deciduous tree is easily recognizable when mature by its gray shaggy bark that curls off the trunk in large strips. Its wood provides a long and steady burn, making it excellent firewood, of which the smoke imparts the distinctive hickory smell and flavor. Its high density and strength made it ideal for many Indigenous peoples of the northeast to make bows and other tools. They may grow well over 100 feet and live over 350 years, though they are slow-growing and sensitive to disturbance. Its compound foliage, which typically has five leaflets per leaf, attracts a wide range of birds who use it as a nesting site.
As the most common hickory within its native range across the eastern US and southeastern Canada, its sweet nuts are widely consumed by many species of rodents, larger mammals, and birds. They are also edible to humans, having been a significant food source for the Algonquin Indigenous people, who also made nut milk from boiling them. Within the Algonquin language group, this sweet milk is called “pawcohiccora,” which eventually led to the name “hickory.”