July 25, 2012

Plant of the month:
Shagbark Hickory

It was tough to pick a plant to highlight during this unprecedented Midwestern drought. Should I go with a native perennial, even though most of the perennials—even native ones—struggled with no rain and extreme heat for seven weeks? Should I pick a nonnative shrub that seemed to thrive during the drought?

In the end, a couple of posts by fellow garden bloggers influenced my decision to go with a hardy North American tree that showed no signs of stress, even though I barely watered it. In fact, I neglected it until a couple of weeks ago when I realized how valuable it was to the garden’s personality, the wildlife, and the plants it shades.

Cat, at The Whimsical Gardener, posted an extremely inspirational message with a nod to fellow gardeners, saying that what we do matters—to wildlife and the habitats around us. After weeks of dragging around garden hoses and watering buckets to save plants, I found her post incredibly encouraging. I was just about to give up, when Cat’s message came through…and then it rained.

Mary at Muse, also influenced my selection. Her recent post titled, “Oh nuts,” discussed the importance of including trees in our gardens that support the local ecosystem. Oaks and Hickories, in particular, said Mary, attract and sustain birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and other animals.

That did it. I then knew that the Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) was my July 2012 plant of the month!

Carya ovata

I confess I’ve taken our twin Hickories for granted. I appreciate them, yes, but until the full force of the drought hit I didn’t really think much about them.




I just assumed they’d be here for the birds perched on their branches, ready to swoop down for bird seed at the feeders below. I figured the squirrels would always have Hickory nuts to store away for the winter.


But now I realize how nifty those Shagbark Hickory trees are. Not only do they thrive in moist conditions, they’re also extremely drought-tolerant because of their deep taproots, according to the University of Nebraska.


Their shaggy, serrated bark adds interest to the garden in any season—even winter.


Their large leaves provide excellent shade during the hot summer and turn a lovely yellow hue in the fall.



Buds that form in summer and fall open in an artful dance during springtime—celebrating new life in a particularly inspiring display.

The native range of the Shagbark Hickory stretches as far north as southern Ontario and Quebec in Canada, and southward to the mountains of northeastern Mexico. And from Kansas in the west to Maine in the east, notes the USDA Forest Service.

Shagbark Hickories can live up to 300 years, and grow to 60 to 80 feet tall. My engineer son estimates our tallest one is approximately 40 feet tall.

Clearly, this tree with plentiful personality should be respected and appreciated—for helping to provide food, shade, and shelter in all seasons, and even in the depths of drought.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Drought update

Today the USDA designated 23 counties in Wisconsin as disaster areas, including Dane, the county I live in. While the extreme drought broke with about three to four inches of blessed rain last week and more this week, the fallout will be with us for months to come. This map released by the U.S. Drought Monitor based on conditions as of July 17, is likely to show improvement this week:

Source: U.S. Drought Monitor

But it’s too late for many of our plants, trees, and shrubs. (And definitely for the Corn crop—for the week’s unfortunate crop report click here.) While it’s not pleasant reporting on the damage, that’s part of the story.

No words are adequate to convey the signs and symptoms of drought—beyond saying that some plants are gone, others are severely stressed, and others are vulnerable to insect infestations and disease.









Please note that these photos were taken in public places that didn’t have the benefit of careful gardeners to tend them. Hopefully we’ve turned the corner on the drought. Plants are looking much better. New trees will grow to replace the old ones, and native perennials will return next year—some probably stronger and healthier than before. But the biggest losses are to the farmers’ crops and livestock, which will affect food prices in the months ahead.

But thank goodness it finally rained.

40 comments:

  1. Oh how my heart breaks as I remember feeling as you do just a short year ago. It's hard to express the complete desperation that invades the psyche during such extremes. I'm rejoicing right along with you for your rain! Yay! And thank you sweet friend for the blog love. It means everything knowing that you found strength and inspiration from that post. What you do matters. It really does!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, again, Cat. Your reminder about the habitat and wildlife gave the effort more purpose, and inspired me to write about creatures who need the shelter and food. I really appreciate your friendship and support!

      Delete
  2. I also love shagbark hickories. Sadly, the larger trees I inherited from the last owners are not too inspiring: a silver maple and a siberian elm. I did get the city to put a hackberry in the parkway.

    I lived in Madison for a couple of years and remember it fondly. Good luck with the drought, here it is merely "severe."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We had Silver Maples in our previous garden. They had their own kind of beauty, and they sure were fast growers. Madison is a nifty place--you wouldn't have recognized it a couple of weeks ago. It was a dry brown everywhere, and all the plants looked sad and droopy. :(

      Delete
  3. I really feel sorry for all of you that are suffering from the big drought at the moment, here in Belgium we have the opposite problem, too much rain and no sun so everything rots away.
    But never underestimate a plant/tree/shrub, it can come back from very far so be patient and give it time before you remove it cos you think it's death. Ofcourse the brown branches of conifers don't come back but perhaps you can cut the branches back untill you have only green branches and then you have a conifer on a stem.
    I do hope rain will come soon for all of you !!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Gwennie. Too much rain and no sun is a downer, too. All the dying trees I showed are on public spaces, so I won't have any say in what happens to them. Hopefully some will come back. The tall Blue Spruces are looking very ratty, though, which is sad because they are grand established trees. Losing them will change the landscape dramatically! We got more rain last night and more is coming tonight!

      Delete
  4. Your first photo made me gasp. It's beautiful. It so sad to see plants that are distressed and to feel helpless. I hope there is some rain heading your way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! We did get some rain last night again, and more tonight! We are so far behind, though, and the crops are a loss already. But there's always next year. By the way, I had to add your comment back in because I hit the wrong button at first. Your comments are always so encouraging--thank you!

      Delete
  5. I think the large trees are often overlooked and their beauty and usefulness taken for granted. It is great that you covered this beautiful tree in such detail! I have been spending the last 3 weeks in SW Michigan where they are suffering similar drought conditions. It is so sad to see so many trees, grass and plants under such stress. The past few days have been blessed with some much needed rain and thunderstorms...a little reprieve! The farmers are definitely suffering. I am seeing lots of corn crops being written off.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad Michigan is getting the rain, too. And I'm glad that you're having a nice vacation! I, too, feel for the farmers--who've suffered the most in this drought.

      Delete
  6. We are hearing about the effects of the drought...and while it's sometimes hard to think beyond the immediate effect of it, there is a long term also.

    Great post, I love Hickories, have never seen one, hope to do so one day.

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jen: It is a stately tree, and a valuable addition to the garden. Thank you for your kind comments. I hope the estimations of losses and increased food prices are exaggerations, but I fear not. It's sad to see a season's crop written off.

      Delete
  7. Beth I can feel part of your pain. I am unsure of the long term damage of our moderate drought. We had .25 inches of rain and 1 inch this month in July. We are 7 inches behind and in a moderate drought. The crop loss is massive as well in some areas.

    I love my ash trees because they are like your hickory...dependable, no water needed and the shade and shelter they provide is immeasurable. The loss of these trees, as we are being told and I post about soon, is unthinkable. I am glad to see you have not lost this mighty tree.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The drought seems to be affecting all of us in the states this year--it's just hitting us at different times, apparently. The worst of it (so far) for us was June through mid-July. I'm praying that we'll have plentiful rain through the rest of the summer and that you will, too. I'm a big fan of Ash trees, as well. I'll look forward to your post!

      Delete
  8. We have two inherited ash trees. Huge tall trees with layers of birds in them. Grateful that they are northern trees and deciduous as it lets more sun thru in winter when we revel in it. they do battle with out summer heat, but give a little dappled shade. What a relief when the rain does return after drought!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I love the image you paint--huge tall trees with layers of birds! Yes, the rain is sure a relief! Since I wrote this post we've received even more rain, so plants are looking a lot better!

      Delete
  9. Shagbark hickories are such beautiful trees! I just love the bark on them. We are looking to get a nut tree or two and were looking at these, but sadly they are just too big for our little yard with all the other trees we've planted. They are gorgeous though.

    I hope you get more rain. I feel for all the farmers this summer. We're slowly coming out of several years of drought - our trees have really struggled and we've lost some. I hope the drought ends soon for you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hickories are large, that's true. Especially the branch and leaf spread, and the height. We've had more rain in the past two days, so that is wonderful. But I'm feeling a little too apprehensive to say the drought is over--for fear it will happen again.

      Delete
  10. Thank you for the mention. It has been hot here in Michigan, but we have had some rain in July. I'm ready for some seasonal summer weather.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome, Mary. Thanks for the inspiration! Seasonal summer weather is here now and I'm thrilled. It's wonderful to have the windows open and a breeze blowing through!

      Delete
  11. We have the Shagbark up here. I have been following the Drought Monitor too and have been surprised at some of the areas affected, like yours. It seems drought is more common in places it was not previously. We have had mild drought two years running, and our area is know for moist temperate conditions.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, very strange patterns to this year's drought. Most of the state of Indiana. And a small patch in southern Wisconsin that doesn't get mentioned much because it only affects a small part of the state. Things are looking better for us now, and I'm praying for those who are still struggling with the heat and lack of rain--horrible combination. I've enjoyed your posts that focus on trees, Donna.

      Delete
  12. I'm hoping for a really snowy winter to give the midwest the water it needs. More rain would be helpful, too. I've seen shag barks before, but rarely around here. We've had a dry summer but aren't in a drought. All the drought states are in my prayers!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, TS. I never thought I'd want a snowy winter--but that's probably what we need now to fully recover from the drought. The Shagbarks are great--I think the animals and birds love them, too.

      Delete
  13. It does sound like a wonderful tree, thank you for such an interesting story. I hope drought breaks where you are and you will get some rain soon. We are used to summer irrigation here in California...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Masha. I guess the drought has broken, but then we're supposed to have five more days of high heat again this week with no rain. But getting the 4-5 inches helped!

      Delete
  14. What an interesting post, I especially liked the photo of the shaggy, serrated bark, never seen a Shagbark Hickory tree before so this one was new to me. I so hope you get some rain soon - lots of rain. We hear about the drought on the news, and although we have had our own struggle with the strange weather over here in Britain this year, recovering from flood and too much rain is much easier than recovering from severe drought. Hope it gets better soon :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Helene. We did get quite a bit of rain, so that has helped. It's too late, though, for a lot of the plants and trees, which is sad. Flooding would be awful, too. But light, gentle rain sounds nice about now. Hope you're enjoying the Olympics!

      Delete
  15. Hickory wood is great for BBQ too!!! lol. I'm glad you got rain, maybe the farmers can grow a winter crop this year. Send some our way would you? 110 today.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, 110--that is crazy! Maybe a winter crop would make sense. Things are looking a lot better with the rain--we'll see how many trees and plants will make it through the winter now.

      Delete
  16. This drought has been devastating ~ your photos are so sad. We are having a double whammy with our trees. Remember the heavy snow we got early last fall (when the trees were all fully leafed out?) All the breakage & damage had them stressed before this terrible summer even started. The arborist said my Bur Oak is likely to be in recovery mode for several years. :(
    Your hickory looks like an awesome tree ~ I hope you can keep them in your garden for a very long time.
    p.s. Maybe vintage watering cans are cheaper in other parts of the country?? I wish they were here!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ugh--sorry about the tree stress for you, too. It's so sad to see a tree that took years to grow struggle. I will be on the lookout for vintage watering cans now, and I'll let you know. :)

      Delete
  17. I love old trees! We have an old shagbark hickory as well as a very old burr oak. As bad as this summer has been, I know they've endured these conditions or worse probably several times in their life cycles.

    Your last few photos say it all, but as bad as our gardens may look, I agree that I feel the most sympathy for the farmers. I haven't heard too much talk around here about plowing under the corn, but the yields are certainly going to be low this year.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've heard people say that the rings tell the story after a tree dies and is cut down. Years of high stress are obviously marked in its memory. I'm trying to be optimistic now that we've had some rain--some plants are starting to recover, and others are finally succumbing despite the rain.

      Delete
  18. Your images showing the impact of the drought on trees is a good wake up call to those of us in the Seattle area who are still chilled at mid-60's and had far more than our usual amount of rain. I complain about rust on perennials but at least they'll come up clean next year. I appreciate now the devastation for those of you who have experienced months of oppressive heat.

    Also the hickory is new to me so fun to read about a 'new'tree.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Karen. I'm crossing my fingers that the worst of the drought and heat are behind us. The turning point seemed to come when the days got noticeably shorter. We seem to be in a more normal weather pattern now. But the evidence is still around us, and I'm sure shrubs and trees will be in recovery mode for a long time.

      Delete
  19. What a thoughtful post. We bloggers frequently post about our vegetables, flowers, and shrubs but often don't mention the trees. A few years ago we lost 3 trees during a snowstorm. I still miss them! It changes the landscape so much when they're gone. I hope you've turned the corner on the drought too. Thanks for linking up!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gosh, I'm embarrassed that I didn't respond to this comment until now. Sometimes when I move on to the next post, I forget to go back to the previous posts' comments. We're moving into shorter days and cooler temps, and we've had some rain, so things are looking a lot better. I think we're still down about 8 inches for normal annual rainfall, but things are definitely better. Our neighbors lost one large Oak tree to the drought, and I've seen other trees fall or succomb around town. I worry about the remaining ones making it through the winter. Thanks for your thoughts and kind comments.

      Delete
  20. So sorry to hear about, and see the effects of, the drought. It is always so humbling to realize our entire existence, really, depends upon something we can not control. So glad you finally got some rain - I hope it continues. I loved all the information about the tree. Yours are very pretty, and I love the interesting bark!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for all your support this past summer, Holley! It has been so encouraging to have fellow gardeners and plant-lovers to commiserate with. Happy autumn!

      Delete

Thanks for stopping by!

(Your comment might not appear right away. PlantPostings uses comment moderation, and we read every comment before we publish.)