Canopy Tour: Rough around the edges

Published 4:17 pm Tuesday, October 24, 2023

BROOKHAVEN — Southwest Mississippi is a landscape dominated by oak, loblolly pine and hickory forest. Hickories can be easily overlooked as it is not seen as valuable to deer as acorn producing oaks but they still produce mast consumed by squirrels in the later part of summer and early Fall.

All you have to do to identify a mature hickory is find the rough bark. These trees are some of the first to lose leaves in the early fall. Identifying hickories comes in handy while hunting or improving timber stands.  

According to the Mississippi Forestry Commission, 12 different species in the Hickory Family grow in the state. Bitternut Hickory, Bitter Pecan, Mockernut Hickory, Nutmeg Hickory, Pecan, Pignut Hickory, Red Hickory, Sand Hickory, Shagbark Hickory, Southern Shagbark Hickory and Water Hickory all call the state home. 

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Lincoln County forester Steven Williams said Mockernut Hickories are the most common hickory around here. They have a bark that is a blue-gray color and has shallow furrows tight together. Mockernuts grow up to 70 feet tall once mature and have moderate shade, fire and drought tolerance. Typically, the tree is found in sandy soils along with short leaf and loblolly pines. 

Ducks, quail, turkey, squirrels and deer all prefer the mast of a Mockernut tree. 

Foliage and twigs are often browsed by deer. Mockernut mast is between .13 inches to a quarter inch thick and is a reddish brown color. Limbs on these trees are often crooked and L shaped, they have a hard time establishing due to seed predation. One cool fact about Mockertnuts is they can live for up to 500 years. 

Red Hickory, also known as a Sweet Pignut, produces a four valved sweet nut which is oblong and typically green or brown in color. The bark is gray and scaly and weakly shaggy. The tree is highly drought resistant and moderately fire resistant. It can be found in upland mixed forests on cool and moist slopes. It reaches a size of 75 feet at maturity. 

Pignut Hickories are common on upland slopes and ridges as well. The seed of a pignut hickory is small and sweet. Bark on the pignut is gray, tight and nearly smooth when young but fissures into an irregular diamond shaped pattern as it matures. 

Squirrels love pignut hickories and can comprise 10 to 25 percent of the diets in some locations. The pignut hickory produces fruit eaten by black bear, gray fox, raccoon, rabbits, wood ducks, quail, crows, wild turkeys and woodpeckers. 

Pecan trees are a member of the hickory family. Bark on a pecan is light brown to gray with narrow fissures and interlacing scaly ridges. Pecans can grow up to 140 feet at maturity and have a lifespan of 100 years and more. Pecan trees have a low shade, drought and fire tolerance. Raccoons, squirrels and possums will eat the pecan nuts which are a reddish brown. This writer would argue pecan is best in a pie.