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Tree to 30 m, to 1.2 m dbh. Bark dark grey, ridged, often deeply furrowed, not exfoliating. Branchlets reddish brown, slender, glabrous or pubescent. Terminal bud 0.5–1cm long, brown to silverish grey or yellowish gray. Leaves deciduous, imparipinnate, 30–60 cm long; leaflets (five to) seven (to nine), ovate to obovate or elliptic, 2–15 × 1–6 cm, leathery, upper surface largely glabrous, with scattered to dense, small, yellow, peltate scales when young. Lower surface silvery tan, hirsute towards the base, often with stellate hairs and scattered to dense with larger, silvery grey, peltate scales and smaller, circular, yellow, peltate scales. margins finely to coarsely serrate, apex acuminate; petiolules 0–0.1 cm long; petiole and rachis sparesely to densely hirsute and scaly; petiole 3–10 cm long. Staminate spikes to 13 cm long, hirsute, scaly. Fruits tan to reddish brown, 3–4 × 2–3 cm, obovoid to globose, slightly compressed, splitting to the middle or base; nuts finely wrinkled. Stone & Whittemore 1997, Schaarschmidt 1999, 2002. Whittemore 2013. Distribution USA: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia. Habitat Dry woodland on well-drained sandy or rocky soils between 0 and 500 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 5. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration NT215. Cross-reference K287.
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
Despite its wide range through the eastern United States Carya pallida was recognised as distinct as late as 1896 and is afforded brief mention by Dirr (1998) and by Sternberg (2004), apparently only for the sake of completeness. This overlooked tree is seldom seen in collections in our area, whether in the United States or in Europe, but there are plants at Kew and Wakehurst Place, grown from seed collected by Howick and Warner (WAHO 183) in Virginia in 1986. A plant grown from seed collected on the Westonbirt-led expedition of 2014 in southeast Missouri (WECA 16) in 2014 grows at Westonbirt. The species is also grown at Arboretum Bokrijk, Genk, Belgium and as of October 2018, stands at 3 metres tall (J. Van Meulder, pers. comm. 2018).
The common name of Sand Hickory is very apt, with the species found predominantly on sandy, free draining soils (Whittemore 2013). In parts of its range, it appears to intergrade with Carya texana (Smith 1994; Stone and Whittemore 1997), the presence of silvery scales on the abaxial surfaces of the leaves of C. pallida key in distinguishing the two (Smith 1994). Such scales and silvery hairs are also evident on the twigs and buds (Kurz 2003). Hybridization with C. glabra is also noted as a possibility by Stone and Whittemore (1997).