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Typically a small tree, potentially much taller, to 41 m in the wild, to 1.2 m dbh. Bark dark grey to black, ridged, deeply furrowed, not exfoliating. Branchlets rusty-brown, slender, densely scaly, glabrous or pubescent. Terminal bud ovoid, 0.4–0.9 cm long, rusty-brown. Leaves deciduous, imparipinnate, 30–60 cm long; leaflets (5-)7(-9), ovate to obovate, elliptic or linear elliptic, 3–15 × 1–8 cm, upper surface largely glabrous, more or less covered with small, yellow, peltate scales in spring, lower surface hirsute along base of midvein, otherwise glabrous to hirsute with simple and 2–8-armed hairs, covered in spring with few silvery tan, large, peltate scales and numerous small, 4-lobed, irregular, and round peltate scales; lateral petiolules 0–0.1 cm long, terminal petiolules 0.2–1 cm; petiole and rachis glabrous to pubescent, usually scaly; petiole 3–8 cm long. Male catkins to 16 cm long, scaly. Fruits reddish brown, 3–5 × 2.5–3.5 cm, obovoid to globose, not compressed, splitting to the base or nearly so, sutures slightly winged; nuts finely wrinkled (Stone & Whittemore 1997; Whittemore 2013).
Distribution United States Largely west of the Mississippi River, from Missouri south to central Texas; some outlying populations exist.
Habitat Well-drained sandy soils on hillsides, occasionally on low lying land and marl soils; 0-500 m.
USDA Hardiness Zone 5-9
RHS Hardiness Rating H5
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
With most of its range west of the Mississippi River, the Black Hickory became known to Europeans later than most American hickories and it was not scientifically described until 1860. This undoubtedly accounts for its peripheral status in cultivation. Usually a small hillside tree, it can grow taller in rich valley bottom sites (Grauke 2003).
C. texana is distinguished by the rusty-brown scales scales that cover the buds, the undersides of the leaves and the husks. The sweet-tasting nuts are usually globose, red-brown, and thick-shelled, in thinner husks than those of C. tomentosa. There is little record of the nuts being used, although ‘Aber’, an old and perhaps defunct Texan cultivar originally labelled C. ovalis, is now thought to belong here (Grauke 2003).
Black Hickory is part of a group of tetraploid species centred on the widespread and variable C. glabra, which intergrade where they meet. C. texana intergrades with both C. glabra and C. pallida, its easterly counterpart. Herbarium specimens of C. texana are almost indistinguishable from those of the Florida endemic C. floridana, although that species is often shrubby (Stone & Whittemore 1997; Grauke 2003).
Infrequent in collections, plants of Carya texana have previously been grown under the synonym C. buckleyi; the plant under this name mentioned by Bean (1976) as growing at Kew no longer exists. The UK champion is found in Canterbury City Cemetery, Kent, the last resting place of novelist Joseph Conrad, and home to some fine trees. It was measured at 12 m × 35 cm in 2018 (The Tree Register 2019). Young plants grow at Westonbirt, Gloucestershire, from seed collected in 2014 in the Drury-Mincy Conservation Area, southwest Missouri (WECA 19, 20). These are establishing steadily, the tallest measuring 1.4 m tall in July 2019 (D. Crowley, pers. obs.).
In North America there is a specimen of Arkansas provenance at the Arnold Arboretum, Massachusetts, planted in 1912 (29 cm dbh in 2011 – Arnold Arboretum 2019).
It seems fair to say that as a cultivated tree Carya texana still has everything to prove.