Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Nutmeg Hickory - Carya myristiciformis   (Michaux fils) Elliott
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Section 6 » Order Juglandales » Family Juglandaceae
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Author(Michaux fils) Elliott
DistributionOnly in the extreme southeastern corner of the state, with collections from Pender County and a report from Brunswick County that has never been verified. The species was not known from NC when RAB (1968) was published; it was first discovered in 1971.

This is one of the rarer trees not only in NC but in its entire range, which covers only from southeastern NC and eastern OK south to southern AL and eastern TX. There are, surprisingly, no records for FL, and it is not found in TN. It is primarily a Coastal Plain species.
AbundanceVery rare in the NC range, though not uncommon in the Rocky Point area of Pender County (near the intersection of I-40 and NC 210). Sadly, the initial discovery of this species in NC was made just before the interstate highway construction was to start, but too late to alter the location of this intersection. Thus, I-40 went through the middle of this population and removed hundreds of plants. It is a State Endangered species.
HabitatIn NC, it is found only over marl rock, and thus only where the soil is quite circumneutral. In the Rocky Point area, this marl area consists of wet flats, and the tree grows only in this very rare (and still unprotected) Wet Marl Forest natural community. The species is actually a somewhat major component of this community, where one can see a few other rare species such as Roughleaf Dogwood (Cornus asperifolia), as well as dense stands of Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal minor). This habitat is threatened by quarrying -- there is a large quarry nearby that mines this rock, which is often used for gravel in the coastal region, as no other “hard rock” is found close to the surface in the Coastal Plain – as well as by clearcutting and development. (A key site for the species was clearcut in 2017.)
See also Habitat Account for Nutmeg Hickory Forests
PhenologyFlowers in April and fruits in October.
IdentificationVery few people are familiar with this rare and easily overlooked species, throughout the range. It is a medium, to rarely large, deciduous tree, reaching over 80’ tall, rarely to 100’ in NC. The end buds are somewhat yellowish, a bit like those of Bitternut Hickory (C. cordiformis). The alternate leaves are divided into 7-9 leaflets, like some other hickories. The shape of the leaflets is somewhat elliptic like most others, but the underside of the leaflets is shiny, usually silvery-colored, but can be somewhat silvery-rusty, owing to many lepidote scales on the undersides of the leaves (may need hand lens to see the scaling). Thus, to see the species – which can be found alongside I-40 near the intersection, if you are willing to risk doing this (though it is safer to find some side roads off NC 210 or US 117) – look for hickories with 7 to less frequently 9 leaflets, and then check to see if the undersides are shiny and silvery-colored. Check references for distinctions on fruit and husk characters.
Taxonomic CommentsNo taxonomic issues, but note that RAB (1968) and many older references spelled the scientific name as C. myristicaeformis; current taxonomy changes the “ae” to “i”.

Other Common Name(s)None
State RankS1
Global RankG4
State StatusE
US Status
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