Lathrop’s Tough “Old Hickories”

by Barbara Walvoord

Here’s a trivia quiz: Which U.S. President was called “Old Hickory” and why?

We have some shagbark hickories on our land right now (Carya ovata). And yes, like Andrew Jackson, who survived brutal battles in the war of 1812 to become our seventh president, these trees are very tough, and they’ve escaped many potential dangers.

There is a line of shagbark hickories on the east campus Mulberry Meadow. Walk behind the Mulberry Lane homes and take the mowed grassy path across to the far side of the meadow, and then west along the row of trees that separates our property from the property next door. In that row, look for the trees with the very shaggy bark.

These hickory trees are survivors. They escaped being cleared to make room for crops, either on our side or on the neighboring field. They escaped being cut down for their hard, shock-resistant wood that makes fine tool handles, ladder rungs, athletic equipment, furniture, and flooring. They escaped being burned to make hickory-smoked bacon.

Instead, here they are on our land. Tucked up in their bark and branches are cocoons of some of the 233 species of native butterflies and moths whose larvae feast on this native tree (http://udel.edu/~dtallamy/host/). Like most larvae, these can eat only one or a few types of native plants with which they co-evolved, so when these larvae emerge, they will find leaves and twigs just suited to their body chemistry and mouth parts. In turn, these fat caterpillars will provide the protein needed by baby birds, or, if they’re tough and lucky, they will turn into the butterflies that will hover over the wildflowers in the Mulberry Meadow next summer and lay their eggs on the hickory trees.

On the ground under the trees are hundreds of hickory nuts and their shells, providing a feast for our squirrels, deer, bears, mice, rabbits, and many other creatures who, in turn, will keep our foxes, owls, and bobcats alive this winter.

hickory nuts
hickory nuts

Our land is tough, and so are its plants and its creatures.

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