Cardoon & Fig


Here’s a backward story and a forward story.

About plants, of course. And the plants are linked in that both of them are native to the Mediterranean region. But for centuries, both plants have been grown world-wide wherever winters are mild. And, with some special attention, by enthusiast (such as me), in gardens where winters are frigid.

Perhaps you’ve already guessed the two plants. If not, they are cardoon and fig. Let’s start with the backward story, which is the one about cardoon.

Cardoon & Fig

Cardoon & Fig

A Florific Season in the Offing (I Know It’s not a Word)

The end of the cardoon story begins with my memory of last summer’s very bold plant whose whorl of glaucous, spiny leaves rose three feet or more above ground level. Read more


Heaven Scent Flower

I trace the origin of my present obsession with growing carnations – big, fat, fragrant carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) – to the movie, Jean de Florette, that I saw back in 1986. Not that I aspire to labor under the weight of hauling water long distances to care for my plants, as did Ugolin. And not that I’m hoping to get good money selling the cut flowers at a local market.

Actually, my only memories of the film are of the charming countryside of Provence, of Ugolin crouching over the plants and lavishing them with care, and of the pretty pink flowers. Come to think of it, I’m not sure Ugolin’s carnations even got as far as the flowering stage. Anyway, in my mind’s eye I see those pink blossoms and smell their spicy perfume.
Carnation, fragrant and pretty
With good soil and ample water, my carnations have an easier time of it that did Ugolin’s. Too easy, perhaps. Carnations don’t need or like overly rich or wet soil. When it came time to plant out my seedlings, I recalled those scenes in Jean de Florette. The ledge of soil held up by a stone retaining wall along the south side of my house provide the good soil drainage and sunlight that suits carnations. Lavender, another Mediterranean plant growing on a wall nearby, will help make the carnations feel right at home.

  The biggest threat to my carnations is winter cold and wetness. And even then, these carnations, although technically perennials, are typically short-live perennials that peter out after a couple of years. Luckily, they are easy to grow from seed or root from cuttings.

Like Ugolin, I’ll soon be carefully nurturing some new seedlings. Whether planting, picking, taking cuttings, or preparing them for winter, I’ll also be hunched over my carnations and lavishing them with care, in the months ahead. It’s worth it, for the pastel flowers, and especially for the flowers’ heavenly scent.

And Some Things for the Other Senses

What’s the attraction of southern Europe? The climate there is so different from here in the Wallkill River valley, yet I am attracted to and keep trying to grow Mediterranean plants such as carnations, figs, pomegranates, lavender, black mulberry, and rosemary. All these plants thrive in dry summers and cool, not frigid, winters; minus 20°F is not an uncommon low winter temperature here.

Large cardoon plant

Cardoon, last year

Add to the roster here artichoke and cardoon, two more Mediterranean plants that I set out last spring, for the artichoke, the spring before for the cardoon. (The very mild temperatures of the previous winter let the cardoons survive their first winter outdoors.) That was after sowing each plant in later summer and having it winter in the very cool temperatures of my greenhouse, which provided the vernalization the plants need to flower their first season outdoors.

Both cardoon and artichoke grow as a whorl of spiny leaves from the center of which rises a main flower stalk with smaller flower stalks branching off lower down. Like carnations, they are short-lived perennials. Like carnations, they are easily propagated, in this case by seed or by offshoots that grow at the base of the plant

Cardoon in bud

Cardoon in bud

Like carnations, the biggest threat to artichokes and cardoons around here is winter wetness and, especially, cold. Winter cold will assuredly kill them unless they are protected in some way. To that end, late last fall, I cut down the plants and covered each with a large, inverted flowerpot in which and on which piled leaves for insulation. 

Cardoon  & artichoke protected for winter

Cardoon & artichoke protected for winter

During the warm spell a week or so ago, I pulled back the leaves and uncovered the plants. Cardoon leaves had sprouted more than a foot high within their winter home! Without light, the leafy stalks were ghostly white.


Cardoon, after winter

Cardoon, after winter

That’s okay; cardoon is sometimes purposely blanched to make its flavor more mild. A few days of light will green them up. That’s okay too; I’m growing cardoon for its bold visual presence — last year the plants leaves formed a 3-foot-high, blue-green, mound of spiny leaves up the center of which rose flower stalks at the top of which opened blue flowers resembling enormous thistles.

Cardoon flower

Cardoon flower

As for the artichokes: Not a sign of life. Perhaps winter cold or moisture did them in. Perhaps mice lunched on the roots. Perhaps there’s life beneath the ground, still to awaken. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Seeds Want to Grow

Yes, They Want To, But . . . 

Today, as I was carefully planting a bed with turnip, arugula, and mustard seeds, I got to thinking how easy it is to grow plants from seeds. It’s not surprising. After all, seed plants evolved millions of years ago and over the years have further evolved to germinate and grow under varied conditions. This would be especially true of those plants we call weeds.
Cynara, cardoon, in bud

So, with all that evolution backing me up, why the great care in planting those seeds today? Seeds do want to grow, but extra care increases the chances for success. The threats to germination and growth are competition from weeds, temperatures that are too warm or not warm enough, old seed, and insufficient soil fertility, air, or moisture. That’s not all, of course; there’s too many salts in a soil (and not just NaCl “salt”), seed-eating animals, and infections from pathogenic fungi. 

Whew! That list makes growing from seed seems fraught with roadblocks. But it’s not.

Steps to Improved Germination and Growth

My extra care in planting began back last autumn when I spread an inch depth of compost on top of the bed right after clearing it of garden plants and weeds. That compost provides nutrients, beneficial microbes, and increases aeration and water retention.

Earlier this season, the bed had been home to bush beans. Bean roots, left in the soil to rot, will provide further fertility — mostly nitrogen — for today’s planting.

The bean plants, and a few weeds, were cleared from the bed a couple of weeks ago, still too early for today’s planting of fall crops. While the ground was waiting, I covered it with a black tarp. The tarp, an old billboard sign (from and reusable for years) that is black on its back side, stimulated growth of ever present weed seeds in the soil. The seeds germinated, then died from lack of light beneath the tarp.

After year upon year of compost applications, the soil has very good tilth, so all it needed, once I removed the tarp, was a light raking to present a loose seedbed. Into it, with a trowel, I carved the first furrow the length of the bed. 

Depth of planting is important. An oft-repeated rule of thumb is that the depth to sow seeds is twice their thickness. Not true! Correct planting depth needs to also take into account the looseness of the soil; looser soil, more depth. And anyway, the seeds that I planted are only about 1/32” in diameter, making it well nigh impossible to make a furrow 1/16” deep. In my loose soil, that depth would dry out too quickly. I went with the less precise “sow shallowly.”
Radish seedlings

Garden plants grown from seed can suffer from competition not only from weeds, but also from each other. True, the young seedlings could be thinned out if too crowded after germination. With seed less than two years old and care in planting, I was confident about germination, so sowed the seed thinly.

After sowing the seeds and covering them came the all-important firming of the soil. The removal of the bean plants and the pre-plant raking to smooth the surface left plenty of large pores, through which water would run right through. 

Tamping down the soil with a garden rake over the covered furrow tightened up the pores so that they can hold capillary water. Remember high school chemistry class (or was it biology class) when water was shown to be drawn up into a capillary tube against the force of gravity? Firming the soil keeps moisture around the newly sown seeds; plus, water can be drawn upwards or sideways to that area. Weed seeds, sitting in still loose soil beyond the tamped area, won’t have such an easy time of it.

Finally, I watered — thoroughly enough for the water to penetrate but, to avoid washing away the seeds, not too fast. My vegetable garden has drip irrigation; I moved the drip line up right next to where the furrow was. Frequent watering is needed until seeds germinate and their new roots reach the wetting from down in the soil. An electronic moisture probe can indicate how deep moisture lies beneath the surface.

And Now for a Flower, or Is It a Vegetable?

Many years ago I grew cardoon, a vegetable whose 3-foot-high stalks are something like celery on steroids. Cardoon stalks growing in gardenThe flavor hints of artichoke, a close relative. None the less, for me the flavor was awful and the stalks were tough. (Cardoon is usually covered to blanche them a few weeks before harvest. Blanching did not make mine more edible.)

Yet I am now enamored with this plant — not for eating but for its thistle-like flower. Cardoon is a perennial that begins to bloom in its second year, after experiencing a period of cool temperatures in winter. Cool, not frigid; cardoon is not cold hardy here in the Hudson Valley.

Last summer I planted seed and grew the plant in pots. Those pots spent the winter in my greenhouse, where temperatures never dipping below 35° F. reminded them of their Mediterranean origin. Once warm weather settled in this spring, I planted them out in my flower garden.Cardoon in flower

The bud on one plant that has been slowly unfurling is well worth the care I put into the plants.


Can Anybody Tell Me How to Grow This?

     Quotes about the rosy side of failure are not hard to find. ”Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently,” wrote Henry Ford. John Dewey wrote that “Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.”
    No, Mr. Dewey; in gardening, at least, failures are more instructive than successes. Put a seed into the ground and that seed has millions of years of evolution prompting it to grow. True, you can fail if starting with old seed, or soil so cold that the seed rots before it grows, or compacted clay soil that suffocates the seed. But generally, gardening is not that difficult. And generally, it’s hard to fail. So success is the norm, no matter — within reason — what you do.

Jasmine -- no flowers, again

Jasmine — no flowers, again

    For someone who pays particular attention to their gardening (and writes about it!), occasional failures are surely opportunities for learning and for success. Not so, for me! With my jasmine (Jasminium officinale) plant, at least.
    I’ve grown this jasmine for many years. In its early years, the plant was a snowball of sweet-smelling white blossoms in late winter. Over the years, flower production has petered out, to the point where the plant coughs forths just a few blossoms here and there.
    Many plants need a cold period to induce flower buds. Over the years, my jasmine has spent fall outdoors or in my cold basement (near a window) or in my cold greenhouse (minimum temperature 37°F).
    Many plants need a dry period to coax on flower buds. Over the years, the soil in which my jasmine grows has been kept through fall just moist enough to keep the plant from wilting.
    Some plants need a period of both cold and dryness for flowering. Check.
    Besides all these treatments, I have tried various suggestions from others, including professionals who sell jasmine plants awash in bloom from their commercial greenhouses. No pruning after August. No artificial light in autumn. Generally good growing conditions all through summer. High phosphorus fertilizer. Check. Check. Check. Mmm-check. (I’ll admit I neglected the high phosphorus fertilizer. With ample compost, my potting soil has ample phosphorus, or so I assume.)
    Now, in its thirteenth year here, jasmine has again not bloomed. I’ve learned nothing. Again, I’m threatening to walk it to the compost pile, counterbalanced by inklings of desire to give it one more try. (The phosphorus fertilizer, perhaps.)
    My one possible consolation comes from reading a quote by George Bernard Shaw, “My reputation grows with every failure.”

Cardoon Futures

Cardoon I saw in Oregon

Cardoon I saw in Oregon

    Enough self-flagellation. Let’s balance that out with a couple of successes, one the result of my doing, not driven by millions of years of evolution.
    I’ve written previously about cardoon, a so-so vegetable but a fine ornamental. (True, many other people sing passionate gustatory praise for cardoon.) As a perennial, cardoon grows only leaves its first year from seed, which is fine if your eating it, because the leaf stalks are the edible part. The tall, spiny, olive green stalks, like a Mediterranean celery on steroids, also are dramatically ornamental in their own right.
    The flowers, poised like cerulean bottlebrushes atop their tall — five feet high, or more — flower stalks are the real show, though. And, in that second year and beyond, you still get the whorls of giant leafstalks rising up from around the base of the plant.
    Cardoon can’t tolerate winter cold below about 10 or 15°F, so it’s not winter cold-hardy here.  Too much moisture around the crown of the plant might also help do it in during winter.
    Last fall, after cold had settled into the ground, with about an inch depth of frost in the soil (towards the end of December) I cut back the top of the plant, then piled dry leaves over it. An overturned, 2-foot-diameter, plastic planter over the leaves kept them in place and added a bit more insulation and, also important, kept rain and snowfall off the plant. The drainage holes around the bottom (now the top) of the planter’s side allowed for some air movement within.
    A week or so ago I tipped off the planter and untucked the leaves from around the plant. It was important to get to the plant before warmth got it growing, in which case the once-shaded, tender leaves would burn in the sunlight and be susceptible to frost. The leaves, just starting to emerge from the decapitated plant, looked healthy and ready to stretch out and grow after their winter’s rest. I look forward to the flowers.

Really Red Deer Tongue

    Winter lettuce in the greenhouse is my other success. While many lettuces have begun to go to seed, especially those sown earlier in fall, the variety Really Red Deer Tongue just keeps making new leaves in spite of it’s having been sown in early September of last year. The leaves, as the names says, are red and, I suppose, the shape of a deer’s tongue. I don’t normally eat deer tongues, but these leaves taste good.Lettuce, Really Red Deer Tongue


Cardoon Gets to Stay

    I haven’t yet given up on cardoon — growing it. But eating it? I just about give up. It’s like eating humongous stalks of stringy celery having just a hint of artichoke flavor.
    As an ornamental is how cardoon has made itself garden-worthy. Like most perennial plants, it grew only leaves this past season, its first season here. But what leaves they were! As I said, like “humongous stalks of celery.” Not much good for eating but nice to look at. The edges of the three-foot-high stalks were winged with undulating, pointed blades (each stalk is a leaf), and the whole plant is a very Mediterranean-looking olive-green.Cardoon in late fall
    If all goes well, next year should provide an even better show, when flowers also appear. Cardoon is in the thistle family. It’s as if you injected our common (Canadian) thistle with steroids. In addition to those giant leaves, the flower stalks rise to 6 feet and are then topped by fat, spiky, cerulean balls, each a couple of inches across.
    Cardoon not only looks Mediterranean; it is Mediterranean. As such, is not cold hardy this far north. Temperatures in the 20s do no harm to the top of the plant, but the top will die back when temperatures turn colder. The crown of the plant and the roots, shielded in the ground, tolerate even lower air temperatures. Eventually, though, our winter cold penetrates the ground to do them in.
    But not if I soften that cold affront. Once temperatures turn colder, and stay reliably so, I’m going to lop back the tops of the plants, then pile on a thick layer of mulch, from a couple of large bags of leaves I stockpiled back in November. The reason to hold off until the soil turns colder is because in still-warm soil, the crown would have pushed out new growth beneath the mulch. That new growth would have died from lack of sun, or rotted.
    Cardoon’s fleshy crown is especially prone to rotting, so I’ll lay a flat piece of plastic over the pile of mulch. That should shed rainwater while allowing some breathing room from the side.
    Perhaps next year I’ll get to enjoy the flowers. Perhaps the stalks will be worth eating.

I Put The “Straw” In (On) Strawberry

    Cardoon isn’t the only herbaceous perennial that needs protection from cold. Another is strawberry.
    The crown of a strawberry plant is, in essence, a stem that has been telescoped down. Instead of a few inches from leaf to leaf along the stem, only a fraction of an inch separates a leaf from its next higher or lower neighbor. So instead of elongating a foot or two every year, like most stems, a strawberry crown elongates only a fraction of an inch each year.
    Still, over time, that crown rises higher and higher up out of the ground, each year becoming more exposed to cold. Mulching prevents cold damage to strawberry in the same way as it does for cardoon. As with cardoon, the time to cover the plants is AFTER cold has penetrated the ground. When the soil has frozen about an inch deep is about the right time.
    Strawberry crowns are not particularly prone to rotting, so there’s no need to lay a water shedding cover over the mulch. Or to cut back the leaves; strawberry leaves aren’t fleshy and don’t rise high above the ground.

Doin’ Some Dustin’

    In addition to leafy mulches, already spread beneath other trees and shrubs, one other sign of creeping cold is the gray dust that has settled on parts of the meadow, beneath the pear trees, and around the currant bushes. There’s more to come, and it’s not snow. It’s ash, from the wood stove.
    Spreading wood ashWood ash is both a waste product and a resource, depending on how much you have and how much space you have to spread it. As a resource, it’s high in potassium, an essential nutrient for plants, and contains other essential elements. Wood ash decreases the acidity of soils which, around here, mostly increases naturally over time.
    But too much potassium can be a bad thing. As can too little acidity; slightly acid soil is what’s ideal for most plants.
    Since wood ash varies somewhat in its composition, it’s impossible to put a number on how much to spread. No more than 20 pounds per thousand square feet is reasonable, except on alkaline soils (pH greater than 7) or beneath acid-loving plants such as blueberry, azalea, and rhododendron, which should get none. I disperse it over the whole farmden — on the meadow and the lawn, beneath fruit and nut trees and bushes — to avoid concentrating it anywhere. I also save some to spread on icy walks and to sprinkle around plants if slugs become a problem.

A Harvest of Mediterranean Transplants

Mediterranean Delectables & Not So Delectables

Figs thrive in heat and sunlight, nothing like the cold and frequently overcast days we now have, with only a few hours of sun when it does show itself.  Still, my figs keep my attention.
In the greenhouse, heated only enough to keep temperatures above 35°F, the fig trees still have plenty of hard, unripe fruits splayed along their stems. Nothing odd about that. Figs, unlike apples and most other fruits which ripen during a narrow window in time, keep developing and ripening new fruits all along their growing stems.
But only one of my varieties, given the name Rabbi Samuel, seems able to tap into what little sunlight and heat are still at hand. The flavor of fruits that ripen on the heels of a spate of cold, rainy weather falls flat. But whenever sunlight fuels enough photosynthesis in the leaves and warmth in the greenhouse for at least a couple of days, a few fruits will swell and soften, their rosy insides then sweet and richly flavored.

Next Year’s Fig Crop is Readied

Next year’s fig crops are also on my mind.
Greenhouse figs no longer bearing good-tasting fruits get lopped back to 3 to 4 feet high. That dramatic pruning will coax vigorous growth next spring on which new fruits will be borne. More dramatic pruning would coax even more vigorous growth, but the figs on that new growth would begin ripening too late.
Potted figs have also been pruned and moved to my barely heated basement where temperatures below 50°F will restrain growth until outdoor temperatures in spring warm enough so that the pots can be moved back out. Figs are subtropical plants that, when dormant, tolerate temperatures down into the 20s, or lower. If kept too warm in winter, new growth begins indoors. That new growth is tender and easily burned by slight frost or even bright sunlight when moved outside.
Potted figs are difficult to muscle around; mine need to be carried through three doorways and then down narrow stairs to the basement. So a potted fig needs to be kept in a reasonably sized pot even though that allows for only a reasonable amount of growth which, in turn, allows for only a reasonably sized crop.
Digging up Kadota fig

Kadota fig, dug up in November

I worked my way around this problem by taking one of my potted figs, a Kadota, out of its pot and planting it directly in the ground in spring. Theoretically, eager roots reach out into the surrounding soil, enough to support more growth — and larger crops — than if restricted within a pot. Another plus with this method is that no watering is needed beyond an initial drenching.
My success, thus far, has been limited. Kadota may requires too long a season to begin ripening any fruit outdoors here. Still, success might come once the plant gets used to its routine, or I’ll use this method with a shorter season variety such as Brown Turkey.
The time to dig up a planted out fig is anytime before temperatures dip below about 20°F. Or sooner, if the plant has lost its leaves and gone dormant.
Kadota fig stored in cold basement

Kadota fig stored in cold basement

The Hunchback of Nice Vindicates Cardoon

Continuing the Mediterranean theme (is this some primal attraction to a Garden of Eden?), I wrote back in May about growing, with reservations,  Gobbo di Nizza (Hunchback of Nice) cardoon. In my garden many years ago, cardoon proved to be an enormous, spiny, bitter-tasting vegetable. But that wasn’t Gobbo di Nizza cardoon.
First off, Gobbo di Nizza is not spiny. It looks spiny but the soft “spines” don’t bite. This is an impressive-looking plant, something like a giant thistle (which it is, as is the closely related artichoke, botanically speaking), a whorl of gray-green leaves (very Mediterranean) soaring almost 4 feet high.
I tasted Gobbo di Nizza a month or so ago and was very unimpressed with its bitter flavor.Cardoon growing in garden
Blanching, which is blocking out sunlight, is a way that the flavor of vegetables such as endive and chicory is mellowed. Some folks blanche cardoon. So I gathered together Gobbo’s leaves, secured them in a tight bundle with a wrapping of twine, and waited a few weeks. Once I had harvested the leaves, removed the blades, and pared away the stringy flesh, I was left holding large, pale leaf stalks, the stalks looking much like celery on steroids.
Chopped into 1” pieces, and drained after being boiled for 15 minutes in salted water, Gobbo di Pizza had a smooth, artichoke-y flavor, quite good. Perhaps it was the olive oil and home-grown sun-dried tomatoes I drizzled over them.Harvested cardoon

Earthy Flavor: What am I, a Worm?

Beets are too earthy in flavor for my palette, and it’s not my imagination. That earthy flavor is from geosmin, a substance that is actually also present in soil! I like my earthiness in the soil, not my food.
Varieties differ in their geosmin concentration, with cylindrical varieties and the striped variety Chioggia being highest. This past season I was duped into growing beets again. I grew the old, low geosmin variety Detroit Dark Red, but still found it too earthy. Most were given away. The few left await vinegar, horseradish, or mustard to tone down their earthiness.Beets in garden

What’s New Farmdenly?

In this early part of the growing season, I’m frequently asked, “So what new and exciting plants are you growing in the garden this year?” And just as frequently, I can’t think of anything. Not that gardening isn’t “new and exciting” every year, what with the vagaries of the weather and pests, and their interaction with planting, pruning, and soil care.
Well, this year I can think of at least four new and exciting plants I’m growing.
I actually have grown cardoon before, perhaps 25 years ago. And up until this weekend, I had no desire to ever grow it again. The plant is like a giant celery with spiny stalks that must be tied together so that they get blanched and edible. Or supposedly edible, once you removed the tough strings running down each stalk. Blanching and de-stringing was a lot of trouble, too much trouble for me considering the taste of what of the tough stalk after being cooked.
This weekend, two people at my grafting workshop digressed from grafting to wax enthusiastic over cardoon. Evidently, my problems 25 years ago were growing the wrong variety and cooking it poorly. I’m not sure if any varieties were available back then, but I was convinced to order seed of the suggested variety, Gobbo di Nizza (Hunchback of Nice), and will sow them in pots as soon as they arrive.
Once the weather warms reliably, I’ll plant out two or three small plants, giving them rich soil. Once the plants are three feet high, I’ll mound some soil or wood chips up around their bases and tie the leaves together to blanch them, then a few weeks later, cut down the four-foot-tall monsters for eating. I was told that they taste like artichoke, a close relative.
In warm winter regions, cardoon grows as a perennial. If winter’s were warm here, I’d plant cardoon even if they tasted awful. That’s because in their second year, they send up six-foot-high stalks capped with bottlebrushes of cerulean blue flowers that sit in an artichoke-y base.
I’ve also previously grown — or tried to grow — the second of this year’s N&EP (“new and exciting plants”), King Red Russian olive. It’s a variety of Russian olive, native to Afghanistan, that, instead of bearing the usual innocuous silvery green fruits, bears bright red fruits. The fruits contrast nicely with the silvery green leaves — and taste pretty good.
For some reason, King Red doesn’t like our summer weather, probably the humidity. My plant of yore grew fine until sometime in July, when it collapsed, dead. Others in the humid East have had similar experiences.
Out West, King Red, which was introduced as a conservation plant decades ago by the USDA, grows fine. Too fine, so that it is now listed as an invasive plant out there, along with regular old, green-fruited Russian olive. (Sometimes they are listed so in the East also, although they seem pretty sedate around these parts.)
I’m thinking that somewhere in the genes of King Red, which is a seed propagated variety, not a clone, might lie genes that can tolerate our summer climate. To that end, I got my hands on seeds left from a bag of imported, dried King Red fruits; I’ll sow them all and hope for the best. (I once tasted the dried fruits; they are like sweet talcum powder, enclosed within a brittle “shell.”) The fruits parade under a number of aliases: Trebizond date, lotus tree. Botanically, it’s Elaeagnus angustifolia var. orientalis.
Another fruit, Ficus Afghanistanica, or mountain fig tree, is among my N&EP. With more than a half-dozen fig varieties in my not very fig friendly climate, you’d think I had enough figs. Mountain fig tree is worth a try for its hardiness, by some accounts to well below zero degrees F. Of less importance here in the humid East is its drought tolerance, which may be related and help with its cold hardiness.
Also on the plus side, the plant has decorative leaves, similar to common fig leaves except pointed at their tips.
On the negative, there’s some question as to whether this fig needs pollination, something most fig varieties do not need. If so, a special pollinator variety would be needed as well as some means to get the pollen into the eye of each fruit at the right time. A syringe filled with pollen? Figs that need pollination normally get their pollen with the help of Blastophagus, which are tiny wasps that, laden with pollen, enter the eyes of developing fruits to lay eggs and, in so doing, inadvertently pollinate the flowers within.
The buttery pleasure of eating hickory nuts is offset by the tediousness of cracking and shelling them. That’s shagbark hickories (Carya ovata), which are native throughout eastern U.S.
Shellbark hickories (C. lacinosa) have similar nut flavor and shape, except that they are two or three times larger, so you get more bang for your buck with each nut you crack. Walking just a quarter of a mile in any direction, I’d be likely to find some shagbark hickory nuts on the ground but nary a shellbark hickory. The latter species is found mostly along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and bordering regions; nowhere, though, is it common.

So I ordered trees from Nolin River Nut Tree Nursery, and not just any old shellbark trees, but the varieties Simpson and Selbhers. Both are billed as heavy bearing and producing nuts medium to large nuts with excellent cracking qualities. Very “new and exciting;” I hope to enjoy the nuts of my labor in 5 to 10 years.