Carya aquatica, the bitter pecan or water hickory, is a large tree, that can grow over 30 metres (98 ft) tall of the Juglandaceae or walnut family. In the American South it is a dominant plant species found on clay flats and backwater areas near streams and rivers. The species reproduces aggressively both by seed and sprouts from roots and from stumps of cut trees. Water hickory is a major component of wetland forests now in the south eastern US, because of the selective cutting of more desirable tree species for the lumber industry. It is considered important in cleansing drainage waters since the plants slow water flow during flooding, allowing sediments to fall out of the water column. This tree species is tolerant of wet soils but grows best on well draining soils near rivers and other water ways.
This deciduous Florida native is found in wet but well-drained soils along stream banks and flood plains throughout the southeastern United States. It ranges from the eastern Carolinas, south to central Florida, and west to eastern Texas. It grows best in full sunlight or partial shade, and can reach heights of 60 to 70 feet. The pinnately compound leaves are alternately arranged and can grow to between 9 and 15 inches long. Seven to 17 lance-shaped leaflets with finely serrate margins appear on each leaf and range in length from 3 to 10 inches. The topside of the leaflet is dark green and glossy, while the underside is a paler green with sparse pubescence (or hairs) present along the veins. Water hickory bark is gray or light brown with narrow cracks that give rise to reddish scales. When mature, the bark looks shaggy with flakey plates. Small greenish flowers bloom in the spring. Male and female flowers bloom on the same branch between April and May, with male flowers occurring in three-stemmed clusters called "catkins," while 2 to 10 female flowers appear on short stalks. The bitter nuts or pecans are enclosed in a dark brown, 1- to 1 ½-inch-long, thin-shelled husk, which splits along four winged seams to release the nut.