The Butternut. (by: H. Zell. CC BY-SA 3.0)
(NOTE: If you are not interested in growing the Butternut tree, but just finding the nuts, try going to the Nature's Restaurant Online site for Butternuts.)
Butternuts (Juglans cinerea). Occasionally referred to as the White Walnut. Basically treat as Black Walnuts, just a different shape – more oblong, rather than round like the Black Walnut. The shell does seem a bit thinner. I have read that the taste of the nuts can be variable with these. You must be aware of Butternut canker disease, and make a decision of whether you want to put the effort into growing a tree that may end up dying before you get any nuts from it. Do research on Butternut canker before you decide to go ahead and try to grow this one.
Soil & Site: To grow a Butternut tree, you first have to make sure you have the right conditions to grow it. You need to have limestone soils that are deep. In other words, there is no point if you have even slightly acidic soils around you. Limestone or marble bedrock with alkaline soils is a must. Second, you must have an area of full sun - no shade from other trees nearby.
Planting: If you do decide to try and grow this tree, you will need to get Butternuts from a tree that is not infected. It is now believed the Butternut canker can by passed on through the nut. No point in guaranteeing your work will be wasted. If you have all the conditions, plant the husked nut about 5-7.5 cm (2-3 inches) deep in the soil and take the precautions mentioned in the Black Walnut section to prevent squirrels from digging it back up. By the way, don't bother trying to transplant one - even a small one. The root system is so widespread by the time you find one even under a meter (3 feet) high, that the chances of it surviving are very slim.
Maintenance: Once it sprouts, you need to keep the soil moist for the first few years, and I'd put some sort of fence around it - even over the top - to save it from being eaten if you have White Tailed Deer in your area. Also, cut the grasses and weeds around it for the first few years, but take care not to cut the bark or you will leave the tree vulnerable to the Butternut Canker. You could have Butternuts in a few years, and by the time the tree is 20 years old, could be producing well.
Harvesting & Using: Treat as more or less the same as the Black Walnut. (That link takes you to the Nature's Restaurant Online page for Walnuts.)
- USDA Plant Hardiness Zone: 3-7 (More information on hardiness zones).
- Soil pH: 6.8-7.2
- Plant Size: Normally reaches about 20 meters (65 feet), but can on occasion get much larger, but that is rare
- Duration: Fairly short lived tree - under 100 years
- Leaf Shape: Compound, Odd Pinnate with 11-17 leaflets per leaf. Leaflets are stalkless
- Leaf Phyllotaxis (Arrangement) on branch: Leaves: Alternate. Leaflets: Opposite on leaf with single terminal leaf.
- Leaf Size: Leaf up to 60 cm (2 feet) long. Leaflets up to 10 cm (4 inches) long and 3 cm (1 1/5 inches) wide
- Leaf Margin: Serrated (saw toothed edge)
- Leaf Notes: Leaflets have a downy fuzz on them and are a lighter yellow-green color
- Flowers: Male: Yellow-green very small flowers on long, narrow drooping clusters (catkins) in large groups. Female: small, clusters of 2-6, pinkish
- Fruit: Similar to a Black Walnut, but instead of being spherical, it is oblong. Up to 6 cm (2 1/3 inches) long and 4 cm (1 2/3 inches) wide
- Bark: Light grey, deeply furrowed on mature trunks
- Habitat: Wide variety of sites from rich bottomlands to dry limestone hillsides.
- Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).
- Pictures on the web here (Google images) and here (Bing images).
- Interactive USDA distribution map and plant profile here.
- The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) distribution map here. BONAP map color key here.
Butternuts (Juglans cinerea) range. Distribution map courtesy of the USGS Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, originally from "Atlas of United States Trees" by Elbert L. Little, Jr. .
Butternut tree drawing. (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 1: 579)
Butternut tree leaf and bark. (Robert H. Mohlenbrock, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA NRCS. 1995. Northeast wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. Northeast National Technical Center, Chester.)
A Butternut with the outer husk removed. Ruler is cm. 1 inch = approx 2.5cm (USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)
Single Butternut leaf with 15 leaflets. (W.D. Brush, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)
Butternut with husk (above) and with husk removed (below). (W.D. Brush, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database)
Beautiful color drawing over 100 years old.
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