Juglans cinerea?

This tree, which was filled with squirrels going after its obviously delicious nuts a couple of weeks ago, puzzled me. At first I thought it was walnut, but the leaflets seemed too big and the fruits were ovoid as opposed to round and they didn’t have that distinctive smell of walnut fruits. Pecan? Too many leaflets for a hickory (Carya). I admit I passed butternut over in the book; I simply didn’t know from butternuts. And by gosh, I still don’t.

Butternut or white walnut or oilnut is, botanically speaking, Juglans cinerea. By coincidence, we ran into NYC Ecoflora Project’s Daniel Atha recently in the Bronx as he was on his way back from taking a sample of this very tree in Brooklyn! He called it a butternut, but upon reflection and discussion with others, wonders if it might not be Japanese walnut (J. ailantifolia) or a hybrid.

Deeper waters than I can swim in. But I will tell you this: butternut is native to the eastern U.S. and has been severely hit by a fungal canker. First spotted in Wisconsin in 1967, the disease has since killed up to 80% of the trees in some states. The species very rare here the city. A erstwhile Staten Islander tells me it wasn’t found in a 1981 survey of the island. There are at least two in Queens. BBG has one in the Native Flora Garden; NYBG has one in their nursery.

This tree recently had some surgery: the hollowed out main trunk was cut down, wood chips and wood scrapes sent flying about. One wedge of tree cake demanded its portrait be taken.

If this cake is, in fact, all butternut, it is far from others of its species. This isolation may be keeping it safe from the canker.

Donald Culross Peattie, a great source for wood-lore, reports that even before the canker appeared the tree was rare, having been turned into cabinets, furniture, carriage fronts, church alters, and the Chicago Board of Trade’s grill room (a whole other religion). He also notes that the inner bark was used to dye homespun Confederate uniforms a yellow-orange in the southern mountains. These canon fodder for slave-owners were disparaged as “Butternuts” as a result.

I veer between despair and panic and outrage because the Democrats are so woefully ill-equipped to fight.

2 Responses to “Juglans cinerea?”

  1. 1 nature969 August 2, 2018 at 10:36 am

    An effort could be made to save genetic material and replant the species. Is it a native?

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