Characteristics of Butternut Tree (Juglans cinerea) in the Wild

Juglans cinerea
Butternut or White walnut (Juglans cinerea) is a species of tree native to the eastern United States and southeastern Canada. Its distribution extends east to New Brunswick, and from Quebec west to west to Minnesota, south to northern Alabama, and southwest to northern Arkansas.

Butternut prefers cooler climates. Young trees can withstand sideways competition, but do not survive in the shade. This tree must be in direct sunlight to thrive. Therefore, Butternut is classified as a tree that is intolerant of shade and competition.

This tree is found in association with many other tree species in mixed mesophytic forests, such as Basswood (Tilia spp.), Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Beech (Fagus grandifolia), Black walnut (Juglans nigra), Elm (Ulmus spp.), Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), Hickory (Carya spp.), Oak (Quercus spp.), Red maple (Acer rubrum), Sugar maple (Acer saccharum), Yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), White ash (Fraxinus americana), and Birch yellow (Betula alleghaniensis). The northeastern part of the line is often found with sweet Birch trees (Betula lenta) and in the northern part of the line is often found together with white pine (Pinus strobus).

USES OF FRUIT AND BUTTERNUT TREE

FOOD
Butternut was edible and made into butter-like oil by Native Americans for a variety of purposes, including anointing.

Young green beans, while still soft, can be peeled and salted. Bradford Angier recommends this is done by changing the brine daily for a week, and subsequent seasonings for at least two weeks.

The sap can be used to make syrup.

WOOD
Butternut wood is light and highly resistant to decay but is much softer than black walnut. Butternut wood is often used to make furniture and is a favorite with woodcarvers.

DYE
Peanut shells were once often used to dye fabrics between light yellow and dark brown. The husks contain a natural yellow-orange dye. To produce a darker color, the bark is boiled to concentrate the color. It appears to have never been used as a commercial dye but instead was used to dye traditional woven fabrics.

 

Characteristics of Butternut Leaf

Juglans cinerea Leaf
Source: inaturalist.org/tsn

The leaves are alternate and pinnate, 40-70 cm long, with 11-17 leaflets, each leaflet 5-10 cm long and 3-5 cm wide. The leaves have a terminal leaf blade at the tip of the petiole and have an odd number of leaves. The entire leaf is downy and slightly lighter or yellowish-green.

 

Characteristics of Butternut Flower

Juglans cinerea Flower
Source: inaturalist.org/mtjones

Male flowers are inconspicuous yellow-green slender catkins that develop from additional buds, and female flowers are short terminal spikes on the bud. Each female flower has a light pink stigma. Flowers of both sexes do not usually ripen at the same time on each tree.

 

Characteristics of Butternut Fruit

Juglans cinerea Fruit
Source: inaturalist.org/drclements

The fruit is nut-shaped, produced in bunches 2-6 together, the nut is oval to ovoid, 3-6 cm long and 2-4 cm wide, surrounded by green skin.

 

Characteristics of Butternut Tree

Juglans cinerea Tree
Source: inaturalist.org/deandsusan

Butternut is a deciduous tree that can grow up to 20 meters (rarely 30 meters). It is a slow-growing species and rarely lives more than 75 years. The trunk diameter of a mature tree can reach up to 80 cm, with light gray bark.

The species grows best on riverbanks and in well-drained soil. It is rarely found in dry, dense, or infertile soils. It grows better than black walnut, however, in dry, rocky soils, especially those of limestone.

The natural locations of butternut trees are on riverbanks, slopes, rock ledges, and in other areas with good drainage.

 

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