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Also known as white walnut, butternut is a valued native tree in the walnut family and is prized by humans and wildlife for its shade and sweet, mild nuts, which are encased in distinctive, football-shaped husks.  Butternut is increasingly rare in the wild because of overharvesting and recent susceptibility to canker disease that was imported on Japanese walnut trees.

 

Butternut trees are found almost exclusively in mixed hardwood forests, and grow best on river banks and in well-drained soils. Plant in large, open spaces away from other shade trees and apart from plants sensitive to the juglones the tree produces.  Because of their rounded canopy shape, they’re an ideal shade tree.

 

Plant Characteristics:

Grows 40’-60’ tall and wide.

 

Prefers full sun; shade intolerant.

 

Prefers rich, moist, medium soil.  Needs water during prolonged dry spells.

 

Fragrant blooms appear May to June.  Male flowers are a light yellow-green; female flowers are lighter yellow and form edible nuts in the fall. 

 

Fruit is arranged in clusters of 3 to 5 oblong nuts with fuzzy, sticky, yellow-green husks.

 

Fall foliage is yellow to brown.

 

Wildlife Value:

In addition to providing food and shelter for many insects and small mammals, butternuts are a host plant to 136 species of Lepidoptera, including rosy maple moth, walnut sphinx, and luna moth (pictured here in order of mention, preceded by their caterpillars). 

 

Medicinal and Edible Uses:

Butternut is named for the buttery texture and flavor of its fruit, and the shape of the nut, which resembles butternut squash. Native Americans taught early European settlers how to make medicine from the bark, roots, and husks.  They made syrup from the sap and threw butternut bark, which contains toxins, into small streams to stun and capture fish.  Young, green nuts were often pickled, and mature butternuts were made into a buttery-tasting oil. 

 

Butternut, Juglans cinerea

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