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Walnut Tree Makes for Great Yard Landscaping

Plant black walnut trees and reap the rewards.

| May/June 2009

  • Black walnut tree
    A black walnut tree on your farm enhances the aesthetic beauty of the property.
  • Black walnut tree burl
    Interesting patterns appear in the burl, or knots on the trunk, of the black walnut tree.
  • Black walnuts on the tree
    The leaves of the black walnut are pinnately compound, with each leaf containing numerous leaflets.
  • Nut of black walnut
    The nut of the black walnut grows singly or in clusters of two or three and is surrounded by a thick green husk.

  • Black walnut tree
  • Black walnut tree burl
  • Black walnuts on the tree
  • Nut of black walnut

The black walnut (Juglans nigra) was once the most valuable hardwood tree in North America and certainly one of the most prized among cabinet makers, gunsmiths and other woodworkers. There is no other wood like it: beautiful, strong, easy to work and resistant to rot. The black walnut is definitely one of North America's most remarkable trees, both for its uses and its natural beauty.

Black walnut trees are found throughout the eastern and central United States and into southern Ontario. Naturally occurring trees prefer deep, rich bottomland soils, mostly along forest edges. They are frequently found in pastures and along roadsides, where there is plenty of light. It is a tree capable of reaching heights of more than 100 feet, with some specimens reported to have reached 150 feet tall and 8 feet in diameter. Trees of that size are extremely rare now, however.

The bark is black and deeply grooved, and the top branches spread out to form a wide crown. The leaf of the black walnut is pinnately compound, which means it is made up of numerous leaflets on a central leaf stem (petiole). The number of leaflets per leaf varies, usually numbering around 15 or 20. The leaflets are yellowish-green during the growing season, changing to a dull yellow in autumn. Separate male and female flowers occur on the same tree. They are small, with no petals, hanging in long strings called catkins (like the flowers of oak trees). One distinctive identification trait found on black walnuts and their close relative, the butternut (Juglans cinerea), is the pith. When a twig is cut and the interior material examined, it will appear chambered, like a honeycomb.

The fruit is a large nut, around 2 inches in diameter and surrounded by a thick green husk that turns dark brown to black after the nut falls from the tree. The outer part of the nut (shell) is very hard, black in color with fine ridges. Nuts grow singly or in clusters of two or three. The meat of the nut is high in oil and very nutritious; it’s a favorite food of squirrels and deer, not to mention people. Walnut trees begin producing nuts at around 10 years of age and continue to produce their entire lives (up to 200 years). 

Walnut uses

The black walnut tree has been prized for more than 300 years for its many excellent qualities. The heartwood (the wood closest to the center of the tree) of a mature black walnut is dark brown with a straight grain. It’s an easy wood to work and extremely durable. During colonial times, when large trees were still abundant, solid black walnut wood was used to make all manner of furniture.

By the mid-1800s, most of the really large trees were gone, but walnut continued to be used to make everything from fence posts and railroad ties (because it didn’t rot easily) to gunstocks. Today, black walnut is still prized for use in gunstocks, because it doesn’t warp or splinter and absorbs recoil better than any other wood.

1/27/2013 9:56:53 PM

While Black Walnut Trees may be beautiful and have great nuts, forget your flower garden, as they will kill all flowers anywhere near them.

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