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Butternut or White Walnut. Study of Trees-5

Updated on August 3, 2015

Juglans cinerea



in this series of articles Study of Trees, it is the intention of helping any one who is not familiar with the identification of trees to pick up a few tips that will further their knowledge and make identification a little easier. The use of photographs and images will also help in this respect.

Most people begin their study of trees by identifying them by their foliage, which is fine during the summer months ,but of little use during the winter when the leaves have fallen from their arboreal mothers and the branches are left naked and bare.

Yet every tree has a characteristic{s} that enable them to be recognized even in the depths of winter.In this the fifth of the series we review Juglans cinerea the Butternut , or White Walnut tree.

The Butternut tree

This species Juglans cinerea belongs to the order of tree known as the Fagales and the Family Juglandaceae within that order. It has been allocated the genus name of Juglans and the specific name of cinerea, indicating grey.

The bark of the tree is a light brown or light grey,and deeply ridged.

Bark and foliage


Branches and leaves

The branchlets,are light grey,rough,the twigs are sticky. The leaf buds are scaly and pubescent. The leaves are compound or pinnate {divided into leaflets}, which are arranged alternately on the twigs and branches.they have pubescent sticky stalks. They are odd pinnate with 11-17 leaflets,each leaflet five to ten centimetres long {two to four inches},and of an oval shape rounded at the base and unevenly toothed terminating in a point.

The leaflets are stalk-less, and of a greenish yellow colour above and extremely pubescent on the under surface. The leaflets are arranged opposite to each other with a single terminal .

Close up of the leaf

The foliage is composed of opposite pairs of leaflets and a terminal single one.
The foliage is composed of opposite pairs of leaflets and a terminal single one. | Source

Female flowers{catkins}

USDA Forest Service
USDA Forest Service | Source

The Flowers

The flowers of this species are monoecious {having the stamens and the pistils in separate flowers on the same tree.. The male flowers are inconspicuous yellow-green catkins produced in the spring coinciding with the appearance of the leaves.

The female flowers are short terminal spikes that appear with the current years shoots. The female flowers have a light rose pink stigma.

Male catkins

USDA Forestry Service
USDA Forestry Service | Source

Fruit { Nut}

The fruit of this tree is a nut,produced in bunches of between 2-6 together. The nut is an oblong ovoid shape {lemon shaped} 3-6 cm { one and a quarter - two and a quarter inches} long,and they are surrounded by a green husk before maturity in Autumn

The nut itself is ovate,with a rough,furrowed skin,and sweet,highly flavoured kernel.

The tree {header photograph } attains the height of around 30 metres and has a relatively short lifespan of between 70-90 years.

Fruit capsules

Fruit { seed capsules} above the Kernel {nut} below.
Fruit { seed capsules} above the Kernel {nut} below. | Source

Bark colour types

It is worth noting that Foresters and Taxonomists now concur that there may be as many as four different colour types to the bark.1, Light grey and lightly furrowed. 2, light grey with deeper,more compressed furrows. 3, grey with light furrows. 4, grey with more compressed furrows.

The lineage of Juglans cinerea is more closely related to the Eurasian 'butternuts' including Juglans regia

Range map of Juglans cinerea


General information.

As is often the case that trees that come into leaf late in the season, the Butternut is one of the first to feel frosts,the leaves drop suddenly to the ground in Autumn. At all times the leaves of this tree tend to be sparse and the exposed grey limbs present an unkempt appearance.

So much yellowing is mixed with the colouring of the foliage that, while the effect is unusual it robs the tree of a look of vigour.Indeed the tree may sometimes has the appearance that one would associate with plants that have spent to much time in the shade.

However, this tends to be insignificant to the squirrels and the forager who knows the tree by its fruits. Anyone who has bared the staining of fingers or have pounded the husks open on a nearby rock. perhaps the taste of the woodland still cling to them, for they are seemingly very different when bought on the market.

The nuts develop in one year maturing in September and October. The husk usually remains on the tree until after leaf fall and exhibits a citrus-like odour. The kernel or seed of the nut is sweet,oily and edible. the nuts are produced annually with good crops every two to three years. They are dispersed by gravity,animals such as squirrels and water.

The word 'Butternut' which came into use between 1735-45, is an Americanism, so called from the nut's oiliness. It is thought that in America the weevil Eubulus parochus,whose host tree is the butternut, may be totally dependent on that tree.


Butternut is generally considered to be a floodplain species found with Cottonwood and , but it is also associated with Black Walnut,White Ash,American Beech,American Elm and Red and White Oaks.

They are generally found on stream banks and well drained gravelly soils and other riparian habitat. Juglans cinerea readily hybridizes with the Japanese walnut, a cultivar species,along with other non-native species.

Threats and problems

The trees are vulnerable to butternut canker disease which has affected populations throughout most of the trees range,with the greatest impacts on southern populations. The fungus enters the tree through open wounds and causes canker growth on the trunk and branches that may well eventually kill the tree.

The species is not officially listed as threatened in the US. However, it is listed as 'Special Concern' in Kentucky,' Vulnerable' in New York State and 'Threatened' in Tennessee.

Dead Butternut trees

USDA Forest Service
USDA Forest Service | Source

Components of Juglans regia

Atlas des Plantes de France 1891
Atlas des Plantes de France 1891 | Source

European relative

In Europe the genus is represented by Juglans regia , the common walnut,also referred to as the English walnut {especially in the UK}, and in America the Californian walnut. This is a tall tree that commonly attains the height of between 25 and 35 metres.

Its general appearance is of a relatively short trunk supporting a broad and spreading crown.This species is reliant on good light if it is to thrive and produce the spreading crown. In forest situations where they are shoulder to shoulder with other trees they tend to grow taller but much narrower than they do in open sunny situations.

The trunk of this species has a bark which is smooth and olive brown when young becoming silvery grey as the tree matures. The foliage also consists of leaflets and like the butternut they are borne opposite to each other with a single, larger terminal one.

The flowers like those of the butternut tree are catkins the male catkins are drooping while the female ones terminal in clusters of two to five. The flowers are succeeded by the fruits which like Juglans cinerea are nuts. These nuts are light brown and furrowed when mature and are edible with a rich flavour.

The common walnut Juglans regia



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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb, I believe that the fruit of the Pecan tree is commercially grown and America produces up to 90% of the worlds pecans. Thanks for your visit. Most appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I don't think that I have ever seen the butternut, but we have pecan trees here. Now, those are wonderful, nice and fresh!

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      hello my friend, It is a pleasure to share the wonders of nature. Thank you for your kind and encouraging comments. Best wishes to you.


      hello to you too, my friend, trees are as interesting as any living thing on this planet we share. They are often called the 'lungs' of the world. Glad you enjoyed this one and I hope to bring you many more in this series. Thank you too for your votes,which are always deeply appreciated from you. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Incredible! I found this hub to most interesting about such a beautiful tree. I enjoyed reading about another new topic from you. I did not know much about this tree until now. Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • JYOTI KOTHARI profile image

      Jyoti Kothari 

      4 years ago from Jaipur


      You are producing interesting info about trees. Most of these trees are from American or European origin and unknown to us, Indians.

      Rated up and interesting.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Fred Arnold,

      hello,good to meet you, it is true that many people when out on a walk see a tree without seeing the tree for what it is. My aim in this series is to help identify the species which makes a walk all the more interesting. I am a naturalist with a lot of enthusiasm for plants,trees and birds. Thank you for your kind comments which are appreciated. Best wishes to you.

      Adam Lee Anderson,

      Hi, you are very welcome. Fortunately I have not had the experience to have accidentally rolled on a walnut but I know many who have. Best wishes to you.

    • Adam Lee Andersen profile image


      4 years ago from Overland Park, Kansas

      Thank you sir for this in depth look at the Butternut tree. Unfortunately, I live to far west to see them grow. Have you ever accidentally rolled on a walnut?

    • Fred Arnold profile image

      Fred Arnold 

      4 years ago from Clearwater, FL

      I learned a lot from this article. I mean, in all honesty, when I'm out walking around I never really think of a tree as a specific tree. That tree is just a tree! Haha. Is this a hobby for you? Or do you work in a field that requires extensive knowledge on ecosystems?

      Stay awesome!



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