The butternut, or white walnut, an important forest tree of eastern North America, is
valued for its lumber and edible nuts. Unfortunately, it has been decimated over the
past three decades by a fungus, Sirococcus clavigigenti-juglandacearum, more
commonly known as butternut canker.
Preferring rich loamy soils, the butternut is a medium sized tree that typically lives for
several decades. It tolerates shade poorly and thus regenerates poorly in a deeply
shaded forest, but occurs more around forest edges and clearings. At least in the
western part of its range, it seems to occur exclusively on uplands near rivers or
creeks. The butternut is an important masting species in mixed hardwood forests
and helps provide biodiversity in forests throughout its range.
The heartwood is light in color, in contrast to the closely related walnut. Prized for
carving and furniture making, butternut wood has a unique "shimmering" quality,
which describes the way the wood uniquely reflects light. The nuts are sweet,
flavorful and prized for baking and candy making, but are exceptionally hard to crack.
Butternut canker was first noted in 1967 in southwestern Wisconsin and over the
following decades spread throughout most of the butternut's range in the eastern
half of the United States. The numbers of butternut have been so drastically reduced
that it has been listed as a species of concern under Category 2 on the Endangered
and Threatened Plants list under the Endangered Species Act. Research is
underway to look for effective control measures as well as to find butternuts that are
potentially resistant to butternut canker.
At True Nature Farm, LLC, we have been scouring the upper Midwest for healthy
butternut trees for the last two decades and have been able to collect and plant
thousands of butternuts to
screen for signs of resistance to butternut canker. After
several years of planting we have many promising trees and are looking forward
to seeing what the next few decades bring for our butternut orchard.