Tree of the Week: Juglans nigra

When fall appears, I am in the mood for walnut trees.  There is just something about them, and my past, that link the two together.  When I was looking for a tree to post about this week, I realized I had not shared with you all this great tree.  I know it is not fall yet, but that is okay.  It is cooler than it was last week and that is enough for me.

As with any tree, this is a great tree if planted in the right location.  If it isn’t, then it will either be an annoyance or a problem.  I hope that you do not take the rest of the post as being a negative against this species.  It really is a good tree, just not very well suited for urban areas.


There is more than one kind of walnut tree here in the United States.  The most commonly thought of is the “American walnut” or the “black walnut”.

A second kind is the “butternut tree”, also called “white walnut”, which I usually think of as a cousin of the walnut family, rather than a different kind of walnut tree itself.  This is not true of course, which I would know better if I actually remembered the scientific name of the butternut tree.

A third kind of walnut is the “English walnut”.  It is not a native tree, though, like a lot of things not native, it can be planted here.

The walnut tree I am talking about today is the black walnut (Juglans nigra).

Common in the eastern and southern portions of the United States, this tree is a valuable lumber and nut tree.

I grew up with several of these in our yard.  So, by personal experience I will tell you they are messy. You definitely do not want to plant these as shade for parking areas as their nuts are hard and relatively large, about 2 inches in diameter.  It is also hard to mow over, not just the nuts, but also all the leaves and the rachis (the part the leaves attach to).

Taken by: Bruce Marlin from Wikimedia Commons (original source)

Speaking of the nuts, when they are first falling off the tree, the green outer husk is very firm.  After some time this will begin to soften and turn black.  It is much easier to get the nut out of the husk at that point.  Just be careful because it does stain.  Not only hands but also clothing.  It can be hard to get out.  Another warning is that the outer husk can be

Due to certain chemicals given off by the tree, this is not one you want to have growing near your garden.  It discourages other plant from growing around it.

I can also share, from personal experience, that the nut has a strong flavor when cooked. Perhaps this is why you don’t see too many recipes for walnut stew.  If I would have thought of this as an adventurous adolescent it may have saved me years of not being able to eat these nuts due to vivid memories of exactly how strong of a flavor they can be.  Now, please don’t let this scare you off.  The nuts really do have a good flavor to them and are great on salads or crushed and put into or on brownies.  It only took 3 or 4 years before I could eat them again, and since that time I have continued to like the nut … just not in stews.

When we first moved into our current house, there was a tree that I thought could be a black walnut, except its’ bark and shape didn’t seem right.  Come latter summer and fall there were no fruit.  Sure enough, it wasn’t a black walnut.  It was a Tree of Heaven.  Seems I’m not the only one who thought these two look a lot alike.  With the drought we also have not mowed our grass for a month or so.  The comment on root sprouts from the Tree of Heaven is very much accurate.  A black walnut does not do this and is also a good clue as to whether your tree is what you think it is.

The tree grows relatively straight, with good form.  It is often grown in plantations for either the nuts, the wood or both.  It is also has a place in the woods, as it offers food for squirrels and mice.

The wood is valued as lumber for several reason.  It is strong (hard), stains well, and can be used in a variety of applications.  I tend to think of furniture, but it also is used for cabinets and gunstocks, among other things.