Butternut, a Common Tree in North America

Butternut (Juglans cinerea), also called white walnut or oilnut, grows rapidly on well-drained soils of hillsides and streambanks in mixed hardwood forests. This small to medium-sized tree is short-lived, seldom reaching the age of 75. Butternut is more valued for its nuts than for lumber. The soft coarse-grained woodworks, stains, and finishes well. Small amounts are used for cabinetwork, furniture, and novelties. The sweet nuts are prized as food by man and animals. Butternut is easily grown but must be transplanted early because of the quickly developing root system.

of 5

The Silviculture of Butternut

butternut tree in a field

ValerieZinger/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Cultivars of this species have been selected for nut size and for ease of cracking and extracting kernels. Nuts are especially popular in New England for making maple-butternut candy. Small amounts of wood are used for cabinets, toys, and novelties. Butternut is under attack by the butternut canker disease within its range.

of 5

The Images of Butternut

butternut tree leaves
(uwdigitalcollections/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0)

Forestry Images provides several images of parts of butternut. The tree is a hardwood and the lineal taxonomy is Magnoliopsida > Juglandales > Juglandaceae > Juglans cinerea L. Butternut is also commonly called white walnut or oilnut.

of 5

The Range of Butternut

Natural distribution map for the butternut tree

Elbert Little/U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service/Wikimedia Commons

Butternut is found from southeastern New Brunswick throughout the New England States except for northwest Maine and Cape Cod. The range extends south to include northern New Jersey, western Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, northwestern South Carolina, northern Georgia, northern Alabama, northern Mississippi, and Arkansas. Westward is found to central Iowa and central Minnesota. It grows in Wisconsin, Michigan, and northeast into Ontario and Quebec. Through most of its range butternut is not a common tree, and its frequency is declining. The ranges of butternut and black walnut (Juglans nigra) overlap, but butternut occurs farther north and not as far south as black walnut.

of 5

Butternut at Virginia Tech

butternut tree viewed from below

cvrgrl HW/publicdomainpictures.net/CC0 Public Domain

  • Leaf: Alternate, pinnately compound, 15 to 25 inches long, with 11 to 17 oblong-lanceolate leaflets with serrate margins; rachis is stout and pubescent with a well developed terminal leaflet; green above and paler below.
  • Twig: Stout, maybe somewhat pubescent, yellow-brown to gray, with a chambered pith that is very dark brown in color; buds are large and covered with a few light-colored pubescent scales; leaf scars are 3-lobed, resembling a "monkey face;" a tuft of pubescence is present above the leaf scar resembling an "eyebrow."
of 5

Fire Effects on Butternut

wildfire in a fores

skeeze/pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Butternut does not typically survive fires that destroy aboveground plant parts.