Rick’s Native Plant of the Month | Butter Nut Tree

March 13, 2023

By Rick Bogusch

Bridge Gardens

This black walnut relative, sometimes called white walnut, was quite common in forests on the East End and throughout its range in the northeast United States, but overharvesting for lumber and a devastating canker disease has reduced its numbers in the wild to endangered levels.

Fortunately, there are resistant varieties available and Bridge Gardens has a 7-year old specimen, planted when it was a 2-foot tall grafted sapling. Disease-resistant, it has produced crops the past 2 years, probably a couple hundred nuts each, all very much enjoyed by resident squirrels.

Butter nuts are rarely planted as ornamentals, but they are useful for naturalizing and for a harvest of nuts, if you can keep the squirrels at bay and can figure out how to crack them open. Preferring moist, organically rich, well-drained soils in full sun, butter nuts grow about 40 feet tall and wide, with an open and rounded silhouette. Leaves are bright green, pinnate with no fall color. Insignificant flowers bloom in May-June and become clusters of edible nuts, ready for harvest in early fall.

Because of its strong taproot, butter nuts do not transplant well and are best started as 1-year old seedlings or small, grafted mail order trees. Indigenous people ate the nuts for food and boiled sap for syrup and later, butter nut wood was prized for paneling and furniture.

The butter nut pictured above grows close to the southeast corner of the Information Center here at Bridge Gardens.

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