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There is some debate as to whether this species is a native species. There seems to be evidence on both sides of the argument, but it is rather academic. Butternut is native to the Saint John River valley in New Brunswick and would have eventually found its way here. It is a very exotic looking tree, with large, compound leaves made up of 11 to 17 leaflets. With light shading, trees become tall and stately and make good growth. In spring, the trees produce small, purple flowers.
Butternuts do well in moist, rich soil and with light shading. Several butternut plantations were established at Macphail Woods in the early 1980’s. Those in full sun are excessively branched and have not made good growth, while those with some shading have done exceptionally well.
Collection begins when seeds begin to fall, from September to mid- October. As with red oak, fall or spring planting works well. When fall planting, keep nuts in a container for a few weeks until the husks can be rubbed off (this is a messy job, so wear gloves). For spring planting, store in a stratification bed (see page 20). Plant nuts every 2 in. (5 cm), in rows 8 in. (20 cm) apart, at a depth of 2 in. (5 cm). Butternuts produce tap roots and should be root pruned the same as oaks. Most seed will germinate the first season, but if the winter was very mild, some may not germinate until the second or third growing season. These trees also respond well to pruning, both in the nursery and especially in the field. It makes a world of difference to properly prune young trees, as they often suffer winter damage. If you don’t prune them back to a single stem, you will get bushy trees with structural problems. A few minutes with pruning shears will increase the health and value of these trees.
The nuts are widely used by blue jays, red squirrels and chipmunks. Smaller birds and mammals often consume butternuts on the ground that have split naturally or have been partially eaten by larger species.
Areas of Usage:
Excellent for diversifying young conifer plantations, these trees can also be planted in openings in old field white spruce. Light shade encourages tall, straight growth. Butternut is also a good choice for plantings around the home. The nuts are tasty, although smaller than walnuts and more difficult to crack. Selecting the largest nuts for seed should produce superior trees. The wood is attractive and easy to work. It is often used for making furniture and decorative woodwork.