Butternut (Cinerea)

The Butternut (Cinerea) is generally described as a perennial tree. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the late spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the fall and continuing until winter. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Butternut (Cinerea) has a short life span relative to most other plant species and a rapid growth rate. At maturity, the typical Butternut (Cinerea) will reach up to 80 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 20 feet.

The Butternut (Cinerea) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have high vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -33°F. has low tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Butternut is called white walnut because of its light-colored wood, which has a natural golden luster that becomes satin-like when polished. The wood is only moderately hard and saws and carves easily. It has been used for furniture, cabinetry, instrument cases, interior woodwork, including hand-carved wall panels and trim, and church decoration and altars. It is stocked in specialty lumberyards because little is cut annually.

Butternuts were often planted close to the house on farmsteads for their use as food. Kernels were used in baking and cultivars have been selected for nut size and for ease of cracking and extracting kernels.

They have been popular in New England for making maple-butternut candy. Early settlers used the fruit husks and inner bark to make orange or yellow dye and the root bark provided a laxative.

General Characteristics

General: Walnut family (Juglandaceae). Small to medium-sized native trees with stiff upright branches and a wide-spreading crown, the young twigs, stems, and leaflets have hairs sticky-oily to the touch; terminal buds 12-18 mm long; bark brownish-gray, thick, shallowly divided into smooth or scaly plates. Leaves are pinnately compound, the leaflets (7-) 11-17, ovate to lanceolate or oblong-lanceolate, ± symmetric, mostly 5-11cm long, with finely toothed margins, terminal leaflet present, the lower surfaces densely covered with stellate hairs. Flowers are unisexual, female (pistillate) and male (staminate), but on the same tree (the species monoecious), usually not opening simultaneously on any individual tree; male flowers in slender catkins 6-14 cm long, the female flowers in terminal clusters of 6-8 flowers each. Fruit is an oblong-ovoid nut 4-6(-8) cm long, single or in clusters of 2-5, with a hard, thick, deeply furrowed shell enclosed by a thick husk with a sticky-glandular surface. The nuts usually remain on the tree until after leaf fall. The common name refers to the mature nut kernels, which are sweet and oily, like butter.

Required Growing Conditions

Butternut is primarily a species of the northeastern and north-central US and southern Canada from southeastern New Brunswick to Ontario and Quebec; in the US in Minnesota to Missouri and eastward through Tennessee into North Carolina and Virginia, with disjunct outlyers in Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia. It is uncommon throughout most of its range and formally listed as rare in many of the states in which it occurs. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Cultivation and Care

Adaptation: Butternut is found most frequently in rich woods of coves and stream benches and terraces, on slopes, in the talus of rock ledges, and on other sites with good drainage; at elevations of 0-1000 (-1500) meters. Young trees may grow in considerable competition, but they are shade-intolerant and mature trees must reach the overstory. Flowering occurs from April-June and fruiting from September-October.

General: Seed production begins at about 20 years and is optimum from 30-60 years. Good crops can be expected every 2-3 years, with light crops during intervening years. Premature seed losses may result from consumption by insects, birds, and rodents, and a lack of butternut trees in the immediate vicinity may limit pollination and fruit formation. Seeds germinate in the spring after seedfall and a cold period at 20°-30° C. for 90-120 days to break dormancy.

Stumps of young butternut trees and saplings are capable of sprouting. The trees are reported to be slow growing and seldom live longer than 75 years.

General Upkeep and Control

Butternut canker is killing the species over its whole range. The fungal pathogen (Sirococcus clavigignenti-juglandacearum) apparently was introduced from outside of North America. It was first reported from southwestern Wisconsin in 1967 but is believed to have spread from the southeastern US coastal region where it first appeared about 40-50 years ago. The Forest Service estimated in 1995 that 77% of the butternuts in the Southeast were dead. The fungus infects trees through buds, leaf scars, and possibly insect wounds and other openings in the bark, rapidly killing small branches. Spores produced on branches are spread by rain, resulting in multiple, perennial stem cankers that eventually girdle and kill infected trees – these do not resprout. The cankered portions should be removed and destroyed and the wounds should be covered with fungicidal paint; leaves that might harbor fungus (brown leaf spot) should be destroyed.

A few healthy butternut trees have been found growing among canker-diseased and dying trees and may be resistant. Black walnut apparently is unaffected. A research coalition has been formed to locate surviving trees or populations, characterize sites, identify trees with putative resistance, develop screening methodology for disease resistance, study fungal physiology, and preserve germplasm.

Fire easily top-kills butternut and older trees rarely sprout from the root crown or stump. A single hot fire or repeated cool fires can effectively eliminate the species in mixed hardwood stands

There is commonly a zone of no-growth or inhibited growth around walnut trees, because they produce a naphthoquinone (juglone) that selectively inhibits growth of associated plants. Juglone is concentrated in root tissue and fruit husks, with lesser amounts in the leaves, catkins, buds, and inner bark.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Rapid
General Type Tree
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Short
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Late Spring
Displays Fall Colors Yes
Shape/Growth Form Single Stem
Drought Tolerance Low
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 80
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color Green
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance Medium
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Fall Winter
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Seed
Moisture Requirements Medium
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -33
Soil Depth for Roots 40
Toxic to Nearby Plants Yes
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing Yes
Growth Requirements
pH Range 6–7 pH
Precipitation Range 25–25 inches/yr
Planting Density 100–800 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 40
Minimum Frost-Free Days 105 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance None
CaCO3 Tolerance None
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Low
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database, plants.usda.gov.
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA