Native North American Nut Trees

Here is a guide to a selection of nut trees native to North America: the common, the disappearing, and the gone.

| September/October 1974

The North American continent hosts a wide variety of nut trees. What follows is description of those that are or once were the most popular and economically important, either for their wood, their fruit, or both.

American Chestnut Tree

The chestnut is included as a tribute to its former importance ... and in the hope that it may someday be re-established in a disease-resistant form.

The native American chestnut was highly valued by the early settlers. Its wood was used for furniture, fencing, and musical instruments; the bark produced tannin; and the big, nutritious nuts were an important food (even a money crop, since they were harvested in large amounts for the city markets). Then, about 1900, a fungus disease reached this country from eastern Asia. The Asian chestnut, which had been exposed to the blight over many centuries, was more or less immune. The American trees sickened rapidly and in one human generation we lost a dominant forest species.

A few old chestnut stumps survive, and sometimes still send up sprouts which may reach a height of 20 or more feet before succumbing to the blight.

Black Walnut Tree

The black walnut, one of our most valued hardwoods, is found over most of the eastern half of the United States from southern New England to southern Georgia. The tree is a majestic sight, towering 70 to 100 feet and covered with graceful sprays of leaflets. If you have one on your land, treasure it. They're becoming scarce.

The heavy wood is prized for cabinetmaking and is the traditional material for fine gunstocks. The sap of both this species and the butternut can be boiled into syrup and sugar. Walnut bark is useful in tanning, and the husks around the nuts yield a long-lasting yellow-brown dye (as you'll learn if you get the juice on your skin).

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