Butternut is a member of the walnut family. In an open-grown situation butternut trees have a short trunk with a broad, open, spreading crown. In the forest, butternut have taller, less branchy trunks with smaller, more compact crowns. The buds are blunt, tan-coloured and hairy. The bark is grey and smooth on immature trees. On older individuals, the bark becomes separated by narrow, dark fissures into wide, irregular, flat topped, intersecting ridges. Leaves are compound. They are about 25 to 40 cm in length and are composed of 11 to 17 leaflets arranged along a central stalk. The individual leaflets are stalkless.
The species is relatively short lived, rarely living longer than 75 to 100 years. Butternut is intolerant of shade, meaning it does not grow or reproduce under a forest canopy. It can be found scattered individually or in small groups within mixed hardwood stands, along fence lines or in open fields. Butternut produces an edible and nutritious nut which is an important food source for birds, squirrels, and other small mammals.
The Butternut Tree is native to, and widespread in eastern Canada. It grows in southern Ontario and Quebec, as well as New Brunswick.
First Nation people used the nut oil for cooking, hair dressing, leathermaking and polishing tools. Carvers and wood workers value the wood for its softness, colour, and varied texture. Commercial and hobby nut producers value its nuts and its contribution to breeding northern hardy nut trees.
Conservation Status in Ontario
In Ontario, the Butternut Tree is designated as an Endangered Species under the Provincial Endangered Species Act.
The butternut tree is fast fading from our woodlands, field edges and backyards. The Butternut Canker fungus Sirococcus clavigignentijuglandacearum is causing the butternut’s decline. It can infect and kill healthy trees of any age and size.