Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia

Black Walnut Trees

Black walnut tree in brasstown 2
Black Walnut trees grow throughout Appalachia-they happen to be my favorite tree. I like to eat their nuts-but that isn’t the reason they’re my favorite tree.

Their dark trunk and branches call out to me in a way I can’t explain. The first fall Chitter noticed the trees lost their leaves she was worried about them-telling me “Momma look the trees are naked. What happened to their clothes? They’ll all freeze to death.” In my opinion-when a Black Walnut tree is ‘naked’ there is no other tree that compares to it’s beauty-it almost takes on an old world royal appearance to my eyes. Their stately look makes me think of yellow violets that grow wild in the woods around my house-they too have an aura of being above the fray of the common folk.

Black Walnuts can grow to heights over 100 feet. Walnuts loose their leaves quickly once fall arrives-but first turn a vibrant yellow. The bark of the tree has deep furrows in it-that makes the tree as a whole take on a black look-especially in the winter.

Black walnut tree in brasstown
The trees have predominately been valued for their nuts-but rating just as high is the value of their wood. From gun stocks to furniture the wood is still in high demand today-just as it has been in the past. Also highly valued is the brown dye that comes from the outer hull of the walnut-it is still used to dye fabric, yarn, wood and other items.

Black Walnuts have even aided in the health of past and present generations. The juice from the nut hulls were widely used for skin aliments-most commonly ringworm and psoriasis.

As I did a little additional research on Black Walnuts for this post-I discovered some interesting things I did not know about the trees:

  • Ground up walnut hulls are used to clean jet engines-and even aid in some oil well drilling applications.
  • The roots of Black Walnut trees are considered toxic-and can cause other plants growing near by to die.
  • Juglone-the poison that occurs naturally in the roots-can also be found in other parts of the tree. Certain types of exposure to the substance can be harmful to animals and humans.
  • Sadly I discovered Black Walnuts have an enemy they don’t seem to be able to fight. Thousand Cankers Disease is attacking Black Walnut trees. Recently the NC Department of Agriculture issued a ban on walnut wood entering NC from certain states-one of which is Tennessee-in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease.

There are lots of Black Walnut trees around my house-and along the roads I drive each day. Over the years, I’ve somehow come to think of them as my friends. Crazy as it sounds-I feel like they watch with interest as I and others drive under them making our way about life.

They say your childhood travels with you for the rest of your life-I believe it does. Somehow it comforts me to know many of those stark, strong, regal Black Walnut Trees are the same ones I used to stare out the window at when I was riding in the backseat of Pap’s big white Impala with Steve and Paul-you know back when all I had to do was watch for my favorite trees and dream.

Tipper

 

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37 Comments

  • Reply
    Sharon Schuster
    September 19, 2012 at 8:35 am

    A childhood memory I have of the farm here in Maryland (early known as ‘Walnut Botton’) is that of my Dad planting hundreds of Black Walnut saplings. I have picked up buckets of Black Walnuts for him to drive over and for my grandmother to make Black Walnut cake. A lifetime search lead me to a walnut cracker made by the Amish. I gave him the heavy-duty iron cracker as a Christmas present. When trees were harvested here to maintain the healthy growth of the wood stands, I remember that some of the tall, straight Black Walnut trees yielded lumber that was used to make cabinets and coffins.
    I have used the hulls to make dye for wool. The sheep love to eat the leaves. I don’t care for the taste of walnuts myself. Lately, I have been carefully picking up Chestnuts for Dad.

  • Reply
    Tulsa Jack
    March 13, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    There’s a legend in our family that when great-great grandfather Thomas Kincaid Blake, Jr. left Roane County, Tennessee, and settled in Bolivar, Missouri, in 1841, he had a noble stand of black walnut on his new homestead. He cut it down for fence posts. “That,” GGG-Father said later, “was like telling a leprechaun you didn’t want his pot ‘o gold.”

  • Reply
    sharon
    November 20, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    well.. got the grandies picking out the walnuts today.. fed em a a hearty meal of oatmeal,raisins and brown sugar and some cinnamon toast… spread the nuts out on a tarp in the driveway.. ran over a few times with the tractor… and got the grandies to work…each has a bucket and the one who shells the most.. ( without all the hard to chew hulls)..LOL..gets to pick out what we have for supper.. I just know it’s gonna be pancakes and deer sausage..that’s what they always choose.LOL I take the hulls and simmer down.. and strain threw a cheesecloth to make walnut ink for my primitive dolls and crafts.. and usually sell a few jars to other crafters .. oh by the way.. I wish i could bottle the scent of black walnuts when they are still green… I just love that smell.. am I crazy anyone else out there like the fragrance…

  • Reply
    Lanny
    November 17, 2010 at 9:53 am

    Your last line caught me (all of your post was a delight to read it’s just…) “back when all I had to do was watch for my favorite trees and dream.” Oh I know those days well, not in regards to the Black Walnut and actually I’m clearly a fickle girl ‘cuz I had a new favorite with each season, nearly each passing day really. A tree, or bush or particular stand of something would catch my fancy and my breath and I would yearn to see more. Back in the day when that was all I had to do. But those were important days, for now when I am drivin’ to do various errands instead of having my head stuck on my duties, it is grabbing all it can, scooping up all the visual delights and takin’ me quickly back to the day when all I had to do was watch for the next favorite tree, shrub flower, berry…. Thanks again Tipper for sharing your words that touch deep.

  • Reply
    Kim Campbell
    November 7, 2010 at 10:48 am

    MY grandma had black walnut trees along the road near her house, in Indiana. My dad and I drove over the fallen ones to crack ’em open. I took a bunch home and used them to dye a t-shirt.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    November 6, 2010 at 8:57 am

    Tipper, very late comment here (too much to do, too few hours)….
    The little essay that I did for you this summer (on flowers and rock walls as evidences of love and craftsmanship of our forebears) included a photo of a beautiful yellow iris. The location is on Noland Creek, which I probably mentioned.
    But I don’t think that I noted that the presence of a walnut tree in the area was very likely responsible for it having sustained. As your article notes, leaves, roots, etc. of walnuts poison the area, reducing competition from many other types of vegetation. But some plants – mostly low-growing stuff – seem more tolerant. Or maybe a better term is hardier.
    In this case – and in many others inside the Great Smoky Mt. Nat’l Park – walnuts are a flag that people once lived there. In countless places in the backcountry, you run across old homesteads where walnuts have kept the forest at bay.
    So in a way, they are, like flowers and rock walls, vestiges of our forebears.

  • Reply
    Fishing Guy
    November 4, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    Tipper: I also love the Black Walnut Tree. It’s wood is so beautiful. I would collect the nuts and even though they were a lot of work but it was so good to get that tasty treat. I’m so glad you shared this wonderful tree.

  • Reply
    Sandra
    November 4, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    had no idea so much could be done with a simple walnut or that they had a disease. they are for sure beautiful trees, i like the blackness of their trunks, majestic and full of nuts, wonderful

  • Reply
    Gwnewt1
    November 4, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    The County Agent here has advised that the leaves from the BW will poison a compost pile; they are as toxic as the roots.
    I have several in my front yard. So far, my lawn has tolerated them, and in the spring the violets aren’t bothered by them.
    I scatter the nuts in my drive-way and run over them to remove the hulls. This causes a dark stain, but it goes away by next spring.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 4, 2010 at 10:04 am

    Tipper, I think of trees as part of the community, and yes, they watch.
    My grand mother used to make walnut cookies. I can remember my grand paw on his knees in the cellar cracking those walnuts for her. He loved her walnut cookies!
    I had a friend that used to trade and work on guns. He is gone now and I miss him. He used walnut hulls to make his own stain. I thought that was really remarkable!
    And lastly, I think walnut wood is among the most beautiful woods out there. I even use a lot of walnut stain making picture frames.
    Thoughtful post, Tipper, thanks!

  • Reply
    Julie at Elisharose
    November 3, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    I don’t believe we have any walnut trees around here. This is pecan country. I feel almost the same way about them. The neighborhood I live in used to be a pecan orchard, so there are many around. We have 5 in our yard alone. We have lived here for almost 18 years, so we have been through a lot together.

  • Reply
    Rooney Floyd
    November 3, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    Enjoyed the black walnut post. The dust from sanding and sawing walnut wood is toxic and some people are alergic to it. Last year John Campbell made a good bit of walnut saw dust with a chain saw outside the new entrance to the blacksmith shop at JCCFS. We cleaned up afterwards, but did not try to remove the stray saw dust. Three weeks later when I came back, a large circle of grass was brown. So…don’t get any walnut saw dust in your garden mulch.
    At my first Fall Festival in about 1978, I asked a nice lady to sell me a piece of her pecan pie. She said, “It’s not pecan; it’s walnut!” Boy, was it good. We have tried to make it since but it was not up to her level. Looking forward to the next black walnut post and would like to know more about white walnut(butternut) as we don’t have it in South Carolina. Rooney Floyd

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    November 3, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    I like Black Walnut trees– but not near my garden. They are deadly to many plants.
    Tipper — I’ve added Feedburner to my blog — see if that will let you sign up to receive email posts.

  • Reply
    Mary
    November 3, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    They really are beautiful trees! I did know about the poison in the roots. My dad won’t plant any garden plants near a black walnut. I can’t remember how many feet he has to plant from one. There is one up by the garden area that I’m afraid he is eyeing with the possibility of cutting. He needs to just move his garden, LOL!

  • Reply
    petra michelle
    November 3, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    You are blessed to have such surroundings, Tipper! Truly appreciate your beautiful post because there’s barely any real land other than parks in the city!
    Fascinating, Tipper! Thank you! :))

  • Reply
    kenneth o. hoffman
    November 3, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    tipper: what a post ,everyone seemed to think the same . my dad always had a black walnut tree or two on his places, all except az. we loved them ,pop called um warnuts. shade was always great also. surely they had them on hazel creek. regards k.o.h

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    November 3, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    Mama used to make a Black Walnut cake. She didn’t make it often. She said that you had to work a half day to get enough nut meats to make a cake that would disappear in a half hour.
    Try using a vise to crack the walnuts.
    TD

  • Reply
    Tipper
    November 3, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    Anastaisa-the spoon sweet sounds yummy : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Music, Giveaways, Mountain Folk
    All at http://www.blindpigandtheacorn.com

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    November 3, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Tipper–I’ve been away for a couple of days deer hunting (I’m sure Matt would approve) so am just now reading your fine piece on black walnuts. Like you, I’ve long been fascinated by the black walnut, its history, and its many uses. I would add a few thoughts, in no particular order of importance (if any of them are important).
    Native Americans and early European settlers used the juice from green walnut hulls to poison fish and harvest them.
    Some of the dye for “butternut” clothing actually came from butternuts, but much more of it came from walnut hulls.
    Walnuts have distinct habitat preferences, with creek bottoms, field edges, and highway verges all being choice places.
    When you cover cracking walnuts, you might also want to consider some information on collecting, hulling, and curing them. I can help with the way my family has always done it if you wish.
    For the squirrel hunter, there’s no finer places to concentrate his efforts than on a few walnuts trees which have had a good mast crop.
    In the culinary field, two of my all-time favorites are chocolate chip cookies chock full of black walnuts and home-made black walnut ice cream. Also, Miss Ann has a black walnut cake recipes which will bring tears of pure joy to the eyes of a country boy (or girl).
    On gun stocks, while black walnut is important, it pales in comparison with its cousin, Circassian walnut. I once looked at a large stump of this wood at the works of W. & C. Scott, a famed producer of British best guns, and the owner told me that one stump was worth roughly 50,000 pounds (at the time that meant about $100,000). Now that’s expensive wood!
    As usual, good stuff, and in this case something which has facinated me since boyhood.
    Jim Casada
    http://www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com

  • Reply
    Pat in east TN
    November 3, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    I also love Black Walnut trees and am blessed to have them in my woods. I always feel ‘my’ trees are watching over me, just as I gaze at them everyday in awe.

  • Reply
    lynn legge
    November 3, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    i too love these beautiful trees
    my father had one of them in his yard.. and spent many hours sitting in its shade and watching nature 🙂
    thank you for sharing, and as always big ladybug hugs
    lynn

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    November 3, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    hey,
    I’m back..lol…
    I wanted to ask if anyone uses a old corn sheller to husk their walnuts? Does it do the husking well without such a mess?….
    Also after reading other posts…
    we have never been able to grow anything but light grass and one lonely (native) Mahonia shrub around our Black Walnut tree….
    I wish we had planted a Walnut grove here when we first bought this place…the trees would have been almost forty years old by now..beautiful wood timber and expensive…We had to cut one down and a guy bought it as well as a very large old Red Cedar..he was going to make tables..both were in a storm and the tops damaged..

  • Reply
    Bradley
    November 3, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    Tipper,
    Very creative writing! The walnut trees are special to most. I wasn’t aware of the disease that threatens those beautiful trees. I hope they don’t have a fate like the chestnuts.
    The walnuts are fabulous to taste, but just the image of a walnut tree itself is a treat to the eye. I can see why you would think of them as friends. That statement you made about thinking of them as friends gives an insight or glimpse into the mind of the person that wrote it. I remember there was a poem someone wrote that said, “I think I shall never see anything so beautiful as a tree.” (or something like that).
    Good writing; I have the urge now to go across the hill and look for walnut trees. I remember a few “Old Friends” that I want to see if they are still standing. See what you have done?
    Thanks for this story; I needed one like this today!
    Bradley

  • Reply
    Ken
    November 3, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    Tipper,
    Miss Cindy touched on this the other day and I remember a program
    on Satelite TV, Joni Lamb has a
    Christian health show and she did
    an entire program on the benefits
    of Black Walnuts. They are a cleanser for the intestines and
    kill unwanted parasites if you eat
    two tablespoons twice a week. I
    enjoyed this post cause I got
    bunches of Black Walnut trees on
    my property, had to cut a big one
    shading my garden this February.
    The squirrels are still mad as a
    ‘settin hen’ at me but there is
    plenty left for them…Ken

  • Reply
    Elizabeth K
    November 3, 2010 at 11:56 am

    I don’t think it sounds crazy at all that you think the trees watch – of course they do!

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    November 3, 2010 at 11:03 am

    Great post Tipper,
    and do you know why so many old walnuts grow so well by the side of the road? LOL
    My Mom loved black walnuts and cornbread….
    I think there was a recipe for some kind of walnut and cornbread back in the day…
    We all love Black Walnut Bread…There used to be someone who made and sold slices of Black Walnut bread at the flea market at Murphy…mighty good early in the morning with a cup of coffee before picking for those treasures….Almost time to crack nuts here in E. Tn….

  • Reply
    Wanda in NoAla
    November 3, 2010 at 8:50 am

    Tipper,
    You know what they say about great minds! I wrote about hickory nuts the same day you wrote about black walnuts. My son just bought a house, and the best part about it is the trees on his property….black walnuts and pecans! He has already brought me some of the black walnuts, and I’m looking forward to picking out enough nut meat for a cake. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Canned Quilter
    November 3, 2010 at 5:29 am

    Here in The Holler we have lots of black walnuts too! They are plentiful in Missouri..many people in the area pick them up and sell them. I love black walnuts in banana bread.

  • Reply
    Boyd Guthrie
    November 2, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    Black Walnut has always been my favorite nut, and favorite wood to work with.

  • Reply
    Janet
    November 2, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    I also love black walnut trees. We have many in our area. I have a big sack full in the garage waiting for me to crack. I don’t mind the cracking so much, its getting the hulls off that I don’t care for.

  • Reply
    Greta Koehl
    November 2, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    I had heard about black walnuts being harmful to nearby plants. They do seem to have a personality, though. I believe that the tree that grew in our basement (there’s a story about it on my blog somewhere) was a black walnut.

  • Reply
    Becky
    November 2, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    You know I love them, too. We have a small grove of them here on the farm.
    They are messy and hard to crack, but ohhhh, so GOOD!!

  • Reply
    Anastasia
    November 2, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    The common walnut tree grows abundantly in Cyprus, especially in mountainous areas. We love the nuts – I consume 10-15 walnut nuts daily – such a healthy snack! We also make a delicious spoon sweet called “Karydaki” (small walnut) which is only made in Cyprus when the fruit is still green. Yet, the sweet – when in syrup – is black. My mum’s furniture was made from walnut timber in the early 50s and the wood is still as good as new!

  • Reply
    warren
    November 2, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    I love them too! We had a huge one at our old place and the kids were always stained from playing with the nuts as they fell. It was a magnificent tree!

  • Reply
    Rachel
    November 2, 2010 at 11:54 am

    **Crazy as it sounds-I feel like they watch with interest as I and others drive under them making our way about life.**
    Call me crazy too, then.
    I’ve always loved the walnut trees, too, and have really missed seeing them since I moved away. We had a row of them right behind the house, and I enjoyed watching both the trees and the squirrels’ acrobatics in them out my bedroom window.
    I just ran across your blog last night, BTW, and am enjoying it, even if it is making me homesick. 🙂

  • Reply
    Osagebluffquilter
    November 2, 2010 at 11:32 am

    We love Black Walnuts and have many trees on our land. In fact we were picking them up just Sunday.
    Did you know Missouri is also well known for the black gold? check it out here:http://www.black-walnuts.com/
    Funny story several years ago we were in Colorado. We stopped at an ice cream shop and the blackmsith ordered a cone with black walnut, the clerk said have you ever tasted black walnuts? The blacksmith said, “I’m from Missouri” oh the guy said then your know. The clerk said a lot of people order it and then don’t like the strong taste.
    We love the walnuts!

  • Reply
    Vera Guthrie
    November 2, 2010 at 11:11 am

    My Aunt Sissy lived in the old home place. When we went to visit we would get the hammer and head out back and crack black walnuts for hours. Before my Mom passed I would go pick up black walnuts for her. She had an old stump in the yard in the sunshine and she would sit out there and crack those walnuts and eat them and enjoy the sun and quiet. Not long ago I drove by her brother’s house and he had chosen a shade tree and was sitting there cracking his walnuts and enjoying the day. A lot of pleasure derived from a small hateful nut to crack.

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