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Due to susceptibility to butternut canker, butternuts are not recommended for planting anywhere in this region and usually require removal and/or replacement. Butternut, also called white walnut, is a native tree found throughout the Midwest in moist, well-drained soils. Butternut canker, an introduced fungus, has killed off many native stands of butternut. The tree is related to black walnut and is also allelopathic. The tree is prized for the wood and the fruit produces a yellow dye that was used in the Civil War to color uniforms. This species is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

  • Family (English) Walnut
  • Family (botanic) Juglandaceae
  • Tree or plant type Tree
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Large tree (more than 40 feet)
  • Mature height 40-60 feet
  • Mature width 30-50 feet
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7
  • Soil preference Alkaline soil, Moist, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Alkaline soil, Dry sites, Wet sites
  • Season of interest early fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Inconspicuous
  • Shape or form Round
  • Growth rate Moderate
  • Transplants well No
  • Planting considerations Excessive sucker growth
  • Wildlife Birds, Browsers, Insect pollinators, Small mammals
  • Has cultivars Yes

Native geographic location and habitat:

C-Value: 8. Native to Illinois and the Midwest.

Bark color and texture:

The light gray bark is relatively smooth, becoming slightly ridged and furrowed with age.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture:

Alternate, pinnately compound leaves are 1 to 2 feet long. The leaflets are  toothed and aromatic when crushed. Leaves are green in summer, changing to yellow in fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size:

The butternut has inconspicuous male flowers in drooping clusters and female flowers in terminal spikes.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

Fruit is an oval husk, up to 2 inches in diameter and contains an edible nut.

Tree & Plant Care:

This species prefers rich, moist soils but can also tolerate drier sites.  It produces a chemical, juglone, which is toxic to many plants. It is difficult to transplant due a deep taproot. Due to susceptibility to butternut canker, butternuts are not recommended for planting in this region. 

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances:

Butternut canker is a serious problem of butternut, limiting its usefulness as a landscape tree.


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