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Butternut is very susceptible to butternut canker, a lethal disease. This disease, caused by an introduced fungus (Ophiognomonia clavigignenti-juglandacearum), has killed off many native stands of butternut. Butternut is not recommended for planting anywhere in its native range as the disease is found throughout that area. This species, also called white walnut, is a native tree found throughout the Midwest in moist, well-drained soils. The tree is related to black walnut and is also allelopathic. Butternut is prized for its wood. 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.

To find suitable replacements for this tree, go The Morton Arboretum’s tree and plant finder.  Before purchasing or planting, be sure to check for any local or state guidelines on any selected species, and ensure that this plant is suitable for its habitat by checking its attributes at mortonarb.org or plants.usda.gov.

  • 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

Highly susceptible to the following diseases and pests:

butternut canker

Size:

Butternut grows 40 to 60 feet tall and 30 to 50 feet wide.

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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