Black Walnuts On My Mind

Here it is, Labor Day weekend in the Ozarks, and this morning I am found to be doing the very thing one would expect an Ozarker to be doing on a holiday weekend – surveying trees.  Not just any trees, but Black Walnut trees, which thrive in this part of the Ozarks.  The Black Walnut produces a nut that is used in cooking, and the shell and hull of the Black Walnut have commercial uses as well.  Every fall, Hammons Products Company sets up 250 collection stations across 12 states, where the Black Walnuts are purchased from the local collectors.  The following photograph shows a Black Walnut tree as it appeared in early August.

Black Walnut Tree

You will see from the photo above that the Black Walnut tree is not particularly distinct from a distance in the middle of summer.  They are easy to identify up close, but from far away they look much like many other trees that commonly grow here.  One of the things that I have noticed about the Black Walnut is that it is one of the last trees to leaf out in the spring, and it is the first of our local trees to drop it’s leaves at the end of summer.

The leaves are falling off the walnuts

The leaves that appear on the ground in the photo above are from a Black Walnut tree.  The picture was taken this morning, September 3.  No other trees in my area are shedding leaves yet, however there is a brown carpet of leaves below the Black Walnuts.  The leaves that remain on the tree itself have now turned either yellow or lime green.  So why, you may ask, do I care so much that the leaves of the Black Walnut are the first ones to change color and drop in the fall?  Because when the Walnut trees are the only ones in the forest that exhibit this coloration, they become easy to spot from a distance.  In fact, as the following photograph shows, the Black Walnut trees stand out like a beacon in the night, they are so distinct.

Changing color of leaves

Now that the Black Walnut trees are easy for a non-botanist like myself to identify from a distance, I can proceed to make the preparations that will facilitate a successful harvest of Black Walnuts from our property.  The first step is to map all of the Walnut trees on our property that are currently bearing nuts.  Regular readers of this blog might recall a previous post entitled If They Can Do It, So Can I, in which I introduced you to my “super-duper, multi-purpose, portable cartographic data collection machine”  (SDMPPCDCM).  Using this device, I can easily drive around the property locating the Black Walnut trees that now stand out like a sore thumb, and examine each tree to see whether or not it is bearing nuts this season.  The following photograph shows a Black Walnut tree that is currently loaded with walnuts.

Loaded with black walnuts

When I find a Black Walnut tree that has produced nuts, such as the tree above, I record the tree as a way-point in my GPS mapping system.  After pinpointing the coordinates of all the nut bearing trees, it is a simple matter to plot this data on a topographic map of the property.  The results are shown in the following screen capture from my mapping program.  The data layer that is selected below shows the results of this little exercise.  The location of all the nut bearing trees are clearly shown on the map (as blue way-points).

Nut bearing trees plotted on topographic map

I do not know how many Black Walnut trees we have on our property.  My best estimate is between 200-300 trees.  This season I located 94 Black Walnut trees that are bearing nuts in a prolific manner. 

Step two of the Black Walnut harvest will be for me to get out the tractor and bush-hog the areas surrounding all of the nut bearing trees.  The goal will be to ensure easy access to the trees by Jasper Smith, my octogenarian friend who collects the Black Walnuts from our ranch each fall.  You may recognize Jasper Smith as the same friend who also keeps and courses bees as an avocation (Jasper, and photos of a “bee tree hunt” can be found here).  Jasper is an amazing man with amazing stories.  I will save my comments about him for a future post, when he comes around to gather the fallen walnuts. which will be step three of the Black Walnut harvest here.  Stand by for future posts on the subject.

47 thoughts on “Black Walnuts On My Mind

  1. We had Black Walnut and English Walnut trees in our your yard in upstate California. My mom made a mean walnut cake.

  2. Wow. Cool Tech and Walnut Envy. We are at the extreme southern range for them. The UF campus 40 miles away has a few growing.

    When will they actually be ready for harvest?

  3. FC – The Hammons company has scheduled the collection stations to open on October 2nd, and they will remain open until November 6th. The going price 2 years ago was $10/cwt hulled, and last year was $14/cwt hulled. Hammons hasn’t announced a price for this season yet. They expect less production this year than last, but from the looks of our trees, we should have a banner year. We’ll soon see, and I’ll post the details, which should include some very sobering calculations.

  4. Being partially colorblind, I can’t use your method with success. Instead, I just look at the leaves from a distance. Black walnut leaves from a distance flip in a slight breeze causing the underneath lighter colored side to flip up briefly. An entire tree doing this gives it a distinct shimmering appearance from afar that is different from other trees. The walnut trees on my parent’s farm always used to be good for a hundred bucks for an enterprising young kid. Now that I’m older, I don’t take more than I shell for my own consumption. The rest is left for squirrels and possibly future black walnut trees.

    Have you ever tried planting the nuts and gotten them to grow? I’ve never had any success in doing so.

  5. Ed – we have never tried to grow any Black Walnuts, as we already have many growing around the house, and being as how they are pretty messy, we don’t want more in our yard. According to the North Dakota State University extension service, the nuts can be planted successfully after sub-freezing stratification occurs during the winter, as per the FAQ sheet in the following link:

  6. Ahh…. thanks for the link. I’ve never removed the outer husk so maybe that is the problem. Also, perhaps I should let them freeze above ground first. I always assumed that they would freeze six inches deep in soil but perhaps they freeze better on the surface.

    I wouldn’t plant a walnut in my yard either but I wouldn’t mind scattering more out elsewhere for the squirrels.

  7. Thanks for the great information. I was looking for just what you have here. I was trying to find out if Black Walnuts are the first to change color and that is exactly what you have said. The ones here in Staunton, VA, are starting to turn yellow and I have loads of brown ones all over my patio, and it seems to have happened overnight. Thanks again. Say, are you going to post again?

  8. Joy – Now that the 2007 crop is about ready, I’m pretty sure I’ll be updating this blog with the current year activities.

  9. my black walnut has not started to bloom, no leaves and it is the end of may, should i be worried?

  10. Nan – I would be concerned. As I sit at my keyboard typing this reply, I can look out my window and see that the black walnut trees have fully leafed out, and are already bearing walnuts the size of grapes.

  11. my girl and i just bought a house in buffalo/depew ny…and we have a walnut tree…at first i thought it waz a lemon/limetree cuz when i trimmed some of the branchez…they smelled like citris plus…the “walnut podz” do look like unripened limez/lemonz…but just yesterday we had some people over…and waz informed that it waz indeed a walnut tree…i love walnutz!!!!

  12. I hae a site which has 18 large black walnuts that are scheduled for demolition. Are they worth anything for their wood and who would I contact?The site is in the San Francisco Bay Area of Northern Calif.

  13. Terry – Mature black walnut timber is in high demand, and high quality walnut timber is a valuable and marketable resource. In California, harvesting of timber requires a Timber Harvesting Plan (THP) prepared by a Registered Professional Forester (RPF), as outlined here:

    A local California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection forest adviser can assist you with the details, and can be found through this listing:

  14. Hal,

    I enjoyed your comments about mapping and trees, and would like to do the same kind of thing for my neighborhood here in Indianapolis, where the variety of species is amazing. My question is about the difference between black and English walnut trees and nuts. A friend told me that black walnuts are not as tasty–thus not as worth collecting, hulling, and cracking–as English. But first I’ve got to learn what the difference is between them. Any ideas?

  15. It was great reading this bit of information on the black walnut trees. It’s Sept 23 and I am just out closing the pool and noticed that our black walnut tree is just loaded this year. some of the branches are under load which has never been the case up here in the Ottawa area. I have never tried harvesting the walnuts but jumped on the internet to see how to go about it. I just picked up a full 3 gallon bucket from what has fallen off and there are probably anothr 20 or so of these on the tree still. By the way this tree is still as green as it was a month ago. Fall is comming late in the great white North. I would aso like to try planting as I have very few of this type of tree and have about 10 acres which could use a tree of this type. I am still looking for info on harvesting the wallnuts but thought I would drop a note on this site. Thanks all for the info posted above.
    PS.. Black walnut trees are worth there weight in gold to avid woodworkers so if anyone is thinking of harvesting make sure you don;t get ripped off by some tree person who tells you they are worth nothing and will just cut and dispose of them for you.

  16. Where are you collection stations. I live in Troy Illinois. That is about 15 miles from St. Louis on Interstate 55/70. My neighbors and I have 20 trees and wow are they plentiful this year.

  17. Hal,
    I was coming home from work and decided to STOP on the road where I though was a nu tree dropping fruit.
    I picked up about 30 nuts in a yellowish green casing.
    I was not sure if they were edible or not. I took them home anyway and cleaned one fruit. I was not sure even after cleaning. I decided to crack this one open and when I did I knew it was a BLACK WALNUT.
    I became gratifies knowing that I knew what it was.
    Is there a way to treat this fruit?
    Should I let the outer skin rot off by itself? Should I attempt to clean them?
    When I squeezed one the juice in the outer shell was very acidic, staining my fingers and burnt a bit from a cuticle cut on my nail.
    I am on my way out to collect the rest of these sweet beauties.

  18. Hal,
    How should I clean these nuts. Just came back and picked what was on the ground I have about 50 pounds.
    They still all have the husk o them. Should I let them dry out naturaly or should I break the hull and scrap off the mush?
    I am not familiar with what to do.
    Thanks you can email me at the email address above.
    Thanks very much.

  19. Black Walnuts are incredibly hardy trees… The grow very well in gardens up in the Prairie provinces of Canada where in the winter it can go to -40F on occasion.
    In fact, black walnuts are not just hardy, there are some huge specimens in Winnipeg, Manitoba up to 60′ high.
    I live in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Black walnut (and Butternuts) grow perfectly fine here, although they are quite rare as people have just not planted them and they are unknown.. This fall, I found a mature one and it was loaded with fruits… The homeowner was so nice to let me have all I wanted as they were just a nuisance for him on his lawn. I gathered several hundred in early Oct., husked them (horrid job) and now have the nuts curing… I opened up a few early to see how much nutmeat was in them, and there was plenty. Imagine, Walnuts in Saskatchewan… Most of friends and family don’t believe it until I show them the tree and the nuts.

  20. Let the husks rot away – they kind of dissolve..the green husks are used by alt medicine to kill intestinal parasites i.e. Tapeworms black walnuts are not as good as english variety..

  21. I found a large Black Walnut tree on the ground after a large storm, can I cut it up for fire wood.

  22. Yes black walnut lumber is highly valuable. The price relies on the market and as well as the grade of the tree. I am a fourth generation logger and i belive that like anything a black walnut will only live so long untill it will turn rotten and eventually fall. But i have harvested and trasported these fine trees and would love to help anyone out and pay top dollar.

  23. Black walnut trees are worth anything from:
    18″ diameter – $1000 to 30″ diameter – $10,000

    It all comes down to the condition of the tree and the way it grew. Veneer logs are the most valuable… from about 24″ diameter.

    If in doubt find a forester you can trust. Take your time selling. There are many people about trying to buy them for nothing.

    Note that were you are makes a big difference to price.

  24. My grandson and I picked up some black walnuts this morning from a friend. We wanted to plant them but are not sure what we need to do to the nut before planting and how deep to plant. How long will it take them to sprout. tks JDP

  25. Hi !
    Your blog is very interesting.
    I am researching the use of walnut trees in and around napoleonic forts here in north Kent, England. I have discovered that they were planted particularly for the wood to be used in making muskets.
    Your descriptions of how to spot them will be included in my report: the early green-yellow colour, and the shimmering quality in the summer. Lovely.
    Thank you!

  26. I’m living here in Milan, Italy (from Seattle, Washington) and was out to see some friends in town last night. I got off the subway at Piazza Republica and stepped into a mess of black walnuts!!! I couldn’t believe my eyes. They’re unmistakable. So I googled them for kicks and found your web site. I’ll have to go back to the piazza to harvest some more and make some black walnut cookies.

    Happy eating!

  27. is black walnut a good type of fire wood? is it dense and hard so it burns at higher btu

  28. I have Two old and beautiful black walnut trees on my lawn; for the last five years I have been collecting over six bushels of nuts in August and September and to take in consideration that the squirrels eat almost as many. Two three years ago I pruned them and from the next spring the grew even faster, longer branches.

    In the winter I feed the frozen nuts to squirrels (I keep them in the garage).

    But I also wanted to see if I could plant and have more little trees, well
    I put along the property line about forty walnuts eight to ten inches into the ground evenly spaced next spring came nothing came out . The squirrels have a very strong appetite for them, they dug them all. one by one.

    I investigated a little more on internet (God Bless Internet) and the following year I dug a big whole ,two feet by two feet by two feet deep, put sawdust and sand and made layers of walnuts ,but around and over it a wall of chicken wire ,to prevent the little predators to steel my walnuts. Last year in the spring came about thirty little trees.
    I am so happy! Next year I will start to transplant them . By the way, they are messy to clean and hard to crack ,but the fruit is delicious.
    Buon appetito.


  29. God’s blessed you guys well, you are all so lucky, you get to experience all four seasons and grow a variety of plants. I live in the Bahamas, Nassau to be exact and while some islands have terrific soil for growing fruits and vegies, I can’t grow those plants that thrive in with the winter conditions and it’s so disappointing to be left out. Anyway I enjoyed reading the adventures and successful experiences you all had.


  30. I purchase a new home a year ago May. I have a huge walnut tree that looks like the black wallnut tree. The first year living here I cleaned up barrells of wallnuts and this year there were none. Is this normal? Do they produce wallnuts yearly? My home was built in 1910 and I do believe the tree is very old and does look healthy.

  31. Michelle,

    We have noticed this on occassion with several of our tree, as well, but I have not learned why this sometimes happens. Generally, our trees produce walnuts each year. Some years they are all very productive, while in other years the quantity of walnuts is substantially reduced. I haven’t been perceptive enough to correlate this to the weather, but I suspect it might be rain and/or temperature related.

  32. I have Two old and beautiful black walnut trees on my lawn but is impossible but i satisfied.

  33. Treeboy: Where might I find some Black Walnut trees in Winnipeg? I’m looking for rotten walnuts from which to make ink. Thanks. :C)

  34. Pilgramaflame – I’m located in the Ozarks, so I don’t have the slightest clue where you would find black walnut trees in Winnipeg. Perhaps you could try asking residents of Winnipeg 🙂

  35. I want to replace my old sugar maple which is diseased and rotting, will probally fall in next big storm with a Black Walnut. do i need two trees to pollinate it to produce walnuts or will one tree work fine?


  36. We have a large, old black walnut in our yard, that has not yet budded/bloomed. I really don’t remember when it usually does, but everything else is budding/blooming – in some cases up to a month early because of the mild winter. I am in eastern PA. Does anyone know if this is normal? I have not noticed any previous sign of disease, although perhaps early dropping (August?). Have heard about this canker disease moving east, so concerned. If it has to come down – a) will miss it enormously, b) will cost a fortune = it’s huge!


  37. Barbara – Our walnut trees have already leafed out as of April 22. We are in Northern Arkansas. You may have a problem tree on your hands :'(

  38. I’m in Connecticut and have 2 mature Black Walnut trees. This year I have an abundance of nuts – just this weekend I picked up 4 large wheelbarrows full ( 32 cubic feet) of them and the trees are still loaded with more.

    Does anyone know if there are any collection sites in the northeast? The closest I found was in the middle of Ohio.

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