Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Nature Bulletin No. 167-A   October 31, 1964
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roberts Mann, Conservation Editor

This has been a fruitful year for the white oaks and our native walnuts. Following the first hard frost, the walnut trees dropped their leaves and many were discovered to be loaded with nuts dangling from their twigs, single and in clusters of two or three. Many more had dropped and lay upon the ground beneath. This winter the squirrels will be well fed. Each walnut is enclosed in a round thick pulpy juicy hull, light green and smooth on the outside, yellowish-green within. This hull is difficult to remove when green and leaves an indelible brown stain upon a person's skin, so that it is customary to gather the nuts and spread them upon an exposed flat surface, such as a shed roof, until the hull has become black and mushy. The nut within, almost spherical but slightly flattened, from 1 to 1-1/2 inches in diameter, has a very rough, thick hard shell. The kernel is very sweet and edible, with a rich oily flavor which makes it desirable for candies, ice cream and cakes.

There are three main groups of walnuts: the Persian, the East Asian and the American. The Persian, commonly called the English Walnut, is now grown in the United States, principally in California, and has been cultivated in many countries for centuries. It is of greater importance as a food crop than any other nut tree outside of the tropics. Its wood, too, has always been valued highly. The beautifully grained "Circassian Walnut" comes from this tree. North and South America seem to be more richly endowed with nut- bearing trees than any of the other continents. From South America we obtain the cashew and the Brazil nut, but there are larger finer relatives of the Brazil nut which we never see on the market, such as the macaw nuts, the cream nut, the Paradise nuts and the souri nuts. In the United States we have the chestnut, the beech, the hickories -- which include the pecan -- the oaks, the pinon pine of the western forests, and the walnuts.

Of the several species of native walnuts in North America, the most important is the Eastern Black Walnut, largest of them all and one of the noblest of all hardwoods. It grows throughout most of the United States east of the Rockies. It may live for centuries and, in the rich bottomlands of stream valleys, may grow to be 150 feet tall with a diameter from 4 to 6 feet. Its wood is rich dark brown in color, notable for its lasting qualities and freedom from warping or checking. In pioneer days, log cabins and even rail fences were built of black walnut. Its beauty of grain and ability to take a high polish have made it always a favorite for carving, interior finishing, furniture, pianos, caskets, and especially gunstocks. The demand for the latter in two world wars has resulted in a serious scarcity of trees of commercial size. A close relative of the black walnut is our White Walnut, also called the Butternut because of the richer buttery flavor of the kernel. It is a smaller, less common tree, with smoother, lighter colored bark, and its wood, though beautifully grained, is less durable than that of the black walnut. The nuts are about twice as long as they are wide, in a thin pulpy hull that is covered with a sticky fuzz when green. These hulls yield a yellowish-brown dye commonly used in pioneer days to dye clothing, uniforms, blankets, carpets and rugs.

The beauties of autumn mean nutting to boys and squirrels.

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