My first internet encounter with Juglans nigra informed me that the native deciduous flowering tree falls in the hickory family. Also, Oregon has one specimen with a trunk girth of over eight feet. In contrast, I saw my first black walnut tree in Southern California circa 1944. Not a spectacular specimen, its stunted stature offered no nuts during my stay.
The English walnut, actually originating in Persia, didn't fare well when first brought to the North American continent, but thrived when grafted onto black walnut root stock. Such a grafting allowed the more genteel Persian/English variant to survive disease, root rot, and colder weather.
Additionally, 'our' black walnut possesses many virtues beyond its nut. Woodworking craftsmen prize the close grained hardwood with even the larger roots used for gun stock. The shell's skin easily converts into a dye. It is the very nut, however, that cooks find useful for baking, salads, garnish, ice-cream additive—whathaveyou . . . Moreover, even if high in unsaturated fat, it registers zilch cholesterol.
Regardless of the edible seed's usable attributes, I'd like to discuss the tree in its relationship to my squiring the land, rather than offering an encyclopedic compendium of one arboreal specimen. I've earlier mentioned my scurrying tree squirrel neighbors. So, years back I thought I'd do them a favor by broadcasting countless five gallon bucketfuls of nuts gathered from trees common in the north county. If you want to spend a lot of dead time watching an animal trying to break thru the hard casing, give a squirrel a black walnut and sit back and listen until its chiseling teeth penetrate the shell.
When I wrote an out-of-state lady friend about my feeding black walnuts to my rodentia buddies, she let me know she "loved black walnuts." (I’m not overly fond of their flavor straight from the shell.) Silly me, I thought it'd be no trouble at all to send her at least a half pound of cracked nuts. Yes, I boiled the nuts first and even put them into the freezer before smashing them with a hand held sledge hammer. It is not only problematical to expose the inner kernel, the nut portions within do not slip easily from the cracked shells. By my sixth effort, I decided to forego the shell smashing task and simply mailed my friend a bagful of whole nuts. She never asked for more.
Out of the thousands of black walnuts I broadcast about the land, only two sprouted and in the wrong spots. Nonetheless, the one transplanted from under my deck to a more open space has done well. Do I harvest any nuts from that tree? No. Turns out the squirrels have no patience in waiting for the nuts to fully mature and drop to the ground. Not only do they devour the garland flowers, they grab the green skinned 'fruit' and stash them somewhere. Admittedly, I've yet to see a squirrel bury a black walnut. No matter. For the nonce, I can toy with the notion that my Juglans nigra, a few centuries down the line, might take the girth record away from Oregon. Pleasant enough fantasy wouldn't you agree?
Our California oaks get sheaves of publicity and receive specific protections via city and county codes. I suggest that next Arbor Day we set about planting black walnut saplings to help them catch up to their more plentiful cousins.