Juglans nigra is not the same as the English Walnut. These Black Walnuts are native (as opposed, I assume, to being from England) and they are somewhat less delicious from what I hear. I’ve never tried them but you can dry them out and eat them as a snack if you are like some super into it locavore foragers I know. There is a great how-to in the very pretty book Seeing Trees. I think that they use them to make dye too (I do not endorse eating unknown wild plants, obviously that can be risky, please make sure you know what you are getting yourself into).
It is an exciting time of year for the squirrels. They love these big old thangs that are just starting to ripen.
Squirrels like to bury them for later too, which often translates into a little baby tree appearing in the spring. It happens in my yard all the time and is actually kind of annoying. Gardeners keep an eye out and pluck those little buggers. You see Black Walnuts are pretty into having their own space. By not sharing they get more sunshine for their sweet chloroplasts to make energy out of and also more room for their baby trees. Their trick is that their roots produce a chemical called Juglone, and it can kill many species of plants who would otherwise happily grow in the vicinity of Black Walnut roots, stealing their sunshine.
In a beautiful example of evolution, lots of plants do grow under Black Walnut trees and are very tolerant of the Juglone as well as the Walnut’s standoffishness. It comes across as rude but tolerant species understand that really BW is just a little shy.
It should come as no surprise to you that many of the tolerant species are also from around these parts. Their tolerance is really a competitive advantage (And so is yours. You tell your gym teacher). The Black Walnut likes to keep the space open for itself but all that space is mighty nice if you can make a toxic environment work for you. Among the trees that live up to Tim Gunn’s trademark recipe for success is our old bud the Pawpaw! Check it out, these two are bffs from way back and are often found hanging out together in the wild with Little Paw filling in the understory and BW towering above.
This is the freaky brain case of the more familiar looking brown nut. They are really coming in now and are generally fully ripe in October.
In addition to having very conspicuous fruits (nuts- or to get nerdy about it “drupe-like fruits”) Black Walnuts have a few very fairly unique identifying features. Their “leaves” are really leaflets which make up the fluttery leaf growing off of the twigs. Although Ashes, Hickories, Locusts and a few others have leaflets on their leaves too, most will have 3-9 leaflets per leaf (or in the case of Locusts really little circular leaflets). The Walnut, I hope you can see above, has 13-23 long slender leaflets per leaf which is way more and translates to way longer leaves than most any tree you will find (Exceptions possibly my Dad’s fav the Butternut and farther south the Pecan).
If you want to get really into it and slice through a twig vertically for identification purposes, the Juglans nigra has unique chambered “pith”. Here is a rendering (red line not mine):
Smell you later!