How to Identify Walnut Trees

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That tree looks like it might be a walnut, but you are not entirely sure and there are no nuts on the ground to confirm your suspicions. Is there some way you can identify walnut--with or without nuts--in all seasons? Fortunately, like most trees, walnut (juglans species) offers clues to its identity that are easily recognized once you know what to look for.

Things You'll Need

  • Tree Field Guide
  • Look at the land around you. Walnuts grow in locations requiring adequate moisture, so it is a good bet you will find them in low lands near rivers and streams. It does not like to be wet, however. According to University of Minnesota Extension, the walnut grows best in soil that is at least 30 inches deep, fertile and moist, but well-drained. It is often found along streams where periodic flooding occurs in the dormant season, not where the soil is poorly drained or wet during the growing season or where flooding or ice damage is frequent.

  • Examine a leaf---even in fall or winter there should be leaves on the ground. Walnut leaves contain several smaller leaves on each stem and are about 2 feet long. They usually have from 15 to 23 leaflets. The leaflets are not parallel, but alternating from one side to the other.

  • Smell a crushed leaf. The smell of walnut is unmistakable.

  • Check for nuts on the tree or on the ground. They are hard to miss with their large green hulls---only slightly smaller than tennis balls. As they age, these husks turn black, shrink and fall away, leaving the smaller, rough black nut most people recognize.

  • Identify a walnut tree in winter by cutting into a twig and examining the pith. According to ostermiller.org, "This pith is chambered--somewhat like a honeycomb. Only black walnut and butternut, a close relative, have pith like this. Walnut pith is brown and butternut is buff colored."

  • Confirm identity by breaking off a piece of bark. It should be thick and have a nice chocolate brown color underneath. On the tree, walnut bark has deep furrows and rounded ridges.

Tips & Warnings

  • What can you do with a walnut tree? It has edible nuts; offers welcome shade; provides beautiful dark wood for cabinetry; the hulls from its nuts are used for polishing and mulch; and above everything, it is lovely to look at.

References

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