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A bonanza for birds! Butternut is a Black Walnut relative that offers valuable sustenance to birds. A host to over 130 species of moths and butterflies, that means one thing to birds: caterpillars! Packed with protein and fat, these succulent morsels serve as songbirds’ most important food source when raising their chicks. Sweet, tasty, energy-rich nuts in fall are relished, too—with some help. The shells are hard to break open. If you crack some open and put them in your birdfeeder, the chickadees, cardinals, titmice, nuthatches, grosbeaks, and sparrows will soon be by for a bite.
- Hardiness Zone: 3-7
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Butternut is native to most of the eastern states, from Minnesota to Maine in the North and from Arkansas to Georgia in the South. Once valued for its light, easily worked heartwood as well as the yellow-orange dye in its inner bark, this coveted tree was already overharvested when a devastating disease struck. Since at least the 1960s, a canker has killed large numbers of Butternut Trees, especially in the Midwest and New England. There is no cure for the disease, but researchers are working hard to find resistant trees. Grow a Butternut of your own and be a part of the effort to keep this noble native around!
Among the many, many moths that Butternut supports are some of our largest and most dramatic native insects. Its foliage feeds cecropia, io, luna, polyphemus, imperial, royal Walnut, and Walnut sphinx moths.
How to Grow
Butternut is native to both good and poor sites, but it does much better when given some love. Plant it in full sun, in deep, moist, fertile soil and irrigate regularly when rain doesn’t fall. It is a moderately slow grower, even under the best of circumstances. This species has a more northernly distribution than its close relative, the Black Walnut, and it is cold-hardy to 40 below zero. It also prefers more acidic soils. Before planting, check with your local extension office on the prevalence of Butternut canker in your area. This destructive disease is still an issue.
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