What’s Up, Butternut?

By Alice Waldhauer

Image by Valerie Zinger via Flickr Creative Commons
Image by Valerie Zinger via Flickr Creative Commons

Late in 2009, the City of Columbus planted 18 butternut (white walnut) saplings within and near Glen Echo Park as part of restoration efforts following sewer line work known as the Beulah Trunk Line Rehabilitation. The City planted many other trees too, but the butternut planting caught my attention because of the threatened status of that species, Juglans cinerea. The butternut tree was the subject of an article in Ravinia in the Fall 2010/Winter 2011 issue of our newsletter. Preparation of that article led me to contact Dr. Dale Bergdahl, then of the University of Vermont as he studied butternut trees, and problems associated with a devastating canker that has decimated over 80% of the population of butternut trees.

Since that time, I have been monitoring the butternut trees; periodically checking on them to see how they are faring in Glen Echo Ravine. As of 2015, each of the butternut trees within Glen Echo Park have succumbed to the vagaries of city living; either mowed down with turf grass or washed out during stormwater that surges through the Park with some regularity. But one of the butternut trees continues to thrive on private property east of the Park in a short segment of Glen Echo Ravine located between Silver Drive and the railroad tracks.

There have been some threats to the survival of this particular tree since 2009. In April 2013, I drove by the site on my way to deliver a few morel mushrooms to a friend near Glen Echo Ravine and noticed a water-line break just above the planting spot. This was a big break, with enough force to lift a manhole cover off of its mooring, and water gushed into an adjacent catch basin and also directly down the steep ravine slope. By the next morning, heavy equipment was mobilized to the site for repairs. Fortunately, the excavation barely missed the root system of this butternut tree, but it wasn’t known whether fill material used to cover the excavation area would bury the tree alive as it eroded and slumped down the ravine slope.

This sole remaining butternut tree is nearly tall enough to be seen from the freeway. During my last visit in September 2015, the tree was about 15 feet tall and foliage on spreading branches was green and vibrant due to a cool and wet summer. It may be another decade before the tree is old enough to bear nuts, and I hope to be there to sample some.