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Black Walnut: A Beautiful Investment

Certain types of Black Walnut are often described as being among the most sought-after native hardwood trees in America.

In my opinion, "higher quality" Black Walnut will remain sought-after for a very long time to come, and is becoming more readily available, thanks largely to a dedicated team of geneticists at Perdue University More about them later. But first, let's take a look at the Black Walnut tree and what makes it so desirable.

Certainly you could argue that a mature Black Walnut is one of America's most beautiful trees with an impressive height and an attractive canopy. However, the main reason for the tree's exceptional reputation is the value of its wood to manufacturers of high quality furniture, paneling, flooring, architectural features, and so on.

Black Walnut is very much in demand in the high-end market, with words such as "grace, charm and purity" being used to describe the wood. And with the pressures on tropical rain forests, which have made supplies of the tropical hardwoods such as teak and mahogany difficult to sustain, Black Walnut continues to increase in value. In fact, if you've recently shopped for furniture, you've noticed that furniture made from Black Walnut costs twice to three times more than similar pieces made from oak or maple.

Now, in case you think you've accidentally stumbled into a column by Martha Stewart talking about the beauty of expensive furniture, let me assure you that this IS the Plant Man, and the value of wood is very definitely a matter of interest to anyone concerned with landscaping and land preservation! Think of it this way: If you are going to plant trees anyway, why not consider planting trees that are both beautiful and potentially very valuable in the future? This is the only way I know that you can - literally - watch your investment grow over the years.

But back to our heroes. The experts in forest genetics working at Purdue (IN) University, noticed a steady decrease in the quality of wood harvested from Black Walnut trees. One of the geneticists was quoted as saying, "We were practicing reverse genetic selection; cutting down the superior trees and leaving the inferior trees to propagate." In 1968 a research project began that continued until the new varieties were patented in 1979 and 1980, collecting grafts from superior trees and planting them in the University's own forest. Thanks to those grafts and the seedlings grown from the nuts of the grafts, Black Walnut trees are once again attaining the high quality that makes them so valuable.

How valuable? By the early 1990's, the price of wood from Black Walnut trees had increased 1,000% or more according to different sources. Of course, there is no guarantee that prices will continue to increase at the same rate. On the conservative side, assuming the value increases at a much slower rate than before, a single tree could be worth $5,000 to $7,500 when it is harvested in 30 or 35 years. So, if you planted your own mini-forest and 100 trees survived to healthy maturity, your investment could grow to... well, you do the math. Not a bad potential return when you consider the relatively low initial cost.

In my next column, I'll give you some advice on planting and caring for Black Walnuts to help you decide if these trees are right for you and your land.

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to [email protected] or mail to: Steve Jones, "The Plant Man", P.O. Box 686, McMinnville, TN 37111. For resources and additional information, including archived columns, visit www.landsteward.org

QUESTION: "I have a question about staking. One neighbor says I should stake my new tree. Another neighbor says I shouldn't. What's your opinion?" - David C.

ANSWER: This is an interesting question, and, as you've discovered, there are advocates both for and against staking. In my opinion, it all depends on the wind. If you live in an area where consistent high winds or strong gusts are the norm, it is a good idea to stake a young tree. But for the most part, I advise against it, particularly if the tree is in any way sheltered. The young tree learns to rely on the stake for its strength, and when the support is eventually removed, the weakened tree is more vulnerable to wind damage.

By the way, you can find all previous "Plant Man" columns archived at our website, along with some useful articles on plant care and landscaping, and comments and ideas from readers. I invite you to visit and to let me know if you have any questions, comments or suggestions!

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