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The venerable Black WalnutPosted Friday, June 15, 2012, at 3:28 PM
For photo prints, go to www.stevenfoster.com/prints.html Photo by Steven Foster
The wood was exported to England as early as 1610. When colonists first started harvesting the tree it was abundant, but today through much of its natural range it is scarce where once common -- this the result of the American attitude that our fields and forests abound in nature's gifts, and resources are there for the taking. It is still common in the Ozarks.
The wood is the most well-known and easily recognized of American hardwoods. Black walnut is a rich dark brown with a hint of purple tint to it. It is heavy, hard, close-grained, and strong. It never warps or shrinks, doesn't splinter, and is very light in proportion to its strength. A cubic foot weighs better than 38 pounds. It is durable in contact with the soil, thus many stands of native walnuts were used for no better purpose than fence posts and rails during the early days of European settlement.
Few woods surpass the walnut's durability for this purpose. Posts are said to last for a quarter century or more. Many a privy and barn in the Appalachians were framed with walnut. Since it is immutable in contact with the soil, many walnut trees were transformed into railroad ties, too.
Through almost every war, the walnut tree has been sought as material for gun stocks. The strong, highly polished satiny wood feels good in the hands and has little jar or movement once fashioned into a gun stock.
As a material for furniture, it is considered one of the most elegant of woods and has been used extensively for tables, chairs, bedsteads, bureaus, bookshelves, and perhaps most important, veneer for furniture or room paneling.
In summarizing the value of the walnut, George B. Emerson wrote in his Trees and Shrubs of Massachusetts (1846):
"It thus unites almost all the qualities desirable in a tree -- beauty, grace, and richness of foliage in every period of its growth; bark and husks which may be employed in an important art; fruit valuable as food; wood unsurpassed in durability for use, or in elegance of ornament."
Steven Foster is a world renowned botanical photographer. He has published many books, including 2 for National Geographic
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