Some readers of this column have been curious as to its title -- “Under the Butternut Tree.”
We have a very large butternut tree on our property – some even say a famous tree.
It was pictured in local newspapers several times, visited by the arbor society and children from Kings Highway School, and is registered with the state as one of the oldest and largest butternut trees in Pennsylvania.
Several years after we moved to Old Zionsville, , , put us in touch with a gentleman from the Pennsylvania State Bureau of Forestry who was looking for butternuts to plant throughout the state. He came and took what we estimated to be a couple thousand butternuts. When I spoke to him several years ago, he said some of the nuts grew into trees, which have been transplanted into areas across the state.
He also took a lot of measurements to approximate the age of the tree at 310 years old (+/- 25 years) – older than the United States. Most butternut trees live to be about 75 years old.
And our tree is huge, really huge! It has a drip line exceeding 100 feet. A drip line measures the farthest spread of a tree's branches from which rain drips off -- much like an umbrella. The girth, or circumference, of the trunk is over five feet and the height of the tree is approximately 65 feet.
Now you might be asking yourself, “What is a butternut?” “What do you do with them – thousands of them?”
Butternuts are actually a member of the walnut family and can be used for baking or eating as is. In order to crack the very hard inner shell and get to the meat, you’ll need a hammer, or, like some people do, to drive the car over a pile of nuts.
We have lots of squirrels who love to eat the nuts, or bury them all over the place. Our neighbors find baby trees every spring – in the yard, flower beds, the neighboring cemetery--everywhere!
If you ever see a butternut still in the green outer shell, do not pick it up unless you have gloves on. The nuts, approximately three inches long and six inches around, are very, very sticky and will turn your hands brown. The stickiness and brown color does not come off by washing– it has to wear off! We were told by the gentleman from the Bureau of Forestry that the Indians used the green shells to make brown dye. I have no doubt in that.
Come July, we cannot park cars under the tree at all. The nuts leave nice-sized dents in the metal, and you can even hear the THUD as it hits. My husband calls them mini-torpedoes. Sometimes, you can hear them as they fall through the air on the way down.
I have no idea how much longer the tree will remain – it may just outlive all of us.