The Prolific Black Walnut

By: Marcy Barthelette

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. II Corinthians 12:8

Have you ever parked under a Black Walnut tree in October? If so, you may have learned the hard way that you shouldn’t do it again. There is a tree near us that produces walnuts the size of a small grapefruit. That’s, of course, with the husk still intact. Those nuts could certainly do some damage to your car, but so can the husks if left resting on the paint because they contain tannins that have been used for centuries in the making of dyes and ink. Their stains are very difficult to remove. If you attempt to hull the nuts by hand without protection, you’ll be looking at brown stains for a long while.

At this time of year, many people are gathering and selling the nuts or putting them aside for holiday baking, but many go to waste on our highways and walkways. They are not pleasant to drive or walk on and, once again, their stains run deep.

There’s one other aspect of the Black Walnut tree that has complicated my life as a gardener. A number of years ago we moved into a home with one in the yard. We didn’t even recognize it at first because there were so many vines and other small trees growing around it. And, of course, the base of the trunk was surrounded by rocks, an age-old Ozark custom that I’ve never understood.

But back to my story…as I settled in, I planted a number of annuals near the tree and they soon began to wither. A little research provided the reason. It seems that Black Walnut trees possess a substance called juglone that is highly toxic to many plants, particularly hybridized varieties that are not native to our area. The toxin is stored in several parts of the tree but is perhaps strongest in the roots. I’m sure I’ve mentioned that a tree’s root spread is roughly equal to the reach of its canopy. Therefore a Black Walnut tree can send toxins to an extent of perhaps fifty to one hundred feet in diameter or more, depending on its age and size. The key is to find a list of plants in your area that will tolerate juglone. They’re readily available online and you’ll find that the majority of the plants they mention are native. A little knowledge of the trees and plants in your yard goes a long way. Keep your fancy hybrids and annuals at a distance. They’ll be fine outside the radius of your Black Walnut.

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. II Corinthians 12:9a  

Don’t get me wrong, Black Walnut trees are certainly not all bad and if you happen to be a proponent of them, you may already be tuning me out. But just hang in with me for a bit. In addition to their role in the manufacture of dyes and ink, the Black Walnut trees of Missouri are highly prized for the beauty of their wood. They have been a staple in furniture building for generations. I have pieces that I treasure. If you’re a hunter you may have a rifle with a beautiful Missouri Black Walnut stock. Nearly all the walnut gun stocks that are manufactured are derived from Missouri trees. And certainly, many a grandfather has planted a grove of Black Walnut trees as a legacy for his grandchildren. Their value as a wood product is immense.

As to its edible attributes, parts of the tree have been used in medicinal preparations for generations. The nuts are an excellent source of antioxidants. They’re high in protein and low in carbs, most of which is fiber. And let us not overlook the omega-3 benefits. When it comes to taste, let’s just say you either love them or you don’t. They have a pungent taste that many people love to add to baked goods or just to nibble as a snack. As you can see, there are lots of good reasons to share your yard with a Black Walnut tree.

By now, once again, you’re wondering where I’m going with this. Well, you see, sometimes I can equate the Black Walnut tree and its various properties with the Holy Spirit trying to help me separate the good from the not-so-good. Just as I don’t like to see those messy walnuts everywhere I go and I certainly don’t like their taste, I sometimes don’t like what I hear from the Holy Spirit and He’s always around, whether I think I want Him at my side or not. When that annoying little voice says, “Don’t do that Marcy,” or “That’s not the right path just now,” or “You’re just being selfish,” I want to argue that I just want to have a little fun or I really want that new pair of shoes I don’t need or I want to go on a hike that is beyond my new capability. I know that the Spirit is right just like I know the Black Walnut tree offers many more positive traits than negative. Sometimes, however, in the moment I lean toward the bad and overlook the good. The Apostle Paul and I have a lot in common.

My power works best in weakness. II Corinthians 12: 9a (continued)

I suppose, when it’s all said and done, those mental wrestling matches with the Spirit make me stronger. Choosing good over evil is always the right path, but sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which. Just like certain plants must be kept at a safe distance from the Black Walnut tree, so must I stay a safe distance from things that will lead me away from God’s teachings. If I really needed something to eat, the nuts of the tree would provide a zesty and nutritious treat. In the meantime, the squirrels can have all they want. I’m quite willing to share. I can use the cut and dried lumber to create beautiful objects. The leaves of summer offer shade from the sun and a haven for birds to raise their young. Those are some of the good parts, but I have to steer clear of the toxins that lurk in the roots. Just as the Black Walnut tree is prolific in its manufacture of nuts and toxins, so is the Holy Spirit always ready with suggestions regarding our behaviors. In every facet of my life, I need to make use of positive opportunities and resources while turning away from anything toxic. And the best way to avoid toxins is to listen when the Holiest of Spirits speaks. He doesn’t steer me wrong.

So now I am glad to boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ can work through me…for when I am weak, then I am strong. II Corinthians 12:9-10 (Paraphrased)


One Response to “The Prolific Black Walnut”

  1. Linda Perkin says:

    Loved this as always. Picked a truckload of walnuts as a girl. And strayed from the holy Spirit. But always came back to my roots.

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