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The Walnut

UK Garden Centre - Information about the Walnut tree

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Family Juglandaceae
Juglans regia

The Walnut is a handsome tree, growing to a height of forty to a hundred feet, with a bole fifteen to eighteen feet in circumference, and a huge spreading head. The bark is of a cool-grey colour, smooth when young, but as the tree matures deep longitudinal furrows form, and its becomes very rugged. The twisted branches take a direction more upward than horizontal, but in early summer they are almost completely hidden by the masses of large and handsome leaves of warm-green colour and spicy aroma.
The large leaves are formed after the fashion of the Ash-leaf – broken up into a variable number of lance-shaped leaflets with entire or slightly wavy margins.
The flowering of the Walnut is much on the plan of the Oak and the Hazel, the sexes being in different flowers, but borne by one tree; the males forming a long drooping catkin, the females being solitary, or a few grouped at the end of a shoot. The males consist of a calyx of five greenish scales, enclosing a large number of stamens. The calyx of the female closely invests the ovary, which has two or three fleshy stigmas. Flowering takes place in early spring, before the leaf-buds have burst.
The fruit is a plum-like drupe, only the enveloping green flesh becomes brown, and splitting irregularly, discloses the “stone”, which in this species takes the form of a hard but thin-shelled nut – the well-known Walnut, with its crinkled kernel of crisp, white flesh, from which a fine oil is obtained. The ripening of these nuts – which is accomplishes by the beginning of October – can only be relied upon in the southern half of Britain, and even there the crop is often spoiled by late frosts in spring.
Its chief value in Europe is as a fruit-tree, though the light but tough wood is much esteemed for the manufacture of furniture. Owing to its rapid growth, the grain is coarse, but the dark-brown colour is valued, especially as it is relieved by streaks and veins of lighter tints and black. It is easily worked, and bears a high polish.
The wood of young trees is white, gradually deepening to brown as maturity is approached. All the juices of the tree, whether from wood, bark, leaves or green fruit, are rich in the brown pigment to which the colour of the timber is due.
The combined lightness and toughness of the wood led to its adoption as the best material for making the stocks of guns and rifles. So great was the demand for this purpose, in the past, that large numbers of our finest Walnut trees were felled to provide the necessary timber. Some of these were doubtless the trees that were planted at Leatherhead in Surrey, also at Carshalton and Godstone in the same county, where the rambler may come across fine Walnut trees to this day, and occasionally find young ones growing wild in hedgerows and wastes.
The Walnut is a native of the Himalayas, Iran, Lebanon, and Asia Minor to Greece. The date of its introduction to Britain is usually set down as about the middle of the sixteenth century, but it was probably at least a century earlier, for it is recorded at the close of the sixteenth century, and described as a tree commonly to be seen in orchards, and in fields near the highways, where a very new importation was fully appreciated in Europe, in those early days, for its fruit, may be judged by the extent to which its cultivation was encouraged, and laws were enacted to preserve and increase the species, and those laws are inviolably observed to this day, for the extraordinary benefit the tree affords the inhabitants.


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