By Meredith MacKeen
Jack Lemaire, who grew up in the area has lived with butternuts all his life. He comments, ”Butternuts are disappearing. There used to be a lot but now even the young ones are having a hard time. The few that are left, are on private property, near the edge of the forest or in clear cut fields where they receive full sun. They are such beautiful trees. I miss seeing them.” Eighty percent of the butternut trees in Ontario have been documented as killed by the butternut canker and likely a similar percentage is applicable to Quebec. Jack reflects that about this time of year, he and his family gather butternuts. He recommends removing the shuck and drying them for about 60 days in the attic. “You can’t eat them when they are green, they’re too bitter, but once they are dry, crack the shell. Hard work, but well worth it. The nut inside is delicious, and stores well. It can be eaten as is and doesn’t need roasting. It is a wonderful addition to Christmas dinner.”
Butternuts (juglans cinerea or noyer cindré) have been suffering from butternut canker for at least 40 years. In 2002 they were designated endangered by the Committee on the status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), and in 2005 protected as part of the Species at Risk Act. Butternut canker, a fungus that creates a wound, appears as patches of long and sunken black blemishes. To date no butternut tree has been found resistant to the fungus and there is no cure. However, Canadian Forestry Services have identified strategies to promote the survival of the tree. They recommend keeping all butternut trees without cankers that have 50% or more living crown and removing any trees with 20% and more of the trunk’s circumference affected by the fungus or more than half the crown damaged. Pruning affected branches and cutting off trunk cankers can prolong the life of the tree.