Butternut (Species at Risk)
Scientific name: Juglans cinerea
Cover photos credit: Tree: Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service; Leaf: Keith Kanoti; Bark: Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service; and Fruit: Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service.
“Endangered” means the species lives in the wild in Ontario but is facing imminent extinction or extirpation.
Date added to the Species at Risk in Ontario List
The Butternut was already assessed as endangered when the Endangered Species Act took effect in 2008. A reassessment in November 2017 confirmed this status.
What it looks like
Butternut is a medium-sized tree that can reach up to 30 m in height. It belongs to the walnut family and produces edible nuts in the fall. The bark of younger trees is grey and smooth, becoming ridged as it ages.
Butternut is easily recognized by its compound leaves, which are made up of 11 to 17 leaflets (each nine to 15 centimetres long) arranged in a feather-like pattern. The fruit is a large nut that contains a single seed surrounded by a light green, sticky, fuzzy husk.
Where it lives
In Ontario, Butternut usually grows alone or in small groups in deciduous forests. It prefers moist, well-drained soil and is often found along streams.
It is also found on well-drained gravel sites and rarely on dry rocky soil.
This species does not do well in the shade, and often grows in sunny openings and near forest edges.
Where it’s been found in Ontario
Butternut can be found throughout central and eastern North America. In Canada, Butternut occurs in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. In Ontario, this species is found throughout the southwest, north to the Bruce Peninsula, and south of the Canadian Shield.
What threatens it
Butternut Canker is a fungal disease that spreads quickly and can kill a tree within a few years. This fungus has already had a devastating impact on North American Butternut populations.
Surveys in eastern Ontario show that most trees are infected, and perhaps one-third have already been killed.
Some infected butternut trees live for many years. Experts hope this is an indication of resistance to the disease.
Action we are taking
Endangered species and their general habitat are automatically protected
A recovery strategy advises the ministry on ways to ensure healthy numbers of the species return to Ontario.
Read the executive summary (May 31, 2013)
Read the recovery strategy (May 31, 2013)
Government response statement
A government response statement outlines the actions the government intends to take or support to help recover the species.
Read the government response statement (March 14, 2014)
Review of progress
A review of progress made toward protecting and recovering a species is required no later than the time specified in the species’ government response statement, or not later than five years after the government response statement is published if no time is specified.
Read the report on progress towards the protection and recovery of 16 species at risk, including Butternut (Juglans cinerea) (2019).
General Habitat Protection - June 30, 2013
What you can do
Report a sighting
- The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry tracks species at risk such as the Butternut. Report a sighting of an endangered animal or plant to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations or mapping coordinates are always helpful.
- The Forest Gene Conservation Association is interested in learning where Butternuts are surviving the Butternut Canker disease. To report Butternut trees or for help getting trees assessed for Butternut Canker or finding seed and seedlings, contact the Ontario Woodlot Association or visit the Forest Gene Conservation Association.
- Volunteer with your local nature club or provincial park to participate in surveys or stewardship work focused on species at risk.
Be a good steward
- Private land owners have a very important role to play in species recovery. If you find Butternut on your land, you may be eligible for stewardship programs that support the protection and recovery of species at risk and their habitats.
- Invasive species seriously threaten many of Ontario’s species at risk. To learn what you can do to help reduce the threat of invasive species, visit:
- Contact the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry before removing any naturally-occurring (e.g., not planted by humans) Butternut tree of any age on your property, even if it is dead or dying.
- If you are planning to log your woodlot, a certified tree marker can help you select the trees to be removed to ensure the continued health of your forest.
- Consider removing trees that are shading Butternuts in order to help keep them strong and encourage seed production.
Report illegal activity
- Report any illegal activity related to plants and wildlife to
- Aboriginal people used Butternut medicinally to treat toothaches, injuries and digestive problems.
- There are about 13,000 Butternut in Ontario. Its scattered presence makes it difficult to do a complete inventory.