Walnut Tree in the WoodsWalking through the forest that covers a bit of familial-owned land, one might come across an orange flag here or an orange flag there — stuck in the ground.  Peeking thru  the low growing ground cover, one might find a single swamp white oak, perhaps a small grouping of them.  Wander over to another orange flag, and one might find a one to two foot tree with alternate and pinnately compound leaves.  Pinch a leaf between your fingers, and you might smell a very distinct odor, I equate the smell to soap.  This tree is a black walnut tree.  One of my favorite species of tree.  Here, on the familial-land, only three of the walnuts that were planted succeeded at making it through anthracnose in the late summer, early fall and then thru their first winter out-of-doors, and at a location that is technically much farther north than the northern edge of the black walnuts’ natural range.  These appear to be rather hardy trees.

In the fall of 2013, while traveling around and through southern Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri, I collected oak and walnut seeds.  There are many types of oak – bur oak, white oak, swamp white oak, pin oak, red oak, and others that are found in the upper midwest.  ce9c237a6e047cadc92679732e7e912e2b420dd1524e08f3061d95ae2a95bdf7_midThere is, however, just one species of walnut, the black walnut – Junglans nigra, found in the midwest.  I actually wrote about this collection effort from that time and a subsequent followup.  I kept records of where I collected seeds, when I collected seeds, the amount of time the seeds stratified, and how many seeds initially sprouted.

The walnut seeds and the various oak seeds, post stratification and vetting for viability, were plunked into seed starting pots in the garage and placed under a grow light.

Early in summer, the trees were moved from the garage to a space in the yard.  By the September 2014, much of the bright green foliage had blackened and fallen to the ground.  I had even contacted the University of Minnesota’s Extension Service about what might be causing the leaves to blacken and drop off.  Later, I determined, that it was most likely anthracnose.

It was unnerving to see those small trees that you had grown from seed turn black and die, but, I really was not interested in trees that would have to limped along.  I wanted trees that could hold their own.  Even though, when we brought a half dozen or so of the original 30 walnut seedlings to the familial-land, the seedlings looked simply like vertical sticks in pots of dirt, many of the stems showed small signs that leaves might form the next season.

_DSC8495 With that, last fall faded into winter, and with winter, the seedlings were buried under snow.  On occasion, while visiting the familial-land during the winter, I would think of the walnuts under the snow.  Mostly, however, I stuck to snowshoeing the frozen river that forms of the southern edge of the land.  The trees could wait until spring.

When spring arrived, it was clear that at least half of the walnut seedlings did not make it through the winter.  The stems had withered and dried up.  Two showed strong signs of leaf development, and the third was a coin toss.

It was not until late May or early June that it was apparent that we had three surviving walnut trees.  Three of thirty walnuts – a 10% survival rate of the seeds that germinated, a little over a 6% rate of all the seeds that were gathered.walnut_trees  There was an interesting property of the seedlings that made it through to this season: they were all from the same tree; one of our black walnut trees here in St. Paul.  None of the Iowa seeds or Missouri seeds, or even the seeds from southern Minnesota survived.  Those seeds grew quickly but seemed to have been hit quite hard by anthracnose.

We did not collect any seeds in St. Paul, last year.  We concentrated on collecting from the trees Hibbing, but, sadly, none of the three dozen seemingly viable seeds sprouted after stratification this spring.  In incredibly coincidental happenings, I spoke with my parents this evening and they informed me that a large grocery bag of walnut drupes was left hanging on their back fence.  It looks like seed collecting has started early this year.

Let’s hope those seedings that made it through last winter will have more seedlings to join them next year.

Common Name Scientific Name Location Obtained Planted Qnt Strat Days Marker
Black Walnut Junglans nigra Racine, MN 11/3/2013 3/20/2014 10 137 JNRA013
Black Walnut Junglans nigra Blue Earth, MN 11/3/2013 3/22/2014 9 139 JNBE013
White Oak Quercus alba Hastings, MN 10/13/2013 3/22/2014 18 160 QAHA013
Swamp White Oak Quercus bicolor Winona, MN 11/28/2013 3/22/2014 36 114 QBWI013
Red Oak Quercus rubra St. Paul, MN 10/25/2013 3/22/2014 1 148 QRSP013
Black Walnut Junglans nigra St. Paul, MN 10/1/2013 3/22/2014 10 172 JNSP013
Black Walnut Junglans nigra Iowa City, IA 10/5/2013 3/31/2014 9 177 JNIC013
Black Walnut Junglans nigra Eureka, MO 10/6/2013 3/31/2014 9 176 JNEU013
Bur Oak Quercus macrocarpa Rochester, MN 9/17/2013 4/1/2014 23 196 QMRO013
Honey Locust Gleditsia triacanthos Eureka, MO 10/6/2013 5/29/2014 8 190 GTEU013

Update: 8/16/2015

We made a day trip up to Hibbing and ventured out onto the familial-land while we were there.  Turns out, the title of this post should have been Four Trees, because we found one more surviving walnut tree tucked away in tall brush.