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Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Butternut Tree at Butternut Plaza in Kinnelon

[Butternut Tree in Winter 2008.]
Are you aware that we have, in our midst, a significant historic landmark? I'm referring to the Butternut Tree located at Butternut Plaza in Kinnelon, NJ - where Suburban Trends is located, at the corner of Kakeout and Kiel Avenue.

Our Butternut Tree is the oldest and largest known tree of its kind - species Juglans Cinerea also known as White Walnut - in New Jersey. It's native to North America ["from New Brunswick to North Dakota and south to Georgia and Arkansas; but not abundant below the latitude of Pennsylvania and Iowa"], but a scarce tree even within its range and becoming moreso. [For more information, see Agricultural handbook #271 and the section about Juglans Cinerea].

As you can read from the official placard below, the tree stands on the site of the 18th century Mead Farm.

Chapter 4 of Lucy A. Meyer's book Kinnelon: A History [available for reference from the Kinnelon Library and worth diving into] is dedicated to The Butternut Tree. From that chapter, I learned the following delicious details...

[Butternut Tree in Spring 2009.]
The Butternut Tree was scheduled for the chopping block [well, more likely the saw] when the Mead farmhouse and barn were torn down in 1972 to make way for the Kinnelon Mall. [Note: a Smoke Rise Blog readers who grew up in the area, but has since moved away, remembers when the barn still stood. He has offered to share some of his memories from those days.]

Lucy Meyer saved the tree, calling in state officials who 'judged' in 1976 that the tree was between 150 to 200 years old: on 11/5/1973, State Forrester Santiago Porcella III verified that the tree measured a circumference of 144", a height of 65 feet and a spread of 84 feet.

I knew nothing about Butternut Trees before reading Chapter 4. I'm stunned at what I learned and am willing to wager that many of you aren't aware that...

Native American Indians used the "crushed hulls as a depressant to catch fish." "They boiled nut meats until they released oil which solidified into butter" [hence the name] which was used for cooking and trading with the colonists.

The nuts were dried and used for food as well as for flour. They were often found in a mixture called "sappaen" with cornmeal mush or hominy.

The tree's sap was extracted and used as sugar.

During the Civil War, "the uniforms of Confederate soldiers were often made of homespun dyed with butternut hulls" [and the soldiers were referred to as butternuts].

The nuts were also used in baked goods and for pickling as a condiment for meats.

The wood itself is magnificent given that the tree is a member of the walnut family.

But, the tree also has medicinal properties as related by the botanist Dr. Barton. Early settlers treated dysentery with Butternut Tree bark whereas the Indians used it to treat rheumatism. During the American Revolution, it was used as a laxative. According to Dorland's Medical Dictionary, the green hulls were effective against fungus infections like ringworm.

Impressive, wouldn't you agree? I have renewed appreciation for our Butternut Tree.




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