I wouldn’t care much about the butternut. It’s just a tree, but it has a bunch of useful characteristics:
- It’s a walnut, so it has beautiful wood,
- its nuts are rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids,
- it will grow in Manitoba, and
- squirrels love the nuts.
and it’s in danger.
There’s this problem with the butternut. There’s a fungus about that’s lethal to all known butternut trees. The fungus spreads by spores, critters and rainfall. The numbers of mature butternut trees is falling so fast there’s a real danger of extinction, but we can do things to fight that:
- saving seeds from healthy trees to propagate the species,
- destroying trees too far gone to reproduce, and
- planting more trees.
Folks are looking for any butternut with immunity but so far none have been found except a few hybrid species. The old-fashioned butternut seems doomed.
Then, I had an idea. Saving seeds and monitoring the population and planting more trees might slow extinction down but won’t prevent it. My idea has a few prongs:
- plant trees in Manitoba where there aren’t a lot of butternuts and presumably not a lot of spores of the fungus…,
- grow trees in a conservatory with sterile environment and filtered air and no unprotected visitors, and
- plant butternuts in dispersed locations so that the rate of planting exceeds the rate of infections.
Logically, that could work. Some are already implementing some of this scheme. You can buy butternut seedlings if you are a landowner along the Assiniboine River in western Manitoba. If my theory is correct, those butternuts can survive because the fungus can’t get to them except very rarely. There’s a tree on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg and another on a residential street. If we plant butternuts every few miles in every direction we would have thousands…
Here are some places one can buy butternut seedlings and nuts: