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Mystery plants: Black Walnut, Chinese Pistache and Sugar Maple

November 8, 2021 at 7:19 a.m.

Black Walnut – Juglans nigra is a very large tree at maturity, growing over 100 feet tall. This native tree has large compound leaves producing 11-17 leaflets, and produces huge fruits (nuts) –large yellowish green balls which contain the nut inside. They can be a hard nut to crack.

Many people harvest the nuts, put them in a sack in the driveway and run over them with their car to crack the outer husks to get to the nuts inside. They can also be damaging to people and structures below them as they drop. One person commented that they were lawn mower killers—they can be tough on a mower, and hard to walk around as well. The nuts have a unique taste to them.

The wood is valued for furniture making. The trees also secrete a substance known as Juglone, which can be toxic to some plants growing nearby—it can cause an allelopathic reaction. Not a great landscape tree.

Chinese pistache – Pistachia chinensis

is a small to mid-sized tree at maturity, growing 30-35 feet tall and almost as wide. This tree also produces compound leaves with 10-12 leaflets per leaf.

There are separate male and female trees. Female trees can produce small fruits

which turn a pinkish blue color in the fall. The birds love them. This tree has one of the best fall colors in our landscapes, turning brilliant shades of red and orange.

Sugar maple – Acer saccharum

is considered the gold standard in fall color. This native tree is slow growing but can reach heights of 60-75 feet tall.

Common varieties of this tree struggle in the heat and humidity of the south, and are typically not as large as they are up north.

There are new heat tolerant varieties which will fare better here and also some southern sugar maples – Acer barbatum, a much smaller tree at maturity. If you want to try a true Sugar Maple, Legacy is one that has a good track record as well as Green Mountain. Both are considered more heat tolerant.

Maples like moisture, but do not like heavy, poorly drained soils. In addition to its stunning fall foliage, the sugar maple is tapped all across the northern states and into Canada for maple syrup.

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