Butternut favors low woodlands where it grows on sunny slopes and hillsides along streams in loamy, moist, well-draining soil. It is also found on calcareous soils on rocky slopes and terraces. Butternut can tolerate drought but will flounder in nutrient-poor, compact soil.
Butternut cannot tolerate competition from above, as the shade will soon kill it. It is often found as a party of one in woodlands where there is enough clear space to provide exposure to full sun through to maturity. The fight for light, water, nutrients, and space drives some plants to extremes to preserve themselves. In the case of Butternuts, they are allelopathic exuding a toxic chemical called jug lone, mainly concentrated in the roots, which will outcompete many juglone-sensitive species, including other Butternut saplings.
Butternut is seldom used as a landscape tree. This is likely due to a few factors. First, many do not want the nuts in their yard, which once they fall, become litter to someone who enjoys a manicured yard. Another is the landscaping limit imposed by juglone, as some plant species are juglone-sensitive, though this is a larger issue with Black Walnut, which, as Butternut’s big brother, does create juglone in higher concentrations.
Conservation/Diversity/Naturalization: This is a species of Special Concern in Wisconsin due to a decline in national and local populations caused by Butternut canker, which is often fatal. The best thing to do is to plant more and not disturb healthy individuals. If you are interested in native species and are concerned about whose numbers are dwindling, consider saving space on your property for a Butternut, a tree that holds value for so much wildlife. At Johnson’s Nursery, we select our nuts for propagating Butternut from trees that seem to be resistant to the canker, however; that doesn’t guarantee any immunity or resistance. Our hope is that land managers and people that go nuts for nut trees will continue to plant them and keep the species going. Often the trees will be of high wildlife value for 25 to 35 years before the canker can take its toll.