When the subject is nuts and nut trees, almonds, macadamia, pecans, pistachios and walnuts, typically dominate the American conversation. Walnuts rank as the world's favorite nuts, given the fact that China, the world's most populous state, produces and consumes approximately one million metric tons every year. Butternuts (Juglans cinerea), another tree in the walnut family, grow heartily in the Eastern United States. Also called the white walnut, they grow smaller than the black walnuts and produces a yearly crop of thick shelled, buttery tasting nuts.
American tree nut preferences continue to change over time. The thirty three year graph presented above shows that between 1980 and 2014, the average American began shifting tree nut preferences to other tree nuts such as almonds, mixed nuts and pistachios.
The graph also shows an especially steep, upward sloping curve for almond and pistachio consumption in the post 2005 time frame. By over a two to one margin, Americans consume more almonds than any other tree nut. Currently pistachios cluster with walnuts and macadamias as Americans' second favorite tree nuts. Source: Noncitrus Fruits and Nuts 2014 Summary: Released July 17, 2015, by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Agricultural Statistics Board, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
As a group, nut trees also get touted as sturdy hardwoods, capable of anchoring the center or corner of almost any lawn. Coupled with a fruit tree, they offer shade as well as a balanced diet to local wildlife.
Nut bearing trees can be found in most areas of the United States, although with the exception of the pecan industry, commerical growing is very state specific. California accounts for almost all the almond, walnut and pistachio production. Oregon gets credit for the hazelnut production. Hawaii grows the Macadamia nuts.
The second chart shows the four states that account for apprximately 90% of all pecan sales. Over the past three years, Georgia produces between about 40% and 50% of that total. Depending on the yearly harvest conditions, New Mexico pecan growers come in at a close or distant second.
In addition to the popular trees like almonds and walnuts, many of the less commercial species also offer some compelling stories. Consider the following three.
Hazelnuts, genus Corylus, are nut producing trees and shrubs grown in many corners of the world. The Turkish Filbert (Corylus colurna), for example, is a tree that can grow up to fifty feet tall.
The Pacific Northwest produces ideal soil conditions for United States production, with most of the nut production coming from the smaller tree or shrub varieties.
The nuts are commonly called hazelnuts or filberts, and they are commercially marketed for coffee, cakes and other sweet treats.
In hybrid form, often shrubs, hazelnuts can adapt to many soil and climate conditions. This adaptability allows them to thrive through episodes of drought and flood.
The Black Walnut tree, one of six native walnut species, is a large native hardwood, known equally for the quality of its wood and the quality of its nuts, grows wild in the Midwest and East Coast.
A few trees were introduced into the Western United States, although no stocks are used for large scale commercial nut production.
Picture two shows a pair of immature Black Walnuts in a thick green casing. When they mature and fall from the tree they can still be a tough nut to crack.
Black Walnut trees grow well in temperate climates with moderate rain. Large trees also need ample soil, and Black Walnut trees prefer deep, well draining soil.
The Oregon Myrtle or California Bay Laurel (Umbellularia californica) (depending on the state of residence) is best known as a spice tree that produces bay leaves. Less known is the fact that it also produces edible nuts.
Picture three shows an immature green nut. When ripe, they can be peeled and roasted for a delicious snack.
The tress grow well in mild climates. They are adaptable to most soil types, however, they do need sun and good precipitation.
Most nut trees prefer acid neutral soils. However, different species also show preferences for either sandy or clay soils. Macadamia trees, for example, grow best in warm climates with healthy, well-draining (sandy) soil.
Homeowners interested in including a nut tree on the landscape should consult a local nursery for local growing conditions.
© 2008-2015 Patricia A. Michaels