It's a pleasure to encounter a new kind of native tree for the first time--one rooted in this continent's deep history, a new-old friend. I first heard of butternuts (Juglans cinerea) as a rare relative of the walnut that was becoming even more rare due to an imported canker disease.
An opportunity to finally see one came after meeting Bill Sachs--Princeton resident and editor of the Northern Nut Growers Association newsletter, The Nutshell--who is beginning a quiet campaign to find and nurture various kinds of native nut-bearing trees in town.
He recently recruited me as an extra pair of eyes to search for any companions to a butternut he had found in a private woodlot near Carnegie Lake. Butternuts have distinctive bark, with lots of long, flat "ski runs" zigzagging down the trunk. Red oaks have this feature as well, but the vertical plates are not nearly so dense.
We soon found a second tree, with many nuts beneath it. The nuts look like oblong walnuts. Whether these trees are pure butternuts or are the result of hybridization with Japanese walnuts will have to await genetic analysis.
Later in the search, we came upon a lovely overlook of Lake Carnegie, with rock bluffs populated by uncommon species. This photo shows bladdernut, whose seeds (not really nuts) can be found inside the "bladders." This is the third population of this native shrub that I've found in Princeton.
The rock bluffs have an ancient quality to them, as if the rock has been buckling slowly over the eons from its own weight.
Though we didn't find any more butternuts, Bill also identified a persimmon tree by its bark--a female with a few fruits still clinging to the branches.