Black Walnut named varieties


While percent kernel is important, the most important trait of all is total kernel produced per acre expressed in whatever ratio you choose such as pounds/acre or kilograms/hectare or pounds per square inch of tree trunk area. The problem with black walnut is that no variety to date has produced enough pounds/acre to be profitable for commercial production. With that said, the most consistently productive walnuts for me are Thomas, Neel #1, and Football meaning they produce the most pounds of kernel per acre on a regular basis. Varieties adapted further north are at an obvious disadvantage in this measure due to season length and temperature. Cranz nut size is small but the tree makes a lot of nuts and makes them just about every year. It is still less pounds of kernel per acre than the others. Cranz will mature nuts in Iowa and similar far northern climates where Thomas and Neel #1 would fail. Bowser is an example of a superb nut but the tree makes so few of them it is not worth growing.

Taste changes from year to year, but overall, Thomas wins for taste almost every time. McGinnis has an unusual flavor that is really good if harvested and cleaned promptly. The nuts I sent were not harvested promptly. I was not able to harvest until nearly a month after they fell from the trees. When black walnut stays in the husk too long, the nutmeat darkens and flavor suffers. Neel #1 is especially liable to darken under these conditions. If they had been promptly harvested and cleaned, Neel #1 would have been as good or slightly better than Thomas. This brings a critical trait into focus. Shell density determines how easily the husk pigments can penetrate to the kernel. Thomas is obviously denser than Neel #1. Put this down under the overall trait of kernel quality which can be affected by many other things such as leaf density and disease resistance of the tree.

Crackability is obviously important. Neel #1 and Thomas both fall short on this measure. I would love to have a walnut that cracks as easily as a pecan. The cracking and shelling process could be much simpler. It is worth noting that the method used determines how easy a walnut is to crack. I watched Wilbur Donoho crack some Stoker walnuts at the Kentucky Nut Growers meeting in 2005. He used the spur on one of Fred Blankenship’s crackers to split the nut in half on the suture line, then put each half in a specific position in the jaws of the cracker and popped the end off of the nut. Using this method, he got 100% perfect quarters. I might add that Stoker cracks the prettiest kernels I’ve ever seen in a walnut. It obviously does not darken the pellicle of the nutmeat like other black walnuts.

Some nuts fall free of the husk very easily where others are so firmly attached it is nearly impossible to get a clean nut. Thomas is one of the best I’ve seen with Emma K as the worst. You will find this mentioned in some of Bill Reid’s articles. In my opinion, this is not as important as other traits but should be considered in breeding efforts with black walnut. A high pressure water spray system can remove even the most recalcitrant husk. This trait is more important if low tech methods of husk removal are used. It rolls up under the trait of ease of harvest. I washed the Thomas and Neel #1 walnuts in a 5 gallon bucket using a shovel to stir. This does a fairly good job cleaning these two varieties. Farrington and Cranz were not washed.

Some nuts tend to shrivel as they dry. Football makes so many nuts some may not be filled very well so the kernel shrivels. This can be important to crackability since a shriveled kernel is loose and more easily removed from the shell.

Number of unfilled nuts is important. Surprise is a pretty good walnut overall, but it tends to produce about 10% pops. Thomas is at the other extreme almost never producing pops. Neel #1 is in the middle typically producing 2 or 3 percent pops in a given year. Tree care is important to this trait. Fertilizer applied during growth reduces the number of pops. Wider tree spacing has a similar effect.

  1. How much does a variety produce in kernel pounds/acre?
  2. How good does the kernel look and taste?
  3. How easy is it to crack
  4. How easy is it to harvest and husk?
  5. What percent kernel to shell ratio?
  6. How good is disease and pest resistance of the tree?
  7. What percent pops does it produce?


Excellent post. I hate to switch subjects after such great ideas. I have some of those Thomas Black Walnuts in the fridge for stratification. Do I need to keep them in some moist peat? Is there anything else I should consider?


Peat moss helps prevent fungal growth during stratification. Moisture is required to break dormancy. Cool temperatures are required to prevent early germination and to break dormancy. For walnuts and pecans, I stratify in damp peat moss in my refrigerator or in a hole in the ground covered with wire so the squirrels can’t get to them. I have about 10 pounds of pecans stratifying in the refrigerator.


I’m sure per acre yield is a hugely important metric for large-scale commercial growers, but for anyone that because of smaller scale or any other reason doesn’t have cost-effective access to large-scale cracking and processing equipment I think the metric that’s much more important than yield/acre is yield/hour. If you’re hand cracking nuts, how many hours are you going to find to do that? I think using some kind of manual nut cracker is the norm for the great majority of us on this forum. I almost always collect more nuts than I can find time to crack every winter, so greater yield per acre would be useless to me.

I’d really like to see a lbs/hour rating on all the leading varieties. It would be fairly easy to compile the data: give someone with a good amount of manual nut cracking experience a sample of each variety, then time how long it takes him to crack and pick each variety, and weigh the ready-to-eat result. Size and cracking traits and kernel-to-shell ratio would all factor in, but I think what really matters to most everyone hand cracking nuts is what it all adds up to in lbs/hour. In other words, the only reason I really care about size is because it presumably gives me more lbs of nut meat for my cracking efforts. And that’s likewise about the only reason I care about cracking traits or kernel-to-shell ratio. And I would favor compromises between size and crackability and kernel-to-shell ratio precisely according to the impact on lbs of nut meat/hour. In other words, either smaller size and better crackability or larger size and poorer crackability would be preferable precisely according to which resulted in the most lbs of nut meat per hour.

A time test like I’m suggesting seems quite feasible. One would just have to have access to enough nuts of most of the leading varieties. It would be nice to also time how long harvesting and husking take for each variety, but it presumably wouldn’t be feasible for the same person to collect all the different varieties (not unless the person cracking the nuts had all the different varieties on his own property.)

How hard would it be to source a peck of husked, in-shell walnuts of 10 or 20 of the best varieties? What would a fair price be for about 100 total lbs (in-shell weight) of nuts from the best grafted varieties?


I’ve noticed the same. Is a shriveled kernel just as good to eat, though? Given a choice, I definitely wouldn’t want pecans that hadn’t filled well, but with black walnuts maybe somewhat shriveled kernels would be just as good for eating and even better for the easy of cracking. I’ve eaten some very shriveled black walnut kernels that were kind of chewy that I enjoyed possibly even more than regular kernels.


I have had some walnuts with shriveled kernels - including football - that were acceptable and would pass in the market. The best flavored walnut I’ve had that was also slightly shriveled was the Grandview #2 that Fred Blankenship sent to me a few days ago. Otherwise, I would always go for the better filled nut.

I would rate Bowser as an excellent flavored and good cracking walnut. If I applied your standard of high rating ease of cracking, Bowser would be near the top. It produces a couple of gallons of nuts yearly on an 18 year old tree. I can’t agree that ease of cracking is the most important trait. Production has to be more valuable. For two trees with similar production, the one that is easier to shell would have significantly higher value.

Have you looked at the Nebraska Nutgrowers schedule for evaluating walnuts?

The way they evaluate crackability is to determine if there is a special method required for a given variety. Then applying that method, to weigh and crack a sample. Separate out the free quarters and weigh them. Re-crack and remove the rest of the kernels and weigh them. Weigh the total kernels and calculate percentages including percent 1st crack and total percent kernel.

I’ll make it more interesting by providing this list of traits that I evaluate. It is much more detailed than anything posed so far.

Tree ID
Tree Age
Tree CirBH
Tree DBH
Anthracnose Tolerance
Disease Resistance
Insect Tolerance
Bearing Type
Nuts per Cluster
Lbs nuts per tree
Sample Weight
Kernel Weight
% 1st Crack
Number Sealed
Appear Number
Usable Number
Gms 1st Crack
Gms 2nd Crack
Number 1/4ths
Time to crack
premium color gms
second color gms
unsalable color gms
Premium Shrivel gms
Second Shrivel gms
Unsalable Shrivel gms
Premium Taste gms
Second Taste gms
Unsalable Taste gms
Size Grade
Seal Grade
Appear Grade
Useable Grade
Separ Grade
Piece Grade
Size Grade
Total Grade
Kernel wt/nut
percent Kernel
Nut Score
Total Kernal
Recovered Kernal
net$ per tree


I collected scionwood from my black walnuts today. Here is what I have available. Please message me if you want some. I will ship sometime in the next month.

Emma K
Hay #1 aka Thomas Myers
Hay Seedling
Kwik Krop
Neel #1
Ohio (Baker source)
Sauber #1 (from Bill Lane)


I was going through files on my computer and found one that might be of interest. I put together a spreadsheet in 1999 after calling several people who grow black walnuts. Here were their suggestions.

imageCyril Bish Billie Hanson Bill Lane Wes Rice
Emma K S127 Emma K Brown nugget
Sauber #1 Eldora Sparrow Rupert
Hay #1 Cranz Surprise Ogden
Surprise Hay#1 Kwik Krop Surprise
S127 kwik krop Thomas Football II
S129 Surprise Sauber #1 Hare
Mcginnis S147 Daniels Bowser
Rowher Bowser Football Harney
Sparrow Sauber#1 . .
S147 . W.Donoho Fred Blankenship
Ogden Gerald Gardner Neel #1 Neel #1
Davidson Sparrow Hay #1 Pounds #2
Farrington Emma K Vandersloot .
Ohio Surprise . .
. . . .
Richard Goldner B. Sparks William Reid
Bowser S129 Kwik Krop
Wiard S147 Mintle
Elmer Myers S127 Surprise
Emma K Davidson Sparrow
Sparrow Eldora McGinnis
Cranz Rupert
Hay#1 Davidson


I have Pounds #2 and S127 scionwood collected today. I also collected a few sticks of Redneck which is a walnut I found growing on the side of the road between Cullman and Moulton Alabama. It is unusual for good flavored walnuts though only 22% kernel. It is a very good rootstock for this area because it can grow rapidly in red clay soils.


Ordered and received 3 nice Thomas scions. Each about 12 inches long.
Looking for best source of seedlings.(need 3). My seeds I generously received from @Fusion_power won’t be ready to graft on for at least 2 years I imagine?


This is where I go when I’m in a pinch and can’t buy inexpensive seedlings from a State Nursery. They sell great stock.



Perfect. Thanks!


Some of my Thomas seeds received from @Fusion_power have begun to sprout! Pretty excited about that. I have them in greenhouse along with 4 recently bench grafted “Thomas” on native rootstock. Buds haven’t emerged yet. Tracking full sun @Barkslip as soon as they start. Thanks!


Let us know how they do, Zack. I’ve never grafted nut trees unless they have plumped up buds or weeks past where foliage is coming on.



Will do. I am cautiously optimistic. Fingers crossed,


My rootstock is waking up. I have been inundated with various tasks and have not had the opportunity to pot these yet. I will probably “bench graft” and pot the few that are waking this weekend.


Darrel, I have a rough idea where some of the people live whose black walnut variety recommendations you gave us, but do you know and could you tell us what state each of those people lives in (and maybe for states that span multiple growing zones whether, for example, it’s south, central, or north Alabama, if you know that, too.) Would you be inclined to especially follow the recommendations of growers with the most similar growing conditions, or do you think other factors have more to do with the differences between the recommendations?


Cyril Bish - Nebraska
Billie Hanson - Iowa
Wes Rice - Oklahoma
Gerald Gardner - Sarcoxie Missouri
Bill lane - not sure
Richard Goldner - New York?
Brian sparks - Iowa
William Reid (Missouri/Kansas)
Fred Blankenship - Kentucky
Wilbur Donoho - Kentucky

The best advice will come from people who are in climates similar to yours. Unfortunately, I found that most of the recommendations were based on growing too few varieties therefore the “best” from a given person was usually biased because it was just the “best” they had grown.

After filtering through all the guff and growing about 35 varieties, I can say that Thomas, Neel #1, and Farrington are the most reliable and productive in my climate and with my soil conditions. Other than that, I rely a great deal on Fred Blankenship’s information and on the information I got from Gerald Gardner. That said, there is nothing like seeing first hand for yourself. I visited Gerald Gardner about 2002 and helped harvest his walnuts. I saw first hand the low productivity of Bowser, excellent production from Surprise but with a lot of blanks, and high production from Farrington. I saw Gerald cut a tree down because it was not true to type of Stabler which was supposedly what he had grafted but the nuts were not right. So a big suggestion would be to visit someone who has a 20 or more year old planting of walnuts and do some first hand investigation.


Are the Archie Spark’s selections dual purpose trees, both timber and nuts. Also, which of the Spark’s cultivars show good anthracnose resistance? I received one scion of several of these selections from Richard Fahey. The grafts are doing well. Potential customers are wanting black walnut trees for both timber and some nuts.


They can be grown for timber but require some pruning. S127 goes dormant a few weeks early so it is not well adapted to a deep south climate. S147 has more branching and not as easy to prune to timber form. S129 is arguably the best overall for timber of those commonly listed. I have one that Archie gave to Fred Blankenship that is a “Hay Seedling”. It is a decent and fast growing timber and nut producing tree in North Alabama. I think I still have some scionwood in the fridge if you need it.

I also have Purdue #1 which is specifically selected for timber growth habit. It is best adapted to the region from Kentucky to Michigan. I don’t have scionwood of Purdue #1 but could get you some buds for greenwood grafting in a month so.