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High chest of drawers
MFA# 32.227
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MFA# 1982.5


The deciduous butternut tree, or white walnut (Juglans cinerea), is found in the eastern half of North America from Canada to Alabama and west to the Mississippi River. Butternut timber is a soft, yellowish-gray with a coarse grain. It polishes well and has been used for carving, furniture, and interior millwork. The bark, root, leaf, and seed hulls of the butternut tree have been used for dyeing. With aluminum mordants, butternut hulls produce of colorfast brown on Wool and a grayish-green on Cotton. The colors can be darkened by the addition of Ferrous sulfate. Butternut dye was used for the Conferderate Army uniforms in the Civil War.

Synonyms and Related Terms

Juglans cinerea (white walnut); noyer blanc, noyer à beurre (Fr.)

Physical and Chemical Properties

  • Medium tree growing to 20 m with forked trunk and spreading branches.
  • Bark = light gray with shiny ridges in diamond pattern
  • Leaves = pinnate with 11 to 17 leaflets (5-10 cm) with serrated edges
  • Fruit = oblong yellow-green husk containing sweet, oily meat, matures in late summer.
  • Density = 24 ppcf

Additional Images

Resources and Citations

  • R.J. Adrosko, Natural Dyes in the United States, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, 1968
  • J. Thornton, "The Use of Dyes and Colored Varnishes in Wood Polychromy" in Painted Wood: History and Conservation, Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles, 1998.
  • Virginia Tech Dendrology website at www.fw.vt.edu/dendro/dendrology/main.htm (accessed Oct. 8, 2005)
  • G.S.Brady, Materials Handbook, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1971 Comment: p. 856
  • Ralph Mayer, A Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, 1969 (also 1945 printing)
  • Dictionary of Building Preservation, Ward Bucher, ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York City, 1996
  • Edward Reich, Carlton J. Siegler, Consumer Goods: How to Know and Use Them, American Book Company, New York City, 1937
  • CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, Robert Weast (ed.), CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, v. 61, 1980 Comment: density=24 ppcf (0.38 g/cm3)

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