If you think that we at CVC are a little bit nutty, you’re right! In 1979, we partnered with the Society of Ontario Nut Growers to plant a nut-tree grove at the Island Lake Conservation Area. The project tested the ability of non-native nut trees to grow successfully in colder climates. While walnut, chestnut and hazelnut trees are familiar to Ontarians, several other species – such as the heartnut and northern pecan – are not native to Ontario. These species have been able to grow (and even thrive!) at Island Lake.
This nut grove has survived many hot summers and freezing winters. It includes black walnut, American and hybrid chestnuts, butternut, shagbark and shellbark hickories, hazelnut, filbert, heartnut and northern pecan. Sadly, the Persian walnuts did not survive Ontario’s winters, and many hazelnuts and filberts have succumbed to the eastern filbert blight.
If you’re wondering, black walnuts are indeed edible, though they require proper preparation. While sweet chestnuts are delicious, nuts from one of the most common varieties in Ontario, the horse chestnut, are no good for us non-squirrels to eat. Thankfully, the bur (husk) of the horse chestnut usually has blunted spikes, while the spikes on sweet chestnuts are usually sharp and spiky, so you can tell them apart. If you’re unsure, ask an expert or simply buy some from your local farmers’ market.
While the heartnut is native to Japan and the northern pecan is native to the mid-western United States, neither of these species is considered invasive in Ontario. While invasive species damage native ecosystems and spread quickly without intervention, non-native species get along fine with native ones. Most non-native species usually only reproduce with help from humans.
Visit Island Lake Conservation Area to see the grove for yourself.
And please do not harvest the nuts in the Conservation Area – some squirrels have already claimed them.