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Beloved butternut has fallen on hard times

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by Sylvia C. Dodge

If you know of a healthy butternut tree, one that produces nuts, you are lucky.  For the past 50 years or so, the tree species has been in decline.

Few people today are familiar with the fresh citrus scent of the large nuts as they first fall from the trees, covered by a sticky green outer layer — or the taste of butternuts baked into cakes and breads, which people in their 80s and 90s remember with fondness.  The meat of the butternut has a taste similar to walnuts, and it is used after the nuts are dried and the outer layer turns brown.

In 1983, a University of Vermont professor named Dale Bergdahl officially identified the disease that is killing Vermont’s butternut trees.  Mr. Bergdahl is now an emeritus professor of forest pathology who still volunteers a lot of his time to the study of the trees.

The disease he identified is commonly known as “butternut canker.”  In scientific lingo the pathogen has a tongue-twister name — ophiognomonia clavigignenti juglandacearum.

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