Neilson’s walnut a survivor in expanding city

Published 2:00 pm Wednesday, June 21, 2023

By Harold Brummett
Denmark Star Route

There is a black walnut tree behind Nelson’s department store. Every year I go there to gather some of the walnuts. The nuts fall in the dumpster, on the ground and into the street. 

A person needs gloves to gather them because the hulls will stain your hands, clothes or anything else it touches. 

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Removing the hull is a chore so the ones run over by a car are a particularly good find. No need to worry about the walnut itself, it is extremely hard and best opened with a hammer or a vice. The walnut shell is hard enough that it is used as an abrasive for sandblasting.  

Once home they are set outside and age. I like black walnut trees so many of them go into a plastic tub and are covered with mulch. In a year or so, they will emerge, and a year after that a home is found for them on the farm. 

One walnut tree I am particularly proud of came from the bird sanctuary north of Holly Springs. The sanctuary is set in an old plantation and this walnut tree is large, old, gnarled, and one can only guess its age. 

I gathered two or three of the walnuts from this tree and one sprouted. Planted with care, it is growing slowly (as they do) and no doubt will shade some future generation and the nut fall will bind up some future lawnmower. 

I worry about the walnut tree behind Neilsons. 

No doubt someday it will grow to be “in the way” or deemed dangerous in some manner. Of the slow growing hardwoods walnut and hickory nut are among the slowest growing, close-grained woods. 

One can only wonder how the walnut got started in town and how it escaped the blade. There are many fast growing ornamental trees around. The old neighborhoods have large old trees now.  

The new hospital planted lots of oak and other hardwoods, but nothing like walnuts, hickory or even pecan. (Than is pecan, not pee-can. A pee-can is something your father gave you to use in the back of the car on long trips.)  

My wife Angie told me recently about another forest mowed down for ‘progress’ as Oxford continues its never ending march outward.  She said she stopped her car and watched and listened to a hawk circling above the ruins of the woods calling out repeatedly to the woodpiles and dirt for a home or perhaps young ones that could not answer. 

Progress cannot be slowed I am told, the green of trees cannot stand up to the green of money. 

Angie and I have talked about perhaps some of these large projects could leave a little of the woods alone. Perhaps an untouched oasis in the middle of a sea of identical houses. Somewhere where a hawk might rest, or nest undisturbed. Somewhere where the wild could be at home too. 

As of 2021 Oxford has been designated for 25 years as a Tree City by the national Arbor Day Foundation. Lafayette County once had the designation as the Reforestation Capital of the World.  

A Proclamation in 1959 Oxford Mayor Pete McElreath, stated, “I hereby proclaim Oxford, the Reforestation Capital of the World.” In 1958 alone, Lafayette county landowners planted 6,480,000 pine seedlings. Pine doesn’t feed the wild like hardwoods though. 

The walnut tree hiding behind Neilson’s is a lone sentinel sending its progeny out to find their way among the concrete to some place they can grow. 

Besides the courthouse oaks, the walnut is the only real tree in the city center. It will be there only until found and thought of as out of place in town. A wild thing out of place, no doubt destined to be removed for nonconforming.  

Until then the squirrels and I will continue to gather, eat and bury the fare it provides. 

Write to Harold Brummett at