Toxic Relationships

Very few can survive, let alone thrive, living in the vicinity of a toxic individual.  Many will succumb instantly, unable to co-exist even for a short time in a toxic environment.  Others make a go of it, only to perish slowly or merely limp along, never reaching their full potential living in the shadow of a toxic presence.

Those of us with black walnut trees need to find those plants who are co-dependent, who will not only put up with juglone (the toxin present in all parts of Juglans nigra) but who will thrive under its canopy, bringing the tree its slippers and laughing at its offensive jokes.

I got an email from Simeon in Ithaca, NY, who gardens under black walnuts and inquired about planting a Kousa dogwood beneath his trees.  Would C. kousa pack its bags after encountering a black walnut’s toxic personality or would it accept its adverse circumstances and become self-actualized anyway?

I wasn’t sure, but I did ask Simeon to send me a picture of the perennial border that he has planted under his walnut trees, and he kindly obliged:


As you can see, all sorts of hostas and ferns look completely at ease in the presence of juglone.


Simeon also highly recommends ‘Sunburst’ St John’s Wort (Hypericum frondosum ‘Sunburst’) as a plant that flourishes alongside black walnuts.  Thank you Simeon!

I find it both comforting and inspirational to find other souls who are committed to finding plants who tolerate the presence of black walnuts — messy, pernicious, beautiful, bountiful black walnuts. What? You’re too good for to live with one?  Oh, you don’t want to live with someone who drops bombs on your head and poisons your environment?  Get outta here, snowflake!

12 thoughts on “Toxic Relationships

  1. I have had a kousa dogwood under our mature black walnut for about 5 years now. We planted it about 8 feet from the base and so far all is well.

  2. I just love your posts. We have a little farmhouse in Nellysford and spend as much time away from Richmond as we can. We have the most magnificent black walnut in our back yard and about 20 outside the fenced area. It has been a real challenge learning from ZERO knowledge about BWs to planting things that actually live!! Thanks for the informational and amusing insights, Laura Baskervil

  3. Tried St Johns Wort a few years ago a little outside of the dripline and it promptly swooned. Maybe I will try again. Also curious, Hosta does pretty well for me, but does vary among cultivars, curious if anyone else has the same experience.

    • Weird about the St. John’s Wort. Just goes to show how difficult it is to predict what will thrive and how none of these lists of juglone tolerant/intolerant plants are definitive.

      I have many, many hostas and by far the most successful are the plain green ones, don’t even know the cultivar, some sort of “builder’s special” probably. I have had mixed successes with the fancy cultivars also. The ones that are chartreuse/golden never seem very robust, and the bluer ones have been a mixed bag also. I will say that all of my miniature hostas have done really well tucked along a fence in the shade (under bw canopy). I have ‘Blue Mouse Ears’, ‘Minuteman’, ‘Alakazam’ and ‘Praying Hands’.

      • I think I have the same builder. Greens do well. I have a few blue ones right under the walnuts that just wont quit. small ones do well. I tried a few of the mega hostas empress wu with disastrous results. Oddly enough Patriot which is a stalwart everywhere in my garden kind of languishes under the walnuts.

  4. I just found your post about BW and toxic relationships and loved it.
    I have a lovely large old BW in the very back of the yard and for the last ten years have been carefully planting hostas, solomon seal and various painted ferns to add light and color to that dark shaded space; then lo and behold last weekend went on canoe trip and came back to find the large tree across the back alley cut down (probably because of emerald ash borer) and found a large planted area under the walnut withered and burnt from the new found sunlight. Needless to say, I will move those withered plants to another shaded area, but now am searching for sun loving and BW loving plants to design in an island, surrounded by shade loving plants. Love any suggestions from folks. Yes, I am still devoted to that BW too.

  5. Thank you for commenting! I don’t have many sun-loving plants in my backyard, but I have a few that do well (some of them flop because they don’t get enough sun): purple coneflower, black-eyed susans, blackberry lilies, various daylilies, iris, and garden phlox. All very easy to grow!

  6. Does anyone know or could help me out with the answers to these questions re: the Black Walnut trees! How many feet or acres should I space new Black Walnut trees away from Citrus, Peaches, Pomegranates, Chestnut or Avocado Trees? I have these types of trees planted on one acre around my House! However I do have 100’s of acres to plant some Walnut Tree’s on open plains and valleys, or near Mix of Oak tree, Pine, Palmetto Trees, Dogwood, Bay, Magnolia and Pecan Trees (wind break) hammock lines! Where would you recommend I plant New BW trees? I have rolling hills and revines on open grasslands with Hammock tree lines all on the borders and edges of the open grass lands! Another question that would help me figure this out is–> How far reaching is the BW Tree for creating a toxic environment in the soil or air to certain plants or trees? If I had this last question answered it would help me to know where to place three trees! I also do have horses and sometimes cattle grazing, do I need to put a fence around these trees to protect the tree when it is young or to protect my farm animals from grazing on the leaves or bark?

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