Black Walnut trees (Juglans nigra) are well-known as one of the most valuable species in North America. With a natural, dark brown heartwood, these trees are highly valued for the depth and color they can give high-end pieces of furniture and wood work. As such, a common question for timberland owners and those with a few black walnut trees on their property is how much these trees are worth. Generally, standing black walnut trees can fetch the owner between $1,000-$3,000 per MBF.
However, this is a complicated question with a lot of variability, and the answer depends not only on the size and quality of the tree, but what exactly one means by “value.” For example, in the table below, you can see various prices for black walnut trees by typical tree sizes and types in value:
Confused? No worries. In this article, we will explore all facets of valuation so you can have a better idea of what your black walnut trees are worth.
The Three Prices of Black Walnut
The question of how much black walnut trees are worth depends greatly on what one means by value. In the timber value chain, there are essentially three different tiers of value depending on how much value is added to the product. They are stumpage prices, log prices, and lumber prices.
Stumpage prices are the prices paid by a logger to a landowner for the right to harvest standing timber. This is what one would receive if they conducted a timber sale. Because it only values the tree as it is in its current state, it is the most fair way to value a standing black walnut tree, though it is also the lowest value of the three tiers. Even so, black walnut stumpage is one of the highest (if not the highest) rates for a species in the United States. Typical stumpage rates for black walnut range from $1,000-$3000 per MBF.
Of course, there are a lot of factors that can influence stumpage. If you want to learn more about stumpage and what affects it, we have an article on the subject here. If you want to know more about typical stumpage rates for your area, we have a collection of rates by state here (if the data is available).
Second on the timber value chain is the log price. This is the rate mills pay for cut logs delivered to their mill. Because it includes the value additions of the harvest and transport, it is higher than the stumpage value. Usually, it is about twice as much.
Log prices vary considerably depending on the quality of the log. Because black walnut is valued for its visual beauty, its form, defects, and even heartwood content are going to determine its value. That said, black walnut logs usually range from $2,000-$5,000 per MBF.
To get the most accurate prices for black walnut logs in your area, contact a local hardwood sawmill.
The third and most valuable tier of the black walnut value chain is lumber prices. These are the prices paid by consumers for milled black walnut lumber. However, because these are the prices paid for black walnut trees in their most finished and refined state (which, in the case of black walnut, might include steaming the boards), these prices are more representative of the potential value of a black walnut tree. That said, they may be of interest if you own a small, portable sawmill and are willing to harvest, mill, and market lumber yourself.
In most cases, however, lumber is milled by large, intermediated sawmills, who may sell lumber wholesale, which is a lower price than retail. This is particularly true for black walnut, which is a specialty prodyct exported all over the word. Supply chains for this species often have numerous middlemen before the final product reaches consumers.
That said, black walnut lumber often retails for around $13 a board foot or $13,000 per MBF!
Finding the Board Foot Volume and Value of a Black Walnut Tree
If you notice above, all prices of black walnut are denominated in “MBF,” which stands for “thousand board feet.” Board feet is essentially a measurement of how much lumber trees and logs are likely to yield, and it is a unit that is perhaps the largest determinant for how much black walnut trees are worth. To find the board foot volume of a standing tree, we have a table below that uses the number of usable logs and diameter (DBH).
To better and more effectively use this table, we have an entire article on the subject here. Be warned, however, that determining the board feet in black walnut trees is particularly difficult.
Black walnuts are notorious for their poor quality, and so stems that would otherwise be too poor-quality in other species are fine and usable on a black walnut. Even limbs can be used as logs if they meet certain criteria. With that in mind, understand that it can be easy to underestimate merchantability of black walnut, and the only way to know for sure how many board feet are in a tree is to cut it down and scale each log.
That said, using this chart can still give you a usable estimate of board foot volume, and often times, it can be beneficial to overestimate. Anything extra the tree yields is just a small bonus!
Value Depends on Quality
As with all hardwoods, how much black walnut trees are worth depends largely on the quality of the stem. Trees that are straighter and freer of defects like knots and twists are going to command a premium.
The highest grade black walnut logs, which includes stems both large in diameter and free of defects, is veneer. Black walnut veneer prices are significantly higher than sawlog prices, as a single 8-foot, 30-inch diameter veneer log can fetch around $1,400 in stumpage! The price for a similar 16-foot log is double. Black walnut veneer logs are fairly rare however, representing around 5% of a typical harvest, so while a few of your trees could qualify, it certainly is not the norm.
After veneer comes various grades of sawlogs used for regular lumber. These are graded from best to worst in terms of quality and priced accordingly.
The best quality black walnut trees are likely to come from a forest environment, where denser growing conditions have trained the stem to grow upward and prevented excessive branching.
The Unique Grading of Black Walnut
Because poor quality black walnut trees are so common given the nature of the tree, it is graded on an entirely different scale than any other hardwood–a much more forgiving scale. This leniency helps to satiate the market’s voracious appetite for these scarce trees by allowing more poor-quality material to be used as lumber. So if your walnut trees aren’t particularly pretty or have a lot of defect, don’t worry–they could still be valuable!
How Many Walnuts Does a Mature Black Walnut Produce?
Black Walnut Trees have another value beyond just timber: Walnuts. As crazy as it may sound, walnut trees do in fact produce walnuts. But what is a single black walnut tree worth in terms of its nut production? a mature tree will produce around 50-80 pounds of nuts annually. Assuming you were able to harvest and sell these walnuts, a single tree might produce $250 of nuts a year, though this doesn’t account for the headache of harvesting and selling the nuts.
How Much Is an Acre of Black Walnut Worth?
Pure stands of black walnut are almost non-existent, but they can exist. Moreover, due to the high demand for this species, there is increasing interest in starting black walnut plantations. Regardless of what the situation is (real or hypothetical), one may ask how much an acre of black walnut is worth.
As previously stated (it can never be said too many times) the answer will depend largely on the quantity of high-quality stems. Nevertheless, we can use volume tables to help estimate. Below is a chart you can use to estimate MBF per acre using basal area per acre and the number of usable logs.
If we were to make a conservative estimate and say that an acre had 80 square feet of basal area and 1.5 logs per tree on average, one could expect around 8.3 MBF, which works out to around $17,000 per acre in Stumpage value!
Its not hard to see why there is such high interest in growing high-quality black walnut trees.
Why Are Black Walnut Trees so Valuable?
Black Walnut is so valuable because of a handful of unique properties. First and foremost, of course, is its beautiful dark color, which adds great color to any piece. Second however, its its ease of use. Black walnut is a relatively easy wood to work with, which makes it excellent to use for the variety of applications for which it is valued. Finally, black walnut is a relatively rare tree. Despite having a huge range that encapsulates the vast majority of the eastern United States, black walnut makes up only 2% of hardwood forest cover, which is a shockingly small amount. All these factors create the conditions for an extremely valuable tree with markets all over the globe!
How to Sell Black Walnut Trees
If you have black walnut trees on your property, you might be curious as to how to sell them. The answer depends on exactly how many trees you have and where they are.
Because of black walnut’s relative rarity in the wild and popularity as a landscape tree, a lot of the black walnut in the United States is found on residential yards. Unfortunately, you probably won’t be able to sell these trees as such. Tree removal (especially near a residence) is a skilled endeavor that takes training, equipment, and especially insurance. No qualified individual is going to pay you to remove trees in your yard.
That doesn’t mean these trees are worthless, however. The only likely way one can sell these trees is to sell them in the form of logs, which means one must either pay someone else to cut them down or cut the trees down themselves and then find a buyer for the logs (often individuals with small sawmills). Only if the tree is in log form is it likely that one can sell these sorts of trees.
That said, there may be unique situations in the core of black walnut’s range where one can find outfits specialized in buying just these individual trees, but it is not the norm.
Black Walnut Timber
If, however, your black walnut trees are in a woodlot or otherwise forested parcel, it becomes a lot easier to sell them. In that situation, one must sell them as part of a normal timber sale and harvest. If you are interested in selling your timber, the first course of action is to contact a local forester, so they can visit your property, give recommendations, and guide you through the complicated process of a timber sale.
There is much to consider when selling timber, and it is easy to make mistakes. Working with a forester ensures not only that you get the most money for your wood, but it ensures your forest will be protected and productive for years to come.
How much black walnut trees are worth is of course dependent on all the factors we have mentioned so far, but it is ultimately dependent on… the market for black walnut, and those markets (along with all other markets) have been particularly volatile lately. As it stands, typical prices for black walnut are around 30% higher than where they were a year prior. That may not be true for long. It could go a lot lower. On the other hand, it could also go higher.
These moves can be unpredictable, so if you are managing your property for long-term timber production, it is important not to try and time the markets. Markets are unpredictable, but the growth of your forest is not. Focus on quality timber production instead. This is the best way to guarantee long-term reward.