Publication Details

Propagating figured wood in black walnut

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McKenna, James R.; Geyer, Wayne A.; Woeste, Keith E.; Cassens, Daniel L.

Year Published



Open Journal of Forestry. 05(05): 518-525.


Figured black walnut lumber is a specialty wood product that commands a high price for manufacturing fine furniture and interior paneling. Two common figured grain patterns occur in walnut; they are known as "fiddle-back" or "curly" grain, depending on the number of horizontal lines visible in the grain of the finished wood. The occurrence of figured walnut in nature is rare and unpredictable. Trees that have consistent figured patterns throughout the log are of exceptional value. Conversely, trees with partial or spotty figured patterns are considered defective and are reduced in value. Conventional breeding of seedlings, or cloning figured trees by grafting, are possible methods to propagate figured wood in walnut. The value of such material, however, will depend on figure being expressed predictably. For breeding to succeed, the trait of interest must be genetic and heritable. For clonal propagation to be effective, the trait must be reproduced true-to-type. In this study, we evaluate the grain pattern of both grafted and seedling walnut from several highly figured wild selections. Logs from grafted trees of three clones propagated in the 1970s in Kansas were evaluated. Only one log from one clone showed some figure in its lumber. Ten-year-old seedlings from the figured walnut clone "Lamb" were grown and cut in Indiana and evaluated for figured grain, and none showed any sign of figured grain developing. Our conclusion is that figured grain in black walnut does not propagate true-to-type through grafting or by growing open-pollinated seed. Although evidence of some genetic control of figure was found, environmental and other factors appear to play a greater role.


McKenna, James R.; Geyer, Wayne A.; Woeste, Keith E.; Cassens, Daniel L. 2015. Propagating figured wood in black walnut. Open Journal of Forestry. 05(05): 518-525.

Last updated on: July 14, 2015