Steve Farrington says black walnuts still cover his relative’s yard in Syracuse, but many of the trees came down earlier this month. 

“You got six down and they probably hauled away three to four,” he says, pointing at a stump.

Now, he’s wondering “who” hauled them away.

“Talked to my daughter, she said they came along and said that the trees were toxic and they were here to help her out and cut the trees down.”

According to Farrington’s daughter, she agreed to let someone cut down the trees after a Google search suggested the trees could be toxic. Besides, she says the men told her there would be no charge, so she didn’t think there was anything to lose.

“There’s not any toxicity to people. It’s one of the most delicious tasting nuts in the world,” says SUNY ESF Professor Don Leopold.

There’s a large black walnut tree on campus, not far from Leopold’s office. He’s not shy about grabbing one from the ground for a treat.

“The meat makes very good pesto. It’s one of the best substitutes for pine nuts. Really good pie,” he adds.

Leopold cautions that some plants, like tomatoes and potatoes, could be harmed by a chemical produced by black walnut trees called juglone. 

Also, some reports suggest horses have had bad reactions to bedding that contains shavings from the tree.

Not only is the meat of the nut tasty to many animals, the professor says the tree they come from is coveted.

“The wood is hard, but it’s got a beautiful color. It looks like a fudge brownie,” he says. “There are over 700 trees in North America and black walnut is the most valuable.”

In some cases, a single black walnut tree (without nails and staples) may be worth thousands of dollars, depending on the quality of the wood.

That’s why the story of a toxic tree just doesn’t add up for Captain James Boylan with the New York State Environmental Conservation Police.

“The only way a black walnut tree is going to hurt you is if it falls on you,” Boylan says.

He quickly met with Farrington and says there is no indication the trees on his relative’s property were diseased or dangerous.

“We have received one or two calls from the Syracuse Police Department about similar situations in the past, although it is more a situation where a tree disappears overnight, not necessarily where someone has been approached to have a tree removed,” Boylan adds. “We’ll make a determination as to what, if any, charges are appropriate to file in this case.”

Hoping to sort out more details on both sides of the case, Boylan says tips and similar complaints can be shared at 1-844-DEC-ECOS.

As the investigation moves forward, Farrington says he wants his neighbors across the city to call for a second opinion before they consider letting anyone cut down their trees.

“The thing I want people to know is that these people are out there and they’ve got some trees that are worth quite a bit of money and they should keep an eye out,” he says.