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Claro walnut is a type of western hardwood from the deciduous Juglans hindsii tree of northern California. It is also called Hinds’ black walnut or northern California black walnut. Woodworkers value claro walnut for its colorful, mottled, swirling grain that resembles marble. This highly prized type of walnut is commonly used in high-end guitars and tabletops because of its unique appearance and blend of violet, red and blue tones. The wood also is popular for rifle stocks because it is especially strong, is attractive and tolerates gunfire recoil well.
Although its origins are debated, some people believe that John Bidwell, the founder of Chico, California, introduced this species of walnut tree to California when he obtained claro walnut seeds from Turkey and Greece for use as shade trees along roadways. Other sources say that he obtained seed from groves of trees growing naturally around the central and northern California areas. It is believed that American Indians planted claro walnut around their settlements, causing them to become widely scattered throughout parts of California.
Juglans hindsii was not called claro walnut until the 1960s, when the term was introduced to distinguish it from several other species of walnut. The word claro is a Spanish term meaning “bright” or “clear,” and it reflects the Hispanic influence in the region in which the tree grows. There is some confusion about which type of walnut is claro walnut, because Juglans hindsii has been used for generations as walnut orchard rootstock for grafting purposes.
The most prized pieces of claro walnut come from crotch pieces and pieces that have curly burl. Woodworkers like claro walnut because it works like other, more common walnuts, and it stains and finishes very well. Especially beautiful claro walnut slabs might be used for tables, cabinets and high-end furniture. Typically, claro walnut is dried approximately one season per inch (2.54 cm) and is frequently de-humidified in a kiln to get the moisture level down to 6-8 percent before working.
Trees range in height from 20-75 feet (about 6-23 meters), have a wide-spreading crown and produce an edible, round fruit. Although they are most common in northern California, some J. hindsii have been spotted as far north as Oregon. This tree's conservation status is endangered. This is because of the spread of urban areas and deforestation. Hybridization with Juglans regia also has threatened the J. hindsii population in areas where both types of trees grow.