The Pecan Tree

by Nichola Tait

The pecan tree's scientific name is Carya illioensis. It is a native to North America. The pecan tree is a member of the walnut family and in the hickory group.

An important crop tree, it is grown for its fruit, the pecan nut, in orchards in the South and Southeast United States . Pecan trees are also useful as shade or ornamental trees. They grow well all over the South.

The pecan is the state tree of Texas. It was adopted by Texas in 1919.

Angiosperm or Gymnosperm

There are two main classes of trees. One is flowering plants bearing seeds inside of a fruit. The other is plants with unprotected seeds carried on cone scales.

The flowering trees are angiosperms. Those with naked seeds are gymnosperms. Angiosperms make up the largest class in the plant kingdom. They are successful because of their type of seed. A tough seed coat protects the seed and the stored food feeds the embryo until it is ready to grow on its own.

There are two branches of angiosperms: one with two seed leaves and one with one seed leaf. The pecan tree has two seed leaves. Most two seed leaf trees are called broadleaf trees and they lose their leaves each year.

The gymnosperm are divided into four groups. The biggest group is the conifers or cone-bearing trees. Most of these plants are evergreens. They keep their leaves during the winter.


The pecan nut was a major food source for the American Indians for thousands of years. Today, raising them is especially important to the South where orchards produce 250 millions pounds in an average year. Four-fifths of the pecan harvest is sold as shelled nuts.

The varieties recommnercial use are: Cheyenne, Sioux, Cape Fear, Caddo, Wichita, Choctaw, Pawnee, Maramac, Melroses, Desirable, Eliot and Western. Farmers choose varieties depending on their location and desired crop size. Varieties to avoid are Stuart, Mahan, Burkett and especially success. Success has a serious disease which is untreatable.

The nuts ripen from mid-September until December. They are harvested after they fall to the ground. Pecans vary in size, from 30 to 90 nuts per pound. No nuts are produced until trees are five or six years old. Pecans can last up to six months in their shells if refrigerated.

Pecan trees are used in landscaping because they are attractive and they provide shade. Their wood is brittle and has fewer uses than similar species. However pecan wood is valuable for flooring, furniture and paneling.

Physical Characteristics

Size: Tall with spreading branches, the pecan tree is the largest of the hickories. It maw grow to 180 feet high with a trunk diameter of 4-6 feet at the base.
Bark: The bark is pale gray or whitish brown, scaly, and deeply furrowed.
Twigs: The twigs are somewhat hairy.
Bud: The pecan tree has yellowish buds.
Leaves: leaves are in a group of 11 to 17 norrow, finely toothed leaflets with pointed ends in a pinnately compound arrangment.
Flower: Tiny pistillate flowers that hang down in tassels. The pollination occurs by the wind.
Fruit: The pecan nut is long and pointed with a thin shell.


State Trees by Sue Brandt; Franklin Watts, New York,1992; Page 52.

The World book Encyclopedia, 1993 Edition, Volume P; World Book, Inc., Chicago; Pages 225-226.

Growing Fruits, Berries and Nuts Southwest-Southeast by George McEachern; Gulf Publishing Co., Houston, 1990; Pages 65,66,71.

Trees Alive by Sarah Riedman; Lothrop, Lee & Sheperd Co., New York, 1974; Pages 24-27, 92-94.

Trees, A Golden Guide by Herbert S. Zim and Alexander Martin; Golden Press, New York, 1956; Pages 131,135.

A Field Guide to Wildflowers, Trees and Shrubs of Texas by Delena Tull and George Millers; Gulf Publishing Co., Houston; Pages 342-343.

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