The pecan is a large tree native to Texas that can reach a height of 130 feet. The pecan is in the walnut family and can be found in riparian bottomlands and irrigated uplands. The tree is used to provide good shade, but it is also well known for its tasty fruit.
Pecan was officially named the State Tree of Texas in 1919 (100 years ago!) by the Texas legislature.
The tree is found throughout the U.S., Mexico, and Asia, and some fossils date the species back 65 million years.
The crown of the tree is well rounded with a large trunk. Pecan bark is light gray to brown, rough, and irregular, with deep fissures and thick broken scales.
Pecan tree leaves are deciduous, alternate odd-pinnately compound, and 9 to 20 inches in length with up to 17 leaflets per leaf. The leaflets are oblong to lanceolate sickle-shaped with a pointed tip. Leaf margins are double-toothed and smell like pecans when crushed.
Male and female catkins form on the same tree. Male flowers are slender green catkins and female catkins are yellow-flowered and hairy.
Pecan fruits form in clusters of two to ten with thin 4-section husks that split open when the fruit is mature.
The pecan has been widely cultivated since 1846 and today there are more 500 named cultivars. Pecans are utilized for the nut crop and lumber. More than likely, everyone has enjoyed pecan pie or some other candy with pecans and perhaps had fine furniture made of pecan wood.
The Indian-name cultivars were all developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Brownwood, Texas. The largest tree on record is in Parker County, three miles north of downtown Weatherford.
A pecan tree usually does not bear fruit until it is 8 to 10 years of age. The fruit is utilized extensively by all kinds of wildlife, as well as domestic livestock. The trees can bear fruit for 300 years and are one of the most economically cultivated trees in Texas.
Editor’s note: Kent Ferguson, retired rangeland management specialist from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), is providing us with plant identification photo stories to help ranchers identify those forbs, forages and species growing in the pastures. Additional photos provided by USDA NRCS.
Pecan is excerpted from the October 2019 issue of The Cattleman magazine.
The Cattleman magazine is received monthly by TSCRA members as part of their membership in the organization.