It is said that James Hogg, once the Governor of Texas, was especially fond of pecan trees. In fact, he loved them so much that he requested one to be planted at the site of his grave. This inspired state legislatures so much, that in 1919 they made the pecan tree the official state tree of Texas. Here, we’ll discover more about why the pecan tree is important to Texas and other parts of the US.
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What Does The Pecan Tree Mean To Texas?
As we’ve learned, Texas Governor James Hogg was responsible for the inspiration behind making the humble pecan tree the official state tree of Texas.
It’s not difficult to understand Mr. Hogg’s fascination with these majestic trees. They are part of the Walnut family and are a type of Hickory.
Pecan trees have been known to grow to 150 feet plus in height, and the native trees found in Texas are more than 150 years of age, some with a trunk diameter over three feet, so pretty darn huge!
Pecan nuts are widely grown in Texas, second only to Georgia. The vast orchards now use hybrid varieties that produce a superior nut that is large and meaty with a creamy texture and delicious taste.
Pecan trees aren’t only the tree of Texas, Pecan Pie is the pie of Texas too!
In this video, you can see how to make a traditional Texas Pecan Pie:
Are Pecan Trees Native To Texas?
Pecan trees are native to Texas, and there is historical evidence dating back to the 16th century.
It’s the only nut tree that is so widely grown for commercial purposes in North America and is considered to be a valuable commodity.
The tree’s name, “Pecan,” comes from a Native American word meaning “a nut that requires a stone to crack” and is taken from the language of the Algonquins tribe who were located on the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers.
Pecans were a staple food for many Native Americans, particularly in winter. They were popular because the trees often grew close to waterways, making them easy to harvest and transport. But they were also relatively easy to shell, are versatile, and, of course, had a delicious taste.
Of the hundreds of pecan varieties, many are known by Native American names, including Sioux, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Choctaw, or Creek.
Famous early promoters of the pecan include the former US Presidents Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. It is documented that Jefferson shared both nuts and seedlings with Washington, and they both grew the trees on their home properties.
It is also documented that pecans were carried back by Union soldiers at the end of the Civil War, which further helped spread the trees, and love of the nuts, throughout North America.
What Is The Pecan Tree Known For?
Pecan trees are mainly cultivated commercially for their seeds which we call nuts. Like other trees from the hickory genus, the seeds are not really nuts but, in fact, drupes which means they are a fruit that has a single stone surrounded by a husk.
The wood from pecan trees can also be used as lumbar for making furniture and other items or to make beautiful veneers.
Pecan wood is unusual in that it can be many different colors ranging from pale to dark. It can be totally clean and clear of defects or feature a lot of attractive figuring.
As a hardwood, it is useful for making a wide range of furniture, from tables and cabinetry to small items such as tool handles, sporting goods, and even the rungs for ladders. It is also lovely as flooring.
Although the wood is resilient and tough, it’s only moderately heavy when compared to other types of actual hickory wood, which generally weigh 51 pounds a cubic foot. In comparison, pecan is closer to 46 pounds a cubic foot. This makes it easier to work with for a wide range of projects.
Another use for pecan husks is making dyes. Pecan husks, as well as all other Hickory and Walnut trees, contain a substance called Naphthoquinone. This produces very stable yellow and brown dyes.
The type of naphthoquinone is called Juglone which is toxic to many types of plants. This is why only a few plant species can grow around walnut trees. The reason the trees contain Juglone is to purposefully stunt the growth of other trees growing around them, so they don’t compete for light and nutrients.
Juglone is a great natural dye and can be used for fabrics and even printing. Beautiful fabric prints can be made by using the leaves of the trees laid out on natural fabrics, which readily take up the dye.
Pecan wood is great for smoking meats and fish. It imparts a nutty, sweet flavor that is more potent than found with other fruit wood.
Commercial pecan growth did not begin until the 1880s, and they were grown in warmer climates, enjoying long, hot, and humid summers. The trees will thrive in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9, and the nuts are typically harvested in mid-October.
The most difficult part about growing pecan trees is the requirement of two or more different cultivars to be present in close surroundings for them to cross-pollinate with each other.
Can You Cut Down Pecan Trees In Texas?
In Texas, you are not required to get a permit to cut down trees on your own land. However, legislation can always change, and it is wise to check before getting out your chainsaw!
The law is different for commercial entities, and a building company will usually require permission to cut down Pecan trees when clearing land for construction purposes.
It is also illegal to pick pecans from a tree that doesn’t belong to you without the owner’s permission. You may collect fallen pecans from the ground, but touching the tree in any way to remove the pecans is forbidden.
Where Is The Pecan Capital Of The World?
The United States is responsible for growing the majority of the world’s pecan nuts on average between 200 – 300 million tons per year.
Pecans were grown for the sale of their nuts as early as the 18th century, a tradition that seems set to continue well into the future.
Georgia is the state growing the most pecans in the US, and in 2020, 142 million pounds were produced. New Mexico was in second place with 77 million pounds. Texas also grows a large percentage of the annual figures.
For the 1996 Summer Olympic Games held in Atlanta, Georgia, the Olympic committee ruled that pecan wood should be used to make the handle section for the Olympic flame torches. These torches traveled from Athens in Greece to the US and were carried around the entire country in a long relay.
San Saba which is located around two hours to the northwest of Austin in Texas is called “The Pecan Capital of the World.”
This is not because they have the most trees or grow the most nuts but because a resident – Edmund E. Risien, was responsible for planting a commercial pecan nursery where he carried out many experiments to improve output, including tests on grafting, budding, and pollination.
The city is tiny, with a population of just over 3,000 residents, yet it still produces approximately 28 million pounds of pecans each year.
One of the largest producers of pecans worldwide is located 10 minutes to the south of Las Cruces. In 1932 Stahmann Farms planted 4,000 acres of pecan trees and had somewhere in the region of 180,000 trees.
They produce eight to ten million pounds of pecan nuts every year.
Besides Georgia, Texas, and New Mexico, other states producing commercially grown pecans include:
Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and South Carolina.
Arkansas and Alabama both named pecans as the official “health nut” of their state. So, as you can see, pecan growing is a serious and important business!
It would be true to say that the pecan tree is important not only to Texas, where it is the recognized state tree but also in many other states across North America.
The nuts have been championed by many over the years, from the Native Americans to presidents of the United States.
This love of pecans isn’t all about the delicious nuts either. It is also due to the beautiful lumber that pecan trees produce. It can be filled with intricate patterning and a wash of different colors that make it quite unique.
It’s likely that the pecan tree will continue to be important to the folks of Texas and many other states as a valuable commercial nut-producing tree.
Find out more about one of America’s favorite trees and learn how to grow one of your own by reading our other pecan tree articles.