Summer is almost here. And this is when our glorious native pecan trees (Carya illinoinensis) have fully burst forth from their winter hibernation.
There is nothing as lovely as resting in the shade of a huge pecan tree on a hot summer day.
These natives are quite cautious and wait until it is very safe to leaf out in spring. Often they are the last of our trees to do so. I used to worry about our big pecan tree each year when it remained leafless, fearing the worst. I examined the bark, looking for critters that might have endangered it. I wondered if I was caring for it properly, did it need pruning, did it have enough water ... and so on. Then sure enough, come May, leaves seemed to pop out overnight.
Pecans are large deciduous shade trees tolerant of conditions in all of Texas. The pecan is a species of hickory and the fastest-growing of all the hickories with a possible life span of hundreds of years. Their height can reach 90 feet or more, although Island trees do not achieve that size because of our salty breezes.
Their high heat tolerance, medium to low water requirements, and beautiful foliage and bark make pecans an excellent choice for Galveston landscapes with plenty of room. They do have the habit of dropping fruit, twigs, leaves, and sometimes branches — and attracting squirrels and other critters — which challenges some tidy home gardeners. The Tree Conservancy’s Neighborwoods projects have included pecans in parks and as street-side plantings where space is adequate.
You don’t get more Texan than a pecan. Fossil remains found in Texas show that pecan trees were here long before humans appeared. Our original native peoples relied on pecans as an important food staple. While they did not establish orchards, evidence suggests that they dispersed pecan seeds along riverbanks and visited these sites to harvest before the squirrels arrived. Spanish explorers named our Nueces River for the tree growing along its banks.
If you know your Texas lore you know that in 1936 the Legislature declared it our state tree. In 1936 pecan became the state nut, and in 2013, the Legislature named the pecan pie the official state pie. Texas produces millions of pounds of the nut each year, making the state a leading producer.
Pecans have many uses in addition to being edible. The wood is used in agricultural implements, sports equipment, furniture and great barbecue firewood. There are over 1,000 varieties of pecans including many improved varied, with many named for Native American Indian tribes such as Cheyenne, Mohawk, Sioux, Choctaw and Shawnee. The pecan even has its own month, April. Astronauts took pecans to the moon on two Apollo space missions.
These beautiful natives feed us and provide food and habitat for wildlife. They shade and cool our homes and streets in summer, beautify our rivers, and have survived hundreds of years of environmental change.
Hats off to the pecan. I think I’ll go bake a pie.