Pecans ~ History & Trivia

Pecan in Husk
Pecans ready for harvest.


A brief history of pecans.

The pecan is native to North America and generally speaking follows the Cotton Belt from the Carolinas to Texas. Pecans are not grown commercially on any other continent.

The history of pecans can be traced back to the 16th century. The only major tree nut that grows naturally in North America, the pecan is considered one of the most valuable North American nut species. The name “pecan” is a Native American word of Algonquin origin that was used to describe “all nuts requiring a stone to crack.”   The American Indian used pecans as a major foodstuff long before the advent of the white man. The famous explorer DeSoto made mention of the pecan as early as 1541. Many other explorers recorded information about this American nut with the “fine and delicate” taste.

Because wild pecans were readily available, many Native American tribes in the U.S. and Mexico used the wild pecan as a major food source during autumn. It is speculated that pecans were used to produce a fermented intoxicating drink called “Powcohicora” (where the word “hickory” comes from).  It also is said that Native Americans first cultivated the pecan tree.

The first record of pecans being sent from the Deep South to the North appears in 1799 when, on the twelfth of November, Daniel Clark of New Orleans sent a box of pecans to Thomas Jefferson, then Vice-President.

There seems to be no definite record as to when cultivated pecan trees were first planted; although many believe this to have taken place in the 1780’s. Cultivated pecans are the large paper shell nuts grown in the southeastern United States.

In 1822, Abner Landrum of South Carolina discovered a pecan budding technique, which provided a way to graft plants derived from superior wild selections (or, in other words, to unite with a growing plant by placing in close contact). However, this invention was lost or overlooked until 1876 when an African-American slave gardener from Louisiana (named Antoine) successfully propagated pecans by grafting a superior wild pecan to seedling pecan stocks. Antoine’s clone was named “Centennial” because it won the Best Pecan Exhibited award at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876.  His 1876 planting, which eventually became 126 Centennial trees, was the first official planting of improved pecans

From the time of the early explorers to the commercially cultivated orchards of today, the pecan remains the unique American nut and has moved forward to become one of America’s great horticulture crops.

  • There are over 1,000 varieties of pecans.  Many are named for Native American Indian tribes, including Cheyenne, Mohawk, Sioux, Choctaw and Shawnee.
  • Pecans could improve your love life?  If the body does not get enough zinc, it may have difficulty producing testosterone – a key hormone in initiating sexual desire in both men and women.  Pecans provide nearly 10 percent of the recommended Daily Value for zinc.  So, pass on the oysters and reach for a handful of pecans!
  • Research from Loma Linda University published in the August 2006 issue of Nutrition Research showed that adding just a handful of pecans(3oz) to your diet each day may help inhibit unwanted oxidation of blood lipids, thus helping prevent coronary heart disease. The researchers suggest that this positive effect was in part due to the pecans’ significant content of vitamin E. Oxidation of lipids in the body – a process akin to rusting – is detrimental to health.
  • In addition, landmark research published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry (June 2004) found that pecans rank highest among all nuts and are among the top category of foods to contain the highest antioxidant capacity, meaning pecans may decrease the risk of cancer, coronary heart disease, and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. A review of pecan and other nut research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (September 2003), suggests that nuts like pecans may aid in weight loss and maintenance. The review cited studies indicating that nut consumption may increase metabolic rates and enhance satiety.


The Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company in Kiln, Mississippi, has produced a variety of beer using pecans rather than hops.

Pecans are a good source of protein and unsaturated fats. Like walnuts (which pecans resemble), pecans are rich inomega-6 fatty acids, although pecans contain about half as much omega-6 as walnuts.

A diet rich in seeds can lower the risk of gallstones in women.The antioxidants and plant sterols found in pecans reduce high cholesterol by reducing the “bad” LDL cholesterol levels.

Clinical research published in the Journal of Nutrition (September 2001) found that eating about a handful of pecans each day may help lower cholesterol levels similar to what is often seen with cholesterol-lowering medications. Research conducted at the University of Georgia has also confirmed that pecans contain plant sterols, which are known for their cholesterol-lowering ability. Pecans may also play a role in neurological health. Eating pecans daily may delay age-related muscle nerve degeneration, according to a study conducted at the University of Massachusetts and published in Current Topics in Nutraceutical Research.

Herb Pecan Snack Mix

5 c. cereal (any combination of bite-size, rice or corn squares; round toasted oat cereal; and crispy corn or rice cereal bites)
1½ c. small pretzels and/or Sesame sticks (or dark Rye bread chips)
2 cup pecan halves or pieces, 1/2 c. Almonds and/or Peanuts
1/3 c. butter or olive oil smart balance butter (melted) &  2 T. Extra virgin olive oil
1 T dried parsley flakes, ½ t. celery salt
1 t. dried thyme (crushed)
1 t. Smoked Paprika,  1 T. Worcestershire Sauce
½ t. onion powder

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Combine cereals, pretzels (or Sesame sticks) and pecans in a 13x9x2” baking pan.  In a bowl, stir melted butter (or margarine) and remaining ingredients together.  Pour over cereal mixture, tossing gently until well coated.  Bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes, stirring once or twice.  Spread in a large shallow pan or on foil to cool before serving.

. Quality of Pecan Varieties Suitable for Home Plantings
Variety Dichogamy* Size Kernel Quality Scab Resistance Productivity
*Type I = protandrous (pollen sheds before the female flowers are receptive); Type II = protogynous (pollen sheds after the female flowers are receptive). See “Flowering and Fruiting Habit” section for a more detailed explanation. To cross pollinate you need at least 2-3 trees.

Care of Bearing Trees

Fertilizing: Fertilization is one of the most important practices for bearing trees. If the trees are to produce a good crop, terminal growth should be 6 inches each year. In the absence of a leaf tissue analysis or soil test, broadcast 4 pounds of a complete fertilizer such as 10-10-10 for each inch of trunk diameter (measured 4½ feet above soil level). This fertilizer should be applied in mid- to late February.

Zinc nutrition is especially important in pecan production. Zinc deficiency is called rosette. The most common and noticeable symptoms of rosette are bronzing and mottling of leaves; early defoliation; dead twigs in tops of trees; abnormally small nuts; small yellowish, chlorotic leaves; and short, thin twigs growing on older scaffold branches with rosettes of small yellowish-green leaves at the tips.

Zinc needs are best determined by a laboratory analysis of leaf samples taken in late July or early August. Kits and instructions for taking leaf samples are available from any Clemson Extension office. The leaf tissue analysis report will tell you how much zinc to apply. In the absence of a tissue analysis, apply 1 pound of zinc sulfate to young trees and 3 to 5 pounds for large trees each year. A soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5 assures the availability of essential nutrients. If the pH is too low or too high, uptake and use of nutrients is impaired. Apply lime as suggested in the soil test report to correct low pH.

Pecans are mature and ready to harvest anytime after the shuck begins to open, this is usually in the fall, but regions vary. See picture above.

 Insect Pests of Pecans and Controls
Insects Control
Aphids and mites Wash off leaves with a high pressure hose sprayer. Wash as high as possible in tree. Repeat at least twice per week. Using an insecticidal soap may aid control. Insecticide use may make these problems worse.
Hickory shuckworms Sanitation is very important. Clean up and destroy all old Shucks and debris.
Twig girdlers Pick up and discard girdled twigs and limbs. Many girdled twigs do not fall from the tree. Remove as many of these as possible.
Fall webworms Remove and destroy webs when they are first noticed.
Pecan weevils Pick up and destroy infested nuts as they fall. Nuts should be picked up at least twice per week.
Cape Fear I Large Good Resistant Very good
Curtis II Small Good Very resistant Very good
Elliott II Small Good Very resistant Very good
Gloria Grande II Large Excellent Resistant Very good
Stuart II Large Excellent Resistant Very good
Summer II Large Excellent Resistant Very good