Pecan, the name of a North American tree and of the fruit that it bears. The fruit is commonly called a nut, but botanically it is not a nut but a drupe. The natural range of the pecan tree is from Indiana to eastern Iowa, southwest to Louisiana and Texas, and west to Mexico. Its range has been greatly extended by cultivation, and it is now grown on the Atlantic coast and in California. The tree will grow as far north as New England, but produces poor crops of nuts north of central Illinois.
Pecan nuts are eaten as snacks and are used as flavoring in ice cream and candy. They may be eaten as taken from the shell or may be roasted and salted. Pecans are about 13 per cent protein and 70 per cent fat. Pecan wood is used in furniture and as flooring. Oil from the nut is used in cosmetics and for cooking.
Mature pecan trees are up to 100 feet (30 m) tall. The compound leaves, made up of lance-shaped leaflets growing from either side of a central stalk, are up to 20 inches (51 cm) long. The male flowers are drooping catkins. The female flowers appear as clusters of budlike growths at the ends of twigs.
Each nut is borne in a green husk that opens at maturity. Pecan nuts are commonly oval or cylindrical, with pointed ends. Their smooth, tan-brown shells vary greatly in thickness, and their meats differ greatly in quality of flavor. Easily cracked papershell varieties of superior flavor are usually selected for cultivation.
Pecan trees grown from nuts do not necessarily produce nuts of the same quality as those of the parent trees. To produce desirable varieties, it is necessary to bud selected varieties on seedling trees. Budding is usually done when the seedlings are one or two years old, and nurseries sell the trees when the buds have grown for two years.
In orchards, the young trees are planted 80 to 100 feet (24 to 30 m) apart. The trees begin to produce when they are three years old, but do not produce profitably until they are 10 to 12 years of age. A pecan tree produces 50 to 600 pounds (23 to 272 kg) of nuts yearly. Under good conditions, a tree produces for many years. Trees said to be 300 years old are still producing nuts.
About 100,000 metric tons of pecan nuts are produced yearly in the United States. About 60 per cent of the nuts are obtained from orchards; the rest are gathered from wild trees. Georgia, Texas, and New Mexico lead in producing orchard nuts. Texas, Georgia, and Louisiana are the leading producers of nuts from wild trees.
The pecan tree is Carya illinoinensis of the walnut family, Juglandaceae.