Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Pecan Tree: Where Does It Grow?

Many people always assume that pecans are a southern nut. This is most likely because first of all, Georgia grows a large amount of Pecans, and secondly because pecan pie is such a distinctly southern dessert. Not many holidays go by without at least a pecan dish of some kind gracing the table. Most learn that pecan trees are a tough tree that can grow in over half of the United States and as far north as southern Canada.

The pecan tree actually originated in Texas and Oklahoma and spread outward from there. Native Americans found the pecan nutritious, easy to store, and easy to trade with. It wasn't until recently, though, that pecan trees were discovered deep in the wilds of places like Wisconsin and Illinois. This is heartening because it means that if the rugged pecan tree can withstand the weather shifts of those states then it's likely it can be adapted to grow in even colder climates.

There are actually over 500 species of pecans in existence so it's not terribly surprising that some species of the tree would be able to withstand cruel northern winters. In fact, the tree itself can produce nuts for well over 100 years. The only difference between the varieties of pecans is the shape and a slight flavor difference. This is to be expected given different soil compositions, sunlight and heat availability, and access to a water source. The pecan you eat has everything to do with where it was grown.

However, if you're going to attempt to grow your own pecan tree, it's important to buy the right one. Because there are over 500 species, picking the tree that's best for your particular climate can be a challenge and is definitely a game of patience. For instance, the "Desirable" pecan tree species is native to Mississippi so it will thrive and produce best in warm, humid climates like that of Georgia or Florida. But the "Wichita" variety grows best in western and central Texas because it thrives best in arid environments. But be prepared to wait. Even the most precocious of pecan trees, the ones that bear nuts of the fastest, still take about five years.

The fact that the pecan tree originated in Texas makes it easy to believe that this is a sturdy tree given the climate variety of the Lone Star State. Recent discoveries of the tree in harsh, cold environments lead one to believe that what is known about the pecan tree is only getting started. All of this is great news because it means that no matter where you spend your time eating at the table (especially during the holidays, which is the time of year when pecans sell the best), you'll be able to have some delicious, locally grown, pecan pie.

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