For other uses, see Pecan (disambiguation).
Carya illinoinensis
Morton Arboretum acc. 1082-39*3
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Fagales
Family: Juglandaceae
Genus: Carya
Species: C. illinoinensis
Binomial name
Carya illinoinensis
(Wangenh.) K.Koch
Natural range of Carya illinoinensis
  • Carya oliviformis (Michx.) Nutt.
  • Carya pecan (Marshall) Engl. & Graebn.
  • Hicorius pecan (Marshall) Britton
  • Juglans illinoinensis Wangenh.
  • Juglans oliviformis Michx.
  • Juglans pecan Marshall

The pecan (Carya illinoinensis) is a species of hickory native to Mexico and the southcentral and southeastern regions of the United States.[1][2]


"Pecan" is from an Algonquian word variously referring to pecans, walnuts and hickory nuts,[3] or more broadly to any nut requiring a stone to crack.[4] There are many variant pronunciations, some regional and others not.[5] The most common American pronunciation is /piˈkɑːn/; the most common British one is /pɪˈkæn/.[5] Unusually, there is little agreement in the United States, even regionally, as to the "correct" pronunciation.[6]


The pecan tree is a large deciduous tree, growing to 20–40 m (66–131 ft) in height, rarely to 44 m (144 ft).[2] It typically has a spread of 12–23 m (39–75 ft) with a trunk up to 2 m (6.6 ft) diameter. A 10-year-old sapling will stand about 5 m (16 ft) tall. The leaves are alternate, 30–45 cm (12–18 in) long, and pinnate with 9–17 leaflets, each leaflet 5–12 cm (2.0–4.7 in) long and 2–6 cm (0.79–2.36 in) broad.

A pecan, like the fruit of all other members of the hickory genus, is not truly a nut, but is technically a drupe, a fruit with a single stone or pit, surrounded by a husk. The husks are produced from the exocarp tissue of the flower, while the part known as the nut develops from the endocarp and contains the seed. The husk itself is aeneous, oval to oblong, 2.6–6 cm (1.0–2.4 in) long and 1.5–3 cm (0.59–1.18 in) broad. The outer husk is 3–4 mm (0.12–0.16 in) thick, starts out green and turns brown at maturity, at which time it splits off in four sections to release the thin-shelled nut.[2][7][8][9]

The seeds of the pecan are edible, with a rich, buttery flavor. They can be eaten fresh or used in cooking, particularly in sweet desserts. One of the most common desserts with the pecan as a central ingredient is the pecan pie, a traditional Southern U.S. dish. Pecans are also a major ingredient in praline candy.[10]

In addition to the pecan seed, the wood is also used in making furniture and wood flooring as well as flavoring fuel for smoking meats.


Pecan trees being irrigated in Anthony, New Mexico

Pecans were one of the most recently domesticated major crops. Although wild pecans were well known among the colonial Americans as a delicacy, the commercial growing of pecans in the United States did not begin until the 1880s.[11] Today, the U.S. produces between 80% and 95% of the world's pecans, with an annual crop of 150–200 thousand tons[12] from more than 10 million trees.[13] The nut harvest for growers is typically around mid-October. Historically, the leading pecan-producing state in the U.S. has been Georgia, followed by Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, the largest orchard being Stahmann Farms in south-central New Mexico;[14] pecans are also grown in Alabama, California, Florida, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Hawaii. Outside the United States, pecans are grown in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Israel, Mexico, Peru, and South Africa. They can be grown from USDA hardiness zones approximately 5 to 9, provided summers are also hot and humid.

Pecan trees may live and bear edible seeds for more than 300 years. They are mostly self-incompatible, because most cultivars are clones derived from wild trees which show incomplete dichogamy. Generally, two or more trees of different cultivars must be present to pollinate each other.

Choosing cultivars can be a complex practice, based on the Alternate Bearing Index (ABI) and their period of pollinating. Commercial planters are most concerned with the ABI, which describes a cultivar's likelihood to bear on an alternating years (index of 1.0 signifies highest likelihood of bearing little to nothing every other year).[15] The period of pollination groups all cultivars into two families: those that shed pollen before they can receive pollen (protandrous), and those that shed pollen after becoming receptive to pollen (protogynous).[16] Planting cultivars from both families within 250 feet is recommended for proper pollination.

Breeding and selection programs

Active breeding and selection programs are carried out by the USDA Agricultural Research Service with growing locations at Brownwood and College Station, Texas.[17] While selection work has been done since the late 1800s, most acreage of pecans grown today is of older cultivars, such as 'Stuart', 'Schley', and 'Desirable', with known flaws but also with known production potential. Newer cultivars, such as 'Elliot', are increasing in popularity due to their resistance to certain regional climate-related diseases.[18] The long cycle time for pecan trees plus financial considerations dictate that new varieties go through an extensive vetting process before being widely planted. Numerous examples of varieties are produced well in Texas, but fail in the Southeastern U.S. due to increased disease pressure. Selection programs are ongoing at the state level, with Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Florida, Missouri, and others having trial plantings.

Varieties adapted from the southern tier of states north through some parts of Iowa and even into southern Canada are available from nurseries. Production potential drops significantly when planted further north than Tennessee. Most breeding efforts for northern-adapted varieties have not been on a large enough scale to significantly affect production. Varieties that are available and adapted (e.g., 'Major', 'Martzahn', 'Witte', 'Greenriver', and 'Posey') in zones 6 and farther north are almost entirely selections from wild stands. A northern-adapted variety must be grafted onto a northern rootstock to avoid freeze damage.

The pecan is a 32-chromosome species, and can hybridize with other 32-chromosome members of the Carya genus, such as Carya ovata, Carya laciniosa, and Carya cordiformis. Most such hybrids are unproductive, though a few second-generation hybrids have potential for producing hickory-flavored nuts with pecan nut structure. Such hybrids are referred to as "hicans" to indicate their hybrid origin.


In the Southeastern United States, nickel deficiency in C. illinoinensis produces a disorder called mouse-ear in trees fertilized with urea.[19] Similarly, zinc deficiency causes rosetting of the leaves.

Pecans are also prone to infection by fungi, especially in humid conditions. Ziram is a common fungicide used to prevent scab and anthracnose in pecans.


Nutritional value per 100 grams
Energy 2,889 kJ (690 kcal)
Starch 0.46
Sugars 3.97
Dietary fiber 9.6
Saturated 6.18
Monounsaturated 40.801
Polyunsaturated 21.614
Vitamin A equiv.
29 μg
17 μg
Vitamin A 56 IU
Thiamine (B1)

0.66 mg

Riboflavin (B2)

0.13 mg

Niacin (B3)

1.167 mg

Pantothenic acid (B5)

0.863 mg

Vitamin B6

0.21 mg

Folate (B9)

22 μg

Vitamin C

1.1 mg

Vitamin D

0 μg

Vitamin E

1.4 mg

Vitamin K

3.5 μg


70 mg


2.53 mg


121 mg


4.5 mg


277 mg


410 mg


0 mg


4.53 mg

Other constituents
Water 3.52

Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

In 100 g, pecans provide 691 Calories and over 100% of the Daily Value (DV) for total fat. Pecans are a rich source of dietary fiber (38% DV), manganese (214% DV), magnesium (34% DV), phosphorus (40% DV), zinc (48% DV) and thiamin (57% DV).[20] Pecans are also a good source (10-19% DV) of protein, iron, and B vitamins. Their fat content consists mainly of monounsaturated fatty acids, mainly oleic acid (57% of total fat), and the polyunsaturated fatty acid linoleic acid (30% of total fat).[20]

Evolutionary development

The pecan, Carya illinoinensis, is a member of the Juglandaceae family. Juglandaceae are represented worldwide by between seven and 10 extant genera and more than 60 species. Most of these species are concentrated in the Northern Hemisphere of the New World, but can be found on every continent except for Antarctica. The first fossil examples of the family appear during the Cretaceous. Differentiation between the subfamilies of Engelhardioideae and Juglandioideae occurred during the early Paleogene, about 64 million years ago. Extant examples of Engelharioideae are generally tropical and evergreen, while those of Juglandioideae are deciduous and found in more temperate zones. The second major step in the development of the pecan was a change from wind-dispersed fruits to animal dispersion. This dispersal strategy coincides with the development of a husk around the fruit and a drastic change in the relative concentrations of fatty acids. The ratio of oleic to linoleic acids are inverted between wind- and animal-dispersed seeds.[21][22] Further differentiation from other species of Juglandaceae occurred about 44 million years ago during the Eocene. The fruits of the pecan genus Carya differ from those of the walnut genus Juglans only in the formation of the husk of the fruit. The husks of walnuts develop from the bracts, bracteoles, and sepals, or sepals only. The husks of pecans develop from the bracts and the bracteoles only.[22]


Before European settlement, pecans were widely consumed and traded by Native Americans. As a food source, pecans are a natural choice for preagricultural society. As a wild forage, the fruit of the previous growing season is commonly still edible when found on the ground. Hollow tree trunks, found in abundance in pecan stands, offer ideal storage of pecans by humans and squirrels, alike.[13]

Pecans first became known to Europeans in the 16th century. The first Europeans to come into contact with pecans were Spanish explorers in what is now Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana. These Spanish explorers called the pecan, nuez de la arruga, which roughly translates to "wrinkle nut". They were called this for their resemblance to wrinkles. The genus Carya does not exist in the Old World. Because of their familiarity with the genus Juglans, these early explorers referred to the nuts as nogales and nueces, the Spanish terms for "walnut trees" and "fruit of the walnut". They noted the particularly thin shell and acorn-like shape of the fruit, indicating they were indeed referring to pecans.[13] The Spaniards took the pecan into Europe, Asia, and Africa beginning in the 16th century. In 1792, William Bartram reported in his botanical book, Travels, a nut tree, Juglans exalata that some botanists today argue was the American pecan tree, but others argue was hickory, Carya ovata. Pecan trees are native to the United States, and writing about the pecan tree goes back to the nation's founders. Thomas Jefferson planted pecan trees, C. illinoinensis (Illinois nuts), in his nut orchard at his home, Monticello, in Virginia. George Washington reported in his journal that Thomas Jefferson gave him "Illinois nuts", pecans, which Washington then grew at Mount Vernon, his Virginia home.


In 1906, Texas Governor James Stephen Hogg asked that a pecan tree be planted at his grave instead of a traditional headstone, requesting that the seeds be distributed throughout the state to make Texas a "Land of Trees".[12] His wish was carried out and this brought more attention to pecan trees. In 1919, the 36th Texas Legislature made the pecan tree the state tree of Texas where the town of San Saba claims to be "The Pecan Capital of the World".[23] Several other American towns and regions host annual events celebrating the pecan harvest.


  1. 1 2 "Carya illinoinensis (Wangenh.) K. Koch". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 2007-10-29. Retrieved 2009-10-15.
  2. 1 2 3 Flora of North America: Carya illinoinensis
  3. "pecan, n.". OED Online. Oxford University Press. March 2016. < French (Mississippi Valley) pacane (1712; 1721 in the source translated in quot. 1761 at sense 1) < Illinois pakani (= /pakaːni/); cognates in other Algonquian languages are applied to hickory nuts and walnuts. Compare Spanish pacano (1772; 1779 in a Louisiana context).
  4. "History of Pecans – National Pecan Shellers Association". Retrieved 2010-06-03.
  5. 1 2 See "pecan" at Wiktionary.
  6. Harvard Dialect Survey, Bert Vaux and Scott Golder, 2003.
  7. Oklahoma Biological Survey: Carya illinoinensis
  8. Bioimages: Carya fruits
  9. Collingwood, G. H., Brush, W. D., & Butches, D., eds. (1964). Knowing your trees. 2nd ed. American Forestry Association, Washington, DC.
  10. "What is a Praline?". Retrieved 2010-06-03.
  11. "Pecans at Texas A&M University". 2006-08-18. Retrieved 2010-06-03.
  12. 1 2 "Texas Pecan Growers Association". Retrieved 2010-06-03.
  13. 1 2 3 Grant D. Hall. "Pecan Food Potential in Prehistoric North America". Economic Botany. New York Botanical Garden Press. 54: 103–112. doi:10.1007/bf02866604. JSTOR 4256253.
  14. "Whole Raw Pecans – Bulk Pecans For Sale – Estate Grown Pecan Nuts – Stahmanns Pecans".
  15. "University of Georgia Pecan Breeding". Retrieved 2010-06-03.
  16. "William Reid, Nut Crops Extension Specialist, University of Illinois". Retrieved 2010-06-03.
  17. "USDA Pecan Breeding Program, National Clonal Germplasm Repository for Pecans and Hickories". TAMU Horticulture Dept. Retrieved 21 Nov 2014.
  18. Conner, Patrick; Sparks, Darrell. "'Elliott' Pecan" (PDF). Department of Horticulture, University of Georgia. Retrieved May 31, 2015.
  19. Allen V. Barker; D. J. Pilbeam (2007). Handbook of plant nutrition. CRC Press. pp. 399–. ISBN 978-0-8247-5904-9. Retrieved 17 August 2010.
  20. 1 2 "Nuts, raw pecans per 100 g". Nutrition Facts. Conde Nast, USDA National Nutrient Database, version SR 21. 2014. Retrieved 2009-10-09.
  21. Donald E. Stone; et al. "New World Juglandaceae. II. Hickory Nut Oils, Phenetic Similarities, and Evolutionary Implications in the Genus Carya". American Journal of Botany. Botanical Society of America. 56: 928–935. doi:10.2307/2440634. JSTOR 2440634.
  22. 1 2 Paul Manos and Donald E. Stone (Spring 2004), "Evolution, Phylogeny, and Systematics of Juglandaceae", Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, Missouri Botanical Garden Press, Vol. 88 (No. 2)
  23. "Town website for San Saba, Texas". Town of San Saba Texas.
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