Three Pecan Trees

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My love of pecans

Sometimes we think we know more than we do, but instead we usually need more education!

Growing up at my family home in Lepanto, Arkansas, we were blessed with three large, healthy, productive pecan trees!  As a child in the 1940's, I often climbed the one closest to the house, and played "spaceship", using coat hanger wire and other "attachments" as my controls.

pecan treeMy banker Father was quite the gardener/handyman, but I don't know if he planted the trees, or if they were already there when we moved in.  They produced three different types of pecans.  I don't know the technical names, but they were all called "Paper shell", and came in three sizes and shapes — large and fat, long and skinny, and small.  Paper shell means they are easy to crack.  They were all delicious!

Fast-forward to a few years ago.  I planted a single pecan tree.  My main reason was to honor my memories of the trees I grew up with.  I had heard that a seedling takes about 7 years to mature enough to begin producing pecans.  So, I wasn't disappointed when 5 years passed with no pecans.  Instead I was pleased that the tree had grown to a height of about 10 feet, and seemed healthy.  Then one day I discovered that one of my roommate's hired hands had cut the tree down !!!  I was livid!  I'm still not sure why he cut it down, but it apparently had something to do with instructions to "clear the area".  

the need to cross-pollinate?

My roommate, Barry, apologized, and promised to replace the tree.

Fast-forward to today, about two years after the tree was cut.  Barry showed up with two healthy, 10-teet tall specimens from WalMart, but then said, "I don't think they will produce, because they need to cross-pollinate between two varieties, and these are both the same."  Well, I knew my Father had never mentioned cross-pollinating between our pecans, so I argued with him.  I remembered that Dad had mentioned the need of muscadines to have both a male and female plant in order to produce, but he never mentioned pecans having a similar need.

So I agreed to research the question on the Internet.  Boy, was I red-faced!  The first article I found is from Patrick J. Conner of the University of Georgia.  

  • He said, "In nature, pecan is nearly always cross-pollinated.  When pecan is artificially self-pollinated, the resulting seedlings have greatly reduced vigor and the majority of these seedling die before flowering."  (Also, the few nuts that are produced are stunted.)  "The pecan tree has, therefore, evolved a system of flowering which prevents self-pollination and insures its seedlings have hybrid vigor."  
  • He goes on to say, "the male and female flowers are located separately on the same plant. ... To prevent (self-pollination), the tree matures its flowers at different times....  For this system to work, (nearby) different cultivars must mature their flowers at different times."  
    • In Type I, "the pollen is matured and released first, and several days to a week later the female flowers become receptive."  
    • In Type II, "the female flowers are receptive first, and then after the female flowers are no longer receptive, the pollen is released.  In nature, there are approximately equal numbers of Type I and Type II trees, ensuring pollen is available throughout the flowering season."

I feel much smarter!  This just goes to show that we sometimes think we know more than we really do, and we really need to study more!  I thanked Barry for his efforts in fulfilling his promise.  We haven't made a final decision yet, but we will probably either acquire a second cultivar of a different type, or just take the trees back to WalMart.


(picture anonymous from Wikimedia)

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