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15 Different Types of Pecan Trees & Their Identifying Features (With Photos)

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Written By Lyrae Willis

Environmental Scientist & Plant Ecologist

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Home » Tree Types » 15 Different Types of Pecan Trees & Their Identifying Features (With Photos)

Pecans are big, beautiful shade trees with delicious, nutritious nuts that feed people and wildlife wherever they are grown.

They are part of the Juglandaceae or Walnut family in the Carya or Hickory genus of trees.

Pecans are just a single species, Carya illinoinensis, of the 18 currently accepted Carya species native to the northern hemisphere.

Carya illinoinenensis is native to the central and eastern USA and northern Mexico, mostly along the Lower Mississippi Valley.

Even though pecans are a single species, there are so many different types of pecans available today, with different cultivars available for commercial growers and homeowners that are suited to colder or hotter climates, wetter or drier climates.

With so many options available, you will surely find one that will work for you!

I will show you how to identify a pecan tree, and we will examine some of the cultivars available in more detail.

Contents show

Pecan Tree Identification (With Photos)

Identifying Pecan Trees by Their Leaf Arrangement

All pecan trees have compound deciduous leaves that turn various shades of harvest yellow to golden yellow in the fall and then return from leaf buds each spring.

These compound leaves are arranged alternately on the branches. This can differentiate them from other trees with compound leaves that are arranged in opposite pairs on the branches.

Leaf Arrange - 3 Square - alternate opposite whorled
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work, and Fern Berg – Combined and Text Added by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Pecan Trees by Their Odd-Pinnate Compound Leaves

A compound leaf is a single leaf made of two to many leaflets, usually arranged on a central rachis. The rachis is a stalk that the individual leaflets attach to.

Pecan compound leaves are odd-pinnate (also called imparipinnate), having an odd number of leaflets with a central, terminal leaflet at the tip of the rachis that is often slightly larger than the pairs of lateral leaflets located on the sides of the rachis.

Pecan leaves are 15 ½ – 27 ½” long with 9 – 13(7 – 17) leaflets per leaf.

The petiole or leaf stalk is what attaches the entire compound leaf to the twigs or branches. Pecan petioles may be hairless to scaly with scattered hairs.

Compound leaves often also have petiolules; these are small leaf stalks that attach the individual leaflets to the rachis of the compound leaf.

In pecans, the lateral petiolules are present but typically very short. The terminal leaflet has a longer petiolule up to 1” long.

Morphology of an Imparipinnate Leaf - Rhus glabra
Image by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Pecan Trees by Their Leaflet and Fruit Shapes

Pecan leaflets are somewhat lanceolate (lance-shaped or narrowly egg-shaped, with a length-to-width ratio of 3:1 or greater), ovate-lanceolate (in between lanceolate and ovate, where ovate is egg-shaped and widest at the base), or quite often falcate (asymmetrical, bent or hooked to one side).

The leaflets are typically 0.8 – 6.3” long and 0.4 – 2.75” wide.

Similar terminology is used to describe fruit and nut shapes.

In pecans, their nuts are often described as ovoid (like ovate but three-dimensional egg-shaped), ellipsoid (like elliptical but three-dimensional – widest in the middle and narrower at both ends), oblong (elongated with parallel sides), or rounded (also called spherical or orbicular but we will simply call it rounded).

Leaf Shape - 6 Square - elliptic falcate lanceolate oblong orbicular ovate
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Pecan Trees by Their Leaflet Margins

Pecan leaflets have margins that are always serrated (jagged-toothed, like a saw). They are usually finely serrated with small teeth that are often close together but sometimes can be farther apart.

Sometimes the margins are nearly crenate (having rounded teeth that are not pointy).

Or, more often, the margins vary between serrate and crenate, often irregularly so, even on the same leaf. This is referred to as serrate-crenate.

Leaf Margins - 3 Square - crenate serratecrenate serrate
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Pecan Trees by Their Leaflet Tips

Pecan leaflet tips are almost always acuminate and usually narrow and long-acuminate. This is where the leaflet narrows towards the tip producing a long, drawn-out point.

Often the acuminate tips are also falcate, where they curve asymmetrically to one side.

On the same compound leaf, there may be some leaflets with falcate tips and some with acuminate tips.

Leaf Apex - 2 Square - acuminate falcate
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Pecan Trees by Hairs and Scales on Surfaces

Pecan leaflets, twigs, and petioles usually have hairs and scales that can help identify the tree as a pecan.

Botanists have a lot of terms for hairs used to describe the different sizes, shapes, and feel of those hairs.

We call them ‘hairs’ because they resemble animal hair, but botanically and morphologically speaking, they are entirely different and are correctly called trichomes.

The lower leaf surfaces of pecans are usually hirsute; these are straight, coarse, and stiff hairs that are rough to the touch. They look like softer pubescent hairs but are identified as hispid by their feel. Sometimes they are only hirsute on the midveins, and sometimes they just have scattered hairs and some scales.

Their upper surfaces are usually hairless and somewhat scaly in the spring, but rarely they, too, can be hirsute.

Scales are flat plate or shield-like clusters of trichome cells on the surface of plants. Botanically they are just like plant ‘hairs’, but because they do not resemble hair, we call them scales.

Scales appear as small dots on plant surfaces, and they are typically rough to the touch, like fine grit sandpaper.

Pecan leaves typically start out scaly when they first unfurl in the spring, but they tend to lose most or all of the scales as they mature.

Leaf Surfaces - 3 Square - hirsute hirsuteveins scales
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Pecan Trees by Their Flowers

Pecans are monoecious, meaning that they produce separate male and female flowers on the same tree.

Male flowers appear in clusters of usually three greenish catkins, spike-like inflorescences made of many tiny unisexual flowers that lack petals or sepals.

Each male catkin contains up to 115 tiny flowers, each with 3 – 7 even tinier stamens made of very short filaments (stalks) and small anthers (the pollen-producing organ of the flower) with a small green subtending bract (a modified leaf).

Female flowers are typically arranged in small spikes of 2 – 6 small inconspicuous greenish flowers at the tips of new twigs. They, too, have no petals and are made of an ovary that contains ovules (unfertilized seeds) plus a greenish lobed stigma (the receptive surface that receives pollen and directs it into the ovary). They do not have styles (a stalk that often holds the stigma), and their stigma is attached directly on top of the ovary.

Pecan Flowers - 2 Square - male female
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work, and Lenny Wells, UGA Pecan Extension – Combined and Text Added by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Pecan Trees by Their Protandrous or Protogynous Nature

Male and female pecan flowers mature at different times, making them self-incompatible and unable to self-fertilize. This means that you will always need more than one pecan tree to cross-pollinate if you want to produce fruit. And they usually must be different cultivars that are compatible pollination partners.

The NC State Extension recommends using at least three different cultivars to ensure good cross-pollination and nut production.

Pecans can be categorized based on whether they are Type I protandrous trees that shed their pollen before the female stigmas are receptive or Type II protogynous trees whose stigmas are receptive before the anthers are ready to release their pollen.

Pecan Pollination

You always need to pair at least one Type I with at least one Type II to ensure successful pollination occurs.

What’s more, some cultivars are late pollinizers, and some are early pollinizers, so in addition to pairing a Type I with a Type II, you must also make sure that the trees you are pairing are releasing their pollen at the same time the stigmas are receptive on the other trees.

If you look at the chart below, it will help you choose the right pollinating partners.

In the chart, the yellow bars show when a cultivar releases pollen and the black bar shows when the stigmas are receptive.

Simply choose a Type I cultivar whose yellow bar overlaps with another Type II cultivar’s black bar. But, you then also have to look at your Type I cultivar’s black bar and make sure it is receptive when your Type II cultivar is releasing pollen to ensure good cross-pollination for both cultivars. For example, Caddo overlaps nicely with Elliot on both ends.

(PDF Source: Pollination Bar Chart For Cultivars in Georgia From the University of Georgia)

The only exception to this rule seems to be the Hardy Pecan and the hybrid Hican trees. With those, you can simply plant multiples of the same tree, particularly if you live in northern climates where other cultivars will not grow. Even then, it is still best to plant more than one variety if at all possible.

Identifying Pecan Trees by Their Fruits

Pecans produce nut-like fruits. Many people think pecan nuts are true nuts when they are, in fact, a pseudodrupe. Botanically, however, these psuedodrupes are much closer to a true nut than a peanut ever will be.

They have a hard shell with a seed inside, like a true nut. But they also have a dry protective coating called a husk, which would make them a dry drupe. Drupes are a common type of fruit; they are fleshy or dry fruits with a central stony pit that contains the seed. For example, cherries are a type of fleshy drupe that we eat.

However, in the Juglandaceae family, this protective husk contains involucral bract tissues not found in other dry drupes. Hence, it is correctly referred to as a pseudodrupe.

But, since only nerdy plant people like me tend to haggle over these differences, we will refer to the pseudodrupe as the fruit (= husk + nut) and the stony pit inside as the nut.

Pecan husks are four-valved, meaning they split open along four lines called sutures. Pecan sutures have conspicuous wings or ridges that make them clearly visible long before they split open (dehiscence).

Pecan shells tend to be relatively thin compared to other nuts. Some are referred to as ‘papershell’ pecans because they are thin enough to sometimes break in your hands without using a tool. Other pecans have more medium-thick shells, but pecans never have very thick shells like some hickory species.

In pecans, the seed inside is generally referred to as the kernel. This is the delicious part of the fruit that we eat.

The shape, size, and color of the nuts, how thick the shell is, and the color and shape of the kernel inside are all very useful tools in helping to identify the different types of pecan trees.

Pecan Fruits - 4 Square
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work, and Fern Berg, Own Work – Combined and Text Added by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Pecans are typically classified by size according to how many nuts it takes to make a pound. For example, 45 – 55 nuts per pound are large nuts, whereas anything over about 80 nuts per pound would be considered small.

Pecans are also classified by the % kernel on shell out, meaning how much weight of the nut was actually shell and how much was the kernel. Anything over 50% is a decent shell out, while lower than 50% generally means they are not filling their shells.

One final thing to mention about the fruits is alternate bearing. Trees that alternate bear produce good crops every other year with fewer nuts in the other years. High yields can stress a tree and cause it to alternate bear, while other trees naturally alternate bear. Finally, some trees do not alternate bear and produce reliable crops yearly.

Identifying Pecan Trees by Branch Growth Patterns

Pecan trees all have various ascending and spreading branches. The trunks typically fork fairly low on the tree, forming two or more main thick branches that ascend and spread.

Sometimes as they continue to mature, their crown becomes more spreading, with lower branches becoming more horizontal or even descending while the uppermost branches continue to ascend.

Branch Morphology - 4 Square - ascending descending horizontal spreading
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Pecan Trees by Tree Habit

Tree habit is the overall form a tree has when viewed from a distance. The ascending and spreading branches of pecans typically create open spreading, rounded, or oval (narrowly rounded) crowns that may be irregular or symmetrical.

They also tend to have trunks that fork very low down, developing multiple main branches low down on the trunk. This feature also tends to help create open spreading and rounded crowns.

Tree Habit - 3 Square - forked openspread rounded
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Pecan Trees by Bark

Pecan bark starts out smooth when the tree is very young, like most trees. It is typically gray when they are young.

As it matures, it typically develops vertical grooves or furrows in it. It may remain gray or become more brownish-gray.

The grooves in mature pecan bark tend to be irregular and may create blocky ridges in between them that may occasionally exfoliate somewhat.

Bark - 3 Square - blockyridges grooved smooth
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work, and Fern Berg, Own Work – Combined and Text Added by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

15 Different Types of Pecan Trees & Their Identifying Features

Type I Protandrous Pecan Trees

Type I protandrous trees have male flowers whose anthers release their pollen before the stigmas on their female flowers are receptive to it.

They MUST be paired with a Type II protogynous tree in order for successful pollination to occur.

1. Desirable Pecans – Carya illinoinensis ‘Desirable’

Desirable Pecan - Grid 2 Square
Images by Fern Berg, Own Work – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Desirable Pecan trees are a popular cultivar with very large high-quality nuts inside their medium to thick shells that are easy to crack and produce reliably year after year.

It also tends to thin its own nut clusters to 2 – 3 nuts each, which lowers the stress on the trees and reduces the chances of alternate bearing.

These trees grow best in moist climates like that of Georgia, USA, where they are most often grown. They do not like overly dry climates.

It is more susceptible to scab than other cultivars, particularly in especially wet years, and because of this is not recommended for homeowners since routine fungicides may be needed.

These trees are slower-growing than other cultivars and may be more difficult to prune into strong, healthy trees.

Desirable is Type I protandrous and is a good early-season pollinator. It pairs well with Elliot, Kanza, Sioux, Sumner, and Stuart.

Identifying Features of the Desirable Pecan

Desirable Pecan is a slow-growing tall, upright, vigorous tree with vertically grooved, gray bark.

Odd-pinnate leaves are dark green with falcate leaflets with acuminate to falcate tips and finely serrate, crenate, or serrate-crenate margins.

It is a Type I protandrous tree with pollen shedding before the stigmas become receptive.

Nuts ripen between the end of October and early November.

Nuts are large in size, elliptical in shape, and brown with some darker mottling, especially near the tip. Shells are medium to thick but softer than many other cultivars, making them easy to crack.

Kernels are large in size and golden in color.

Other Common Names: N/A

Origin: Made from a cross of unknown parentage in the early 1900s by Carl F. Forkert from Ocean Springs, Jackson County, Mississippi, and introduced in 1915, but not widely commercially planted until the 1960s.

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 70 – 100 ft tall, 50 – 75 ft spread

Available at: Nature Hills

2. Caddo Pecans – Carya illinoinensis ‘Caddo’

Caddo Pecan
Image via Womack Nursery

Caddo Pecan trees are heavy-producing trees producing high yields of tasty medium-sized football-shaped nuts with about 67 nuts per pound that have 54% kernel and yield lots of full halves when shelled.

Nuts mature about mid-October, depending on the location, and the quality remains good even on large, older trees.

It is a Type I protandrous pollinator that pairs well with Elliot in zones 8 – 10 or with Stuart in zones 6 – 10.

Best grown in rich, well-drained, slightly acidic soil in full sun.

Water it throughout the growing season and mulch around the root zone to retain moisture.

They are only slightly scab resistant and may not be suitable for homeowners as they may require routine fungicidal treatments in scab-prone areas.

Identifying Features of the Caddo Pecans

Caddo Pecans are tall, spreading trees with somewhat narrowly rounded (oval), spreading crowns.

Odd-pinate leaves are medium to light green with falcate leaflets with finely serrate, crenate, or serrate-crenate margins.

It is a Type I protandrous tree with pollen shedding before the stigmas become receptive.

Nuts are oblong-elliptical to oblong-shaped and are typically pointy on both ends, looking like a miniature football, with dark mottling on at least the lower half of the nut, but the mottling may extend to both ends.

The shell is very thin and easy to crack, and the kernel is slender and golden.

Other Common Names: N/A

Origin: a hybrid cross between the ‘Brooks’ and ‘Alley’ cultivars created in Georgia, USA, in 1922.

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 10

Average Size at Maturity: 70 – 100 ft tall, 40 – 70 ft spread

3. Creek Pecan Trees – Carya illinoinensis ‘Creek’

Creek Pecans are one of the most disease-resistant papershell varieties, producing bountiful crops of large nuts (50 – 54 nuts per pound) maturing in early October.

They are tall trees that perform better in partial shade and densely planted areas than most pecans.

Nut production begins in as little as five years after planting.

It benefits from crop thinning to reduce stress on the tree, which could result in alternate bearing.

Kernel quality is sometimes unreliable, averaging 48.3%, with a low percentage rated as fancy.

It often sheds pollen and has receptive stigmas at the same time but is not considered self-fertile. It is classified as a Type I tree that pairs well with Elliot, Kanza, or Kiowa.

It was produced as a temporary tree for commercial orchards or for high-density plantings but otherwise is unsuitable for orchards.

However, its disease resistance, and early production make it great for homeowners.

Identifying Features of the Creek Pecan

Creek Pecans are tall, upright trees, only moderately spreading (about half as wide as tall), with a strong form.

Odd-pinnate leaves are medium green, with typically falcate leaflets with serrate-crenate margins and usually long-acuminate to falcate tips.

It is considered a Type I protandrous tree with pollen shedding before the stigmas become receptive. However, in reality, both are often present at the same time, although the tree is not self-fertile.

The nuts are large and elliptical in shape, longer than most pecans, and narrow compared to their length. The shell is darker brown than many pecans, with some darker mottling, particularly at their very pointy tips.

Other Common Names: USDA 61-6-67

Origin: A cross between ‘Mohawk’ and ‘Starking Hardy Giant’, first called USDA 61-6-67 and released in 1996 by the USDA-ARS and the Agricultural Experiment Stations in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas.

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 75 – 100 ft tall, 40 – 50 ft spread

4. Cape Fear Pecans – Carya illinoinensis ‘Cape Fear’

Cape Fear Pecan
Image via Perfect Plants

Cape Fear Pecan is a good producer of delicious, high-quality golden nuts that are a good size, at about 58 pecans per pound, and mature in late summer.

They start bearing nuts at a young age, though production is not as consistent as some cultivars.

They have moderate to good resistance to pecan scab but are susceptible to bacterial leaf scorch.

It may require selective pruning as it matures in order to maintain nut quality.

Best grown in full sun.

It tolerates clay, sand, and loam soils that are acidic to neutral but must be well-drained.

Once established, they are more drought-tolerant than many cultivars.

It is a Type I tree that pairs well with Stuart or Elliot cultivars for pollination partners.

Its slightly smaller size and better resistance to scab make it suitable for homeowners for shade trees, nut production, or in a woodland garden.

Identifying Features of the Cape Fear Pecan

Cape Fear Pecan is a medium to large tree with an open, spreading form.

Odd-pinnate leaves are medium to dark green, with falcate leaflets with long-acuminate tips and serrate to serrate-crenate margins.

It is a Type I protandrous tree with pollen shedding before the stigmas become receptive.

Nuts are oblong or broadly oval in shape with a long pointy tip, a medium-thin shell thickness, and some dark mottling towards the tip.

The nuts resemble Stuart in size and shape but crack better.

The kernel is light golden in color.

Other Common Names: N/A

Origin: An open-pollinated seedling derived from the cultivar ‘Schley’ by Dr.Smit at Willard Horticultural Department, North Carolina State University, around 1912.

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 60 ft tall, 40 – 75 ft spread

5. Osage Pecan – Carya illinoinensis ‘Osage’

Osage Pecan trees have specifically been bred for more northern climates in its range.

It produces high-quality small to medium nuts, with about 80 nuts per pound, that are great color and have kernels that separate well from the shell with about 54% kernel.

For a northern cultivar, its productivity is considered quite high, but not compared to those that perform well in the south.

It is a fantastic choice for those in USDA zones 6 and 7.

Nuts mature very early, around early to mid-September, depending on the location.

These trees are very resistant to diseases, including pecan scab, downy spot, and vein spot.

It is a good pollinizer for many Type II trees and is pollenized well by most Type II trees.

Its disease resistance and ability to grow in colder climates make it a great choice for homeowners.

Identifying Features of the Osage Pecan

Osage Pecans are medium to tall trees with narrowly spreading crowns.

It is a Type I protandrous tree with pollen shedding before the stigmas become receptive.

Nuts are small to medium in size, oval-elliptical shape, fairly short and wide around the middle, with an obtuse (greater than 90°) to short acute (less than 90°) tip. The color is a darker brown than most, with only a small amount of darker mottling near the tip.

Kernels are a nice golden color, with about 54% kernel.

The nuts are similar to the Elliot Pecan in their great taste, high oil content, and good shelling characteristics, with a high percentage of perfect halves.

Other Common Names: Selection 48-15-3 (original test name)

Origin: a 1948 cross between ‘Major’ and ‘Evers’ that was released by the USDA breeding program in 1989.

USDA Growing Zones: 6(5) – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 100 ft tall, 30 – 60 ft spread

6. Pawnee Pecan Tree – Carya illinoinensis ‘Pawnee’

 Pawnee Pecan - Grid 2 Square
Images via Fast-Growing-Trees – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Pawnee Pecans are quickly becoming a popular pecan for their large nuts, high yields, and early harvest, all in a much more compact tree than most pecan trees, growing only to about 30 ft tall and 25 ft wide.

It has good resistance to aphids, pests, and disease in general but can be somewhat prone to scab.

It is a perfect choice for those with limited space or homeowners with small yards who still want to grow pecans. It also makes a lovely shade tree.

It is a type of papershell pecan, so the large sweet nuts are easy to crack open.

Best grown in full sun in a slightly acidic loamy soil.

It tolerates clay and sand if well-drained and has high drought tolerance for a pecan.

Elliot, Stuart, or Sumner pecans would all make good pollinating partners.

Identifying Features of the Pawnee Pecan

Pawnee Pecan is a small tree, never reaching more than 30 ft tall and 25 ft wide, with a fairly symmetrical, mostly rounded crown.

Odd-pinnate leaves are medium to light green, with falcate leaflets with long-acuminate tips and serrate or serrate-crenate margins.

It is a Type I protandrous tree with pollen shedding before the stigmas become receptive.

Nuts are large (56 nuts per pound), elliptical, and a medium to somewhat darker brown in color with some dark mottling near the short to long-acuminate tip. Shells are thin papershell type and crack easily.

Kernels are a rich golden color with about 54% kernel by weight.

Other Common Names: N/A

Origin: a cross of ‘Mohawk’ and ‘Starking Hardy Giant’, made in Brownwood, Texas, in 1963.

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 30 ft tall, 15 – 25 ft spread

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

Type II Protogynous Pecan Trees

Type II protogynous trees have female flowers whose stigmas are receptive before the anthers on their male flowers release their pollen.

They MUST be paired with a Type I protandrous tree in order for successful pollination to occur.

7. Kanza Pecan Tree – Carya illinoensis ‘Kanza’

Kanza Pecan - Grid 2 Square
Images via Spencer Creek Nursery – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Kanza Pecan is an early pecan that is ready to harvest from late September to October, depending on the location.

They are a very large yielder of somewhat smaller and rounder nuts with about 70 – 80 pecans per pound.

Nuts are delicious and shell very easily.

It was bred for its disease resistance to pecan scab, powdery mildew, and other pests and diseases.

It is very cold-hardy for a pecan, performing well in the more northern climates in its range.

It is very similar to Elliot Pecan and makes a great alternative to Elliot in USDA zones 6 – 7.

It is a grafted cultivar that will bear nuts in 5 – 7 years.

Kanza is a Type II pollinator with excellent compatibility with Pawnee, Caddo, Desirable, or Oconee.

Identifying Features of the Kanza Pecan Tree

Kanza is a large tree with an open, irregular, or somewhat oval crown. Mature bark is grooved and gray.

Odd-pinnate leaves are medium green, with falcate leaflets with falcate or long-acuminate tips.

It is a Type II pollinator with the stigmas becoming receptive before the pollen sheds.

Nuts are smaller in size, broadly elliptical (wide in the middle), and darker in color than many cultivars, with only a very small amount of mottling near the narrow pointy tip.

Shells are very thin and easy to crack.

It is very similar to Elliot Pecan in form and nut production.

Other Common Names: Kanza Northern Pecan

Origin: Developed from a hand-pollinated cross of ‘Major’ and ‘Shoshoni’ pecans by Louis Romberg in 1955 and released in 1996.

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 70 – 100 ft tall, 60 – 80 ft spread

8. Stuart Pecan Trees – Carya illinoinensis ‘Stuart’

Stuart Pecan - Grid 2 Square
Images via Nature Hills – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Stuart Pecan is a fast-growing cultivar that produces an upright, sturdy tree that is lower maintenance than other cultivars, requiring less pruning than most.

It produces fairly large nuts at 52 nuts per pound, but it takes 8 – 10 years before the tree starts bearing fruit.

Nuts production can be unreliable, with some years the kernel not filling out the shell well but other years they produce quite well.

They are late-season Type II pollinators requiring an early Type I pollinating partner such as Caddo or Pawnee.

Best grown in loamy, well-drained, mildly acidic soil in full sun. It will tolerate clay and sand, but it must be well-drained.

Yellow aphids can be a problem with this cultivar.

Identifying Features of the Stuart Pecan

Stuart Pecan is a tall, upright, sturdy tree with an open, somewhat oval crown with mostly ascending branches.

Odd-pinnate leaves are medium to dark green, and leaflets are often conspicuously falcate with long-acuminate or falcate tips and serrate to serrate-crenate margins.

It is a Type II protogynous tree with the stigmas being receptive before the pollen sheds.

Nuts are large but not quite as large as Desirable, and the shells are thicker than most but still crack easily. They are elliptical-oblong, medium to dark brown, with a short-acuminate tip and some darker mottling near the tip.

Kernels are large and a darker golden brown than most cultivars.

Other Common Names: Castanera

Origin: From a seed planted in 1874 by J.R. Lassabe in Pascagoula, Mississippi. It was later offered commercially by Col. Stuart in 1892.

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 10

Average Size at Maturity: 70 – 100 ft tall, 50 – 70 ft spread

Available at: Nature Hills

9. Elliott Pecan – Carya illinoinensis ‘Elliott’

Elliot Pecan - Grid 2 Square
Images via Fast-Growing-Trees – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Elliott Pecans are an older cultivar with high-quality tear-shaped nuts that are sweet, rich, and creamy in texture and have excellent shelling qualities.

It produces moderate yields of nuts, does not bear early, and is usually an alternate-bearing tree.

It is one of the first to leaf out in the spring and become receptive to pollination and is a good choice for southern climates.

Best grown in full sun in clay, sand, or loam, provided they are well-drained. It tolerates neutral to acidic soils and has high drought tolerance once established.

Its high scab resistance makes it a good choice for homeowners and small orchards, but it is susceptible to late spring freezes, so it is best grown in USDA zones 8 – 9.

Yellow aphids can be a problem.

Identifying Features of the Elliott Pecan

Elliott Pecan is a large tree with an open, spreading crown and gray grooved bark.

Its foliage is considered similar to Curtis and was once thought to be a progeny of it, but age data on the original tree ruled that out.

Odd-pinnate leaves are medium to dark green, with falcate leaflets with serrate or serrate-crenate margins.

The nut is small to medium in size, quite round, but with a long-acuminate tip giving it a tear-drop shape. The shell is a darker brown than most, with some dark mottling near the tip, medium in thickness, and there is not much of a central septum.

Kernels are roundish in outline and a rich medium golden color.

Other Common Names: Elliot Pecan (the correct spelling of the original grower)

Origin: A seedling selected by Effie Elliot in the mid-1800s in Milton, Florida.

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 100 ft tall, 30 – 75 ft spread

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

10. Moreland Pecan – Carya illinoinensis ‘Moreland’

Moreland Pecan - Grid 2 Square
Images via Texas Pecan Nursery and Willis Orchards – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

The Moreland Pecan is a lovely medium to large pecan tree with a dense canopy and excellent disease resistance, making it very suitable for homeowners or small orchards.

They produce medium-large nuts, about 55 nuts per pound, and reliably produce high yields of high-quality nuts each year.

The nuts have very high oil content giving them a rich flavor and good storage capability.

Nuts mature in late October.

Mature trees may have reduced kernel size, and they may alternate bear, making them less desirable as a commercial tree, except in scab-prone areas since they have great resistance.

They are a Type II tree requiring a Type I partner like Desirable, Pawnee, or Caddo.

Best grown in full sun in well-drained soil.

Identifying Features of the Moreland Pecan

Moreland Pecan is a medium to large tree with a spreading crown and dense canopy.

Odd-pinnate leaves are medium green, with typically strongly falcate leaflets with acuminate tips and serrate-crenate margins.

It is a Type II protogynous tree with the stigmas being receptive before the pollen sheds.

The nuts are heavy and medium-large, with large golden kernels that fill their shells. Nuts are elliptic-oblong, with a pointy tip and a medium brown shell with only some darker mottling near the tip.

Nuts are about the same size and shape as Stuart but have higher oil content.

Other Common Names: N/A

Origin: It was discovered by Dr. W.E. Moreland from a shoot originating from below the graft of a tree in Powhatan, Louisiana, around 1945.

USDA Growing Zones: 7(6) – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 50 – 75 ft tall, 30 – 40 ft spread

11. Mahan Pecan Trees – Carya illinoinensis ‘Mahan’

Mahan Pecans are quite large trees suitable for dryer climates with warm winters.

It produces high yields of very large nuts even from an early age, with later-ripening nuts that typically mature between the middle to end of November.

The kernels are rich in flavor and high quality, particularly when the tree is young.

More mature trees tend to deteriorate in nut yield and quality, often not filling the shell and with flavor declining.

While it is somewhat self-fertile, it will yield much better when paired with Desirable, Pawnee, or Cape Fear.

Best grown in full sun in very well-drained soil.

It makes a lovely shade tree for larger gardens.

Identifying Features of the Mahan Pecan

Mahan Pecan trees are large trees, larger than most cultivars, with open, spreading crowns.

Odd-pinnate leaves are dark green, with lanceolate to falcate leaflets with serrate to serrate-crenate margins.

It is a Type II protogynous tree with stigmas on the female flowers becoming receptive before the male flowers shed their pollen.

Nuts are one of the largest (50 nuts per pound) and are narrowly elliptic, up to 2.5” long, probably longer than any other cultivar, with an acuminate tip and a medium-brown shell with darker mottling near the tip.

Kernels are medium to dark golden color, 53% kernel, but often do not fill to the end of their long, thin shell, particularly on older trees.

Other Common Names: Florida Giant, Georgia Giant, Masterpiece, Mayhan, Mississippi Giant.

Origin: a seedling planted by J.M. Chestnutt around 1910 in Kosciusko, Mississippi, from unknown parentage but possibly a self of ‘Schley’.

USDA Growing Zones: 7(6) – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 70 – 150 ft tall, 40 – 75 ft spread

12. Kiowa Pecan – Carya illinoinensis ‘Kiowa’

Kiowa Pecan is a fairly large tree with a large nut yield in alternate years.

It produces very large high-quality nuts (48 nuts per pound) at a young age. However, heavy-yielding years may produce nuts of slightly lower quality.

It has high resistance to scab and is able to grow well in less-than-ideal conditions.

It will grow in clay, sand, and loam soils that are acidic, neutral, or alkaline, provided they are well-drained.

It will grow equally well in full sun or partial shade.

It has higher drought tolerance than most cultivars, making it suitable for dry climates.

Its high resistance to scab also makes it suitable for moist climates, where it replaces Desirable in new orchards.

It’s large size and lush foliage make it a great, relatively low-maintenance shade tree for homeowners.

It pairs well with Type I trees like Cape Fear, Creek, Desirable, or Mandan.

Identifying Features of the Kiowa Pecan

Kiowa Pecan is a medium to large tree with a very broad, spreading crown, often spreading as wide as it grows tall.

Leaves are rich medium to dark green, odd-pinnate, with lanceolate to falcate leaflets with acuminate tips and serrate-crenate margins.

It is a Type II protogynous tree with the stigmas being receptive before the pollen sheds.

The nuts are large, with 48 nuts per pound that are 53% kernel. Nuts are elliptical or ovate-elliptical in shape with acuminate or short-acuminate tips. They are medium to somewhat dark brown with some darker mottling near the tip.

Nuts resemble Desirable in shape and size but with a usually longer and thinner shell.

Kernels are a rich golden brown.

Other Common Names: N/A

Origin: Thought to be developed from a cross of ‘Mahan’ and ‘Odom’ in Brownwood, TX, in 1953, but recent DNA analysis suggests it was more likely a cross between ‘Mahan’ and ‘Desirable’.

USDA Growing Zones: 7(6) – 10

Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 80 ft tall, 60 – 80 ft spread

13. Curtis Pecan – Carya illinoinensis ‘Curtis’

Curtis Pecan
Image via TyTy Nursery

Curtis Pecan is a late-season pollinizer that produces large quantities of small nuts with thin shells.

The nuts are some of the smallest of the cultivars at 89 nuts per pound. But the tasty straw-colored kernels shell out at 57% kernel and often produce perfect halves.

While the nut size is too small for most commercial growers, it is extremely resistant to scab and makes a wonderful tree for the homeowner, whether for nut production or as an attractive shade tree.

Commercial nurseries often use this as a rootstock for grafted cultivars due to its high disease resistance.

Best grown in full sun in any soil type, provided it is well-drained.

It pairs well with Cape Fear, Caddo, Desirable, and Moore.

Identifying Features of the Curtis Pecan

Curtis Pecan is a tall tree with a spreading to oval crown.

Odd-pinnate leaves are medium green with lanceolate to falcate leaflets with acuminate or falcate tips and serrate to somewhat crenate margins.

It is a Type II protogynous tree with the stigmas being receptive before the pollen sheds.

Nuts are small (89 nuts per pound), elliptical to elliptical-ovate in shape, medium to darkish brown in color with darker mottling near their acuminate tips, and often with dark speckles throughout its shell.

Kernels are straw to golden colored and fill their small shells completely with 57% kernel weight upon shell out.

Other Common Names: N/A

Origin: discovered in 1886 near Orange Park, FL, by J.B. Curtis and introduced in Ocean Springs, Jackson County, Mississippi, in 1914.

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 70 – 100 ft tall, 40 – 75 ft spread

Native and Hybrid Pecans

Native pecan trees produce much smaller nuts than cultivars and make lovely shade trees.

However, if you are wanting larger nuts from a more native tree, then choose the Hardy Pecan, which has been bred from the native tree.

Hicans are pecans crossed with hickories like Shagbark Hickory, and they produce large tasty nuts on trees that are much more cold-hardy than any of the pecan cultivars, giving pecan options to those in USDA Zones 4 and 5.

Hardy Pecans and Hicans can be paired with themselves or each other for pollination or could be paired with other Type I or Type II trees as well.

14. Hardy Pecan – Carya illinoinensis

Hardy Pecan - Grid 2 Square
Images via Fast-Growing-Trees and Nature Hills – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Hardy Pecan is a popular tree for its ability to withstand winter freezes as well as its high pest and disease resistance.

It produces relatively large, high-quality thin-shelled nuts about 7 – 15 years after planting.

It’s a fantastic tree for homeowners for nut production and as a shade tree where it holds its leaves late into the fall and then turns an attractive harvest gold.

Best grown in full sun to partial shade. It tolerates clay, sand, and loam soils, acidic or alkaline, provided they’re well-drained.

It has high drought tolerance and will tolerate occasional heavy rains.

It is somewhat self-fertile, but higher yields will be achieved when multiple trees are planted.

Be careful buying cheap seedlings online because some come from wild stock. If you want a native tree, then specifically purchase a native tree. If you want it for nut production, then buy from a reputable supplier.

Identifying Features of the Hardy Pecan

The Hardy Pecan is a large tree with a broad, rounded, or oval crown, often spreading almost as wide as it does tall. The trunks may reach 2 – 4 ft in diameter, and the bark is slate gray and grooved.

Odd-pinnate leaves have dark to medium green lanceolate to falcate leaflets with acuminate to falcate tips and serrate, crenate, or serrate-crenate margins.

Nuts are medium-sized, medium-brown, broadly elliptical in shape with acuminate tips and little to no dark mottling on the shell.

Shells are thin and easy to crack.

Other Common Names: Sweet Hardy Pecan

Native Area: This is bred from the native pecan tree and has been offered for sale in US nurseries since the late 1700s. Native to central and eastern USA and northern Mexico, mostly along the lower Mississippi Valley.

USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 70 – 90 ft tall, 40 – 75 ft spread

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

15. McAllister Hican Pecans – Carya x illinoinensis ‘McAlister’

McAlister Hican Pecans
Image via Plant Path

Hicans are a natural hybrid that occurs between pecans and various hickory species, all of the Carya genus.

The McAllister Hican is a cross between the Mahan Pecan (Carya illinoinensis ‘Mahan’) and the Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata).

They are fast-growing trees that produce huge thin-shelled nuts nearly three inches long.

Nuts are said to have an elegant taste with a flavor more like hickory nuts than pecans.

They are prized for their rarity, cold tolerance (down to USDA zone 4), and their ability to pollinate both hickory and pecan trees.

Naturally occurring hybrids are rare and produce nuts of unpredictable quality. However, if you purchase your tree from a reputable supplier and you will not be disappointed.

It takes 5 – 7 years for the trees to produce nuts.

Best grown in full sun in any well-drained soil but with ample watering to ensure the nuts fill out their shells.

Identifying Features of the McAllister Hican Pecan

McAllister Hican Pecans are medium-sized trees with rounded or oval crowns.

Leaves are odd-pinnate, medium to dark green with elliptical, ovate, or falcate leaflets with serrate or serrate-crenate margins.

Nuts can be quite variable. In general, they have the same darker mottling seen on most pecans but are much larger, up to 3” long, and nearly as wide, almost the same size as a Shellbark Hickory nut.

Other Common Names: McAlester Pecan, McAlister Hican, McCalister Hican, Floyd Hican

Origin: Discovered by O. L. McAllister in Mt. Vernon, IN, in the 1800s.

USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 60 ft tall, 30 – 40 ft spread

Pleasing Pecan Trees

Growing Pecan Trees in Your Garden

Pecan trees make a pleasing addition to any yard large enough for them to grow and spread. Not only will they provide you and the wildlife with a delicious and nutritious meal, but they also make a fantastic shade tree.

Because of their size, however, it is important to plant them away from buildings and powerlines since most cultivars grow upwards of 100 ft tall with a spread of up to about 70 ft.

They also need to have about 60 ft between trees to give them enough room to grow. Some new cultivars have been developed that respond better to competition with other trees, so read up on the different cultivars before purchasing.

Apart from space, there are a few other important considerations.

For one, you must make sure your climate is suitable. Most pecans thrive in USDA Zones 6 – 9, with a few growing well in Zone 5, hicans growing well in Zone 4, and a few others growing well in Zone 10. So know which USDA Planting Zone you live in, then read up on your chosen tree to find the one that is right for you.

Next to climate, water is a big consideration with pecan trees. Pecans tend to be fairly thirsty trees, especially if you want them for nut production. Some cultivars will do better in dry climates than others, and a few prefer dry climates, while others prefer moister climates. So again, read up on the cultivars to choose the right tree for your yard.

Most pecan trees perform best in full sun, and none will do well in full shade. A few, however, will tolerate or even do well in partial shade.

Many pecan trees prefer soil that is slightly acidic, while some cultivars will tolerate alkaline soil. So if you have alkaline soil, be sure to choose the correct cultivar.

Other than pH, most pecans are not picky about soil type, provided it is well-drained. None will do well in waterlogged soil.

If you want more information on choosing the right tree for the right spot in your yard, check out How to Pick A Tree For Your Yard for more information.

When you do choose a tree, make sure you plant it in its permanent spot. They have a deep taproot which can make them very difficult to transplant successfully.

Pecans, being closely related to walnuts, are one of the few trees that can be planted near black walnut trees.

About Pecan Scab

Pecan scab
Image by Clemson University, The Bugwood Network at the University of Georgia, and the USDA Forest Service, CC BY 3.0

Pecan scab is the most prevalent disease affecting pecans in most of its growing range.

It is caused by a fungus called Cladosporium caryigenum or Fusicladium effusum. It overwinters on twigs, leaves, and nuts and then develops when there is enough moisture in the air from dew or rain, which is why it tends to be worse in moist climates.

The disease can be recognized by small, round, black, or olive-green spots on leaves and nuts that may grow and fuse into much larger spots. This can allow pink mold fungus, Cephalothecium roseum, to invade the lesions on the nuts and cause rot and off-flavors.

Pecan scab is only controlled by the proper use of specific fungicides, along with sanitary practices, and, if possible, the planting of resistant cultivars.

Fungicide application is used commercially but is not recommended for the homeowner, so they should plant resistant cultivars if they live in a prone area.

Removing and destroying diseased leaves, nuts, and twigs in the winter can also help prevent its spread the following spring.

Interesting Facts About Pecan Trees

Pecans that are growing on their own roots (not grafted) can be fairly long-lived trees reaching 200 – 300 years or sometimes more.

A tree in Mulberry Park in Braselton, Georgia, that was believed to be older than the state of Georgia (established in 1732) recently died and had to be removed for safety reasons.

One of the largest pecan trees recorded once stood in Natchez Trace State Park in western Tennessee. It was 106 ft tall, 136 ft wide, and 18’ 2” in circumference. Legend has it that it was grown from a pecan given to Sukey Morris by one of Andrew Jackson’s men as they returned home after the Battle of New Orleans. The tree is no longer with us today.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both known to have planted their own pecan trees back in the late 1700s.

Human Uses of Pecan Trees

Pecan trees have been harvested and cultivated by Native Americans for millennia, long before Europeans arrived in North America.

Commercial production of pecans began in the late 1800s when growers in Texas and Louisiana began grafting the trees and growing them on a commercial scale.

Now, commercial production is nearly 300 million pounds annually, with the most being produced in Georgia, New Mexico, and Texas, in the USA.

Pecans are delicious nuts widely eaten as snacks or used in pies, cookies, pralines, desserts, ice cream, and so much more.

The wood is also widely used for furniture, flooring, veneer, and for smoking meats.

Wildlife Values Pecan Trees Provide

The nuts are eaten by numerous animals, such as squirrels, opossums, and raccoons, and numerous birds also enjoy the nuts.

White-tailed deer browse heavily on seedlings and the lower branches of mature trees.

Pecans are larval host plants to numerous native moths and butterflies that feed on their foliage.

Birds, squirrels, and other animals use the mature trees for cover as well as nesting habitat.

The pecan is such a pleasant, cheerful tree providing ample shade and delicious nuts. Now that you know so much more about this wonderful tree, you can use your skills to identify the pecans around you.

Enjoy their beauty, and maybe sit in the shade cast by their lovely canopy and enjoy a feast of delicious nuts they provide.

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Lyrae Willis

Environmental Scientist & Plant Ecologist

Lyrae grew up in the forests of BC, Canada, where she got a BSc. in Environmental Sciences. Her whole life, she has loved studying plants, from the tiniest flowers to the most massive trees. She is currently researching native plants of North America and spends her time traveling, hiking, documenting, and writing. When not researching, she is homeschooling her brilliant autistic son, who travels with her and benefits from a unique hands-on education about the environment around him.

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