I simply love Pecans! Not only are they are great additive in most of my dishes, but they are also very nutritious and have numerous other uses. The fact that they are not budget-friendly prevented me from using them as much as I would like. This caused me to look up pecan tree identification so I could pick them myself.
Whether you are facing the same problem or simply want to go pecan picking, I will help you identify the pecan. Join me as I describe not just the nut but the tree and its leaves to ensure you get it right the first time! I did it, and so can you. Included, as an additional guide, is a section on how to harvest and store the pecan.
Brief background of the Pecan tree
Pecans belong to the Juglandaceae or walnut family. This tree produces light brown nuts called pecans, and its majestic appearance earned it the state tree title in Texas. It helps with heart problems, weight loss, has anti-aging benefits, prevents skin problems, boosts immunity, and much more.
These benefits resulted in its growing popularity causing it to be one of the most sought out commercial nuts. While many have to buy them at exorbitant prices, a number are fortunate enough to reside in areas where they can pick the pecans themselves.
If you are one of the fortunate few, below are ways to identify the Pecan and enjoy all its benefits, free!
What does a Pecan Tree look like?
Identifying the pecan tree may be a daunting task if you do not know what to look for. It has several characteristics similar to other trees. To make it all easier for you, here are several pointers you need to look for before you make an identification.
● Size of tree
In the hickory family, the pecan tree is the largest. At full maturity, it can reach heights of between 70 and 100 feet tall. On record, there are pecan trees that have reached 150 feet! They usually have a dense canopy, which spreads between 40 and 75 feet wide.
● Trunk and bark
The pecan tree trunk is very tall, thick, and straight. The bark has a light to reddish-brown color, and it usually gets flatter and scalier as it ages.
The pecan tree is monoecious. This means it has both the male and female reproductive organs on different flowers. The male flowers are seen dangling from the branches in clusters of 5 to 6 inches. These clusters are termed catkins.
Below the catkins are the female flowers. They are cup-shaped and open in terminal spikes ready to take up any pollen.
● Rate of growth
Pecan trees grow just 1 to 2 feet every year. They, however, need at least ten years to mature before they can begin producing nuts.
● Check the trees’ location.
Pecan trees are more likely to thrive in warmer climates. Places conducive for their growth include areas south from Texas to the Atlantic Ocean.
Because of its huge size, it is unlikely to be accommodated in an average-sized backyard. It is found in large commercial orchards, woods, and estate-sized plots.
Pecan Tree Identification: Leaves
Pecan leaves are very similar to other trees’ leaves, so identifying them is not an easy task. They are complicated to tell apart from the leaves of the hickory family. Here are a few pointers or clues to help you differentiate the pecan leaves from other species.
Only attempt identification once the tree is at least two years old.
Pecan leaves are easier to identify when the tree is at least two years old. This is because when it is younger, it produces a few leaves that cannot easily be classified. As it ages, however, the leaves elongate and feature several leaflets giving them a look similar to that of fern leaves.
Leaves should be between 12 and 20 inches long.
For a pecan tree older than two years, the leaves are unlikely to be shorter than 12 inches or longer than 20 inches.
Check the color
Pecan leaves are typically dark green on the upper side and exhibit a paler green on its underside. In autumn or the fall, the leaves turn a showy yellow shade. This is a vital clue in identifying pecan leaves.
Smell the leaves
The pecan leaves have a unique smell. To check for it, simply crush a couple of leaves then sniff them immediately. If they produce a strong aromatic scent, they are likely from pecan cultivars.
Examine the stem-leaf design
Check how the leaves sit on the stem. Some leaves sit directly across each other on the stem. However, pecan leaflets appear alternately on the stem.
Count the leaflets on a stem
The Pecans have pinnate, compound leaves. This means it has several leaflets or smaller leaves on a stem to make up a full leaf. Pick several leaves and count the number of leaflets they have.
A young pecan tree has a simple design and very few leaflets. Older trees have an average of nine to thirteen leaflets per stem. You may find a few leaves with up to 17 leaflets.
Examine the leaflets
Typical Pecan leaflets are small and lance-shaped. The leaflets should be from four to eight inches long, and they are likely to curve, resembling a falcon’s beak. They should also have sharp edges and with rows of tooth-like projections at the margins.
The smaller new leaflets should be covered with tiny soft hairs which they shed as they mature.
Pecan Tree Identification: Nut
Pecan nuts are oval or elliptical. They grow in shucks or husks, which crack open once the nuts have reached full maturity.
Pecan nuts are light brown with dark stripes. When still unripe, they grow in oval, elongated shucks. These shucks or husks remain shut while the nut is still growing. Once they reach maturity, the shucks gradually turn brown and crack open, revealing the ripe nut. When they fall on wet ground, their seed coat darkens, and gradually, the nuts become stale.
● Ripening Method
These nuts ripen in clusters of 3 to 11. This differentiates it from other nuts of the hickory family, which ripen in pairs or singly.
● Ripening time
The nuts usually ripen in autumn. How late in the season the nuts ripen depends on the USDA plant hardiness zone. In zones 6-9, they mature at different rates, while in zone 5, the trees rarely produce nuts at all. So you have to research which zone you stay in to make predictions when you expect a Pecan tree to ripen.
An average, fully mature pecan nut is approximately 1 ½ – 2 inches long.
Now that you can identify the pecan tree and its fruit, here are a few tips on harvesting the nuts when you find it. Remember, the process is relatively easy, so you should not have much trouble.
When and How to Harvest
Pecans get ready for harvest when the husks have turned from their green to brown color and crack open. Usually, the nuts drop naturally to the ground. You can also help them drop using a pole or by shaking any branches within reach. This is probably great for you if you share my dislike for heights.
Once the nuts have dropped to the ground, harvest them as soon as possible. Birds, ants, and other creatures also love these nuts, so you may lose it all if you do not pick them fast. If they stay on the ground too long, especially if it is wet, they may also develop molds and rot.
Caring for Pecans After Harvest
Before storage, the harvested nuts need to be dried and cured. To dry them, thinly spread them on a plastic sheet. Place them in an area that has low lighting and maximum air circulation. If you need them to dry faster, stir them continuously and blow a fan across them.
The nuts should take between two to ten days to dry. When properly dry, the pecans’ kennels will become brittle and separate easily from the exterior.
Store the dry nuts in the refrigerator or freezer to extend their shelf life. You can store whole kennels at 0°C for two or more years, and shelled kennels can stay for a year at the same temperature. To keep shelled kennels longer, freeze them at a temperature of at least -17°C.
By now, I am sure you now agree that there is no reason to spend a small fortune buying pecans. Not only do you now know what the tree looks like, you know how to harvest and store pecans. If you live in areas that favor pecan nut growth, why not keep this article close. It certainly comes handy when you need to identify and pick Pecans! Happy picking!