Carya illinoinensis
Family: Juglandaceae

Natural Historypecan
Leaves and fruit of pecan
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida

Pecan trees are most widely known for their sweet, edible nuts, which are cultivated for commercial resources throughout much of the southeastern United States. There are about 25 other species of hickories, all native to eastern North American or southeastern China. The pecan is one of very few North American plants to have been domesticated and developed into a commercial crop. It is certainly the most valuable and the most widely grown. There exist over 500 different cultivar varieties of pecans. Mature trees can produce 400 to 1000 pounds of nuts per year. Outside of the United States, pecans are also grown commercially in France, Spain, Israel, South Africa, and Australia.

Habitat & Range

The pecan grows best on rich, moist soils of well-drained river bottomlands.  It usually occurs as an occasional tree in association with sweetgum, American elm, common persimmon, honeylocust, hackberry, poplars, and water oak.  It grows mainly in the southern Mississippi valley: from southwestern Indiana to southeastern Iowa, south through western Tennessee to northern Florida, and south and west through southern Kansas to east central Texas.  It also grows in the mountains of Mexico. 

Wildlife Use

Many species of wildlife utilize the fruits and vegetation of the pecan for food. The nuts are particularly popular with squirrels, fox, opossum and raccoons, as well as numerous birds. White-tailed deer will frequently browse on the twigs and leaves of this tree.

Human Use

Pecan wood is enhanced by its fine-grained beauty, strength, and durability. Uses include paneling, cabinetry, furniture and veneer, but its "good machining properties" make it a popular source of flooring and fuel wood as well. The pecan is widely planted throughout the south as both an ornamental and for fruit production.  The nuts are widely used in ice cream, candies, pastries, and desserts. They also have a high protein and fat content, which makes them a useful supplement to both human and animal diets.


Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: Pecan is a large tree that may grow up to between 100 and 140 feet tall, 3 to 4 feet in diameter. It has a long, clear bole that spreads into a narrow, pyramidal crown and a buttressed trunk. When grown in the open, it may begin branching just several feet above the ground.
Leaves: The leaves are pinnately compound, alternate, and deciduous. There are 9 to 17 leaflets per leaf.
Twigs: The twigs are stout, reddish-brown, and glabrous. The pith is homogeneous.
Bark: The bark is light brownish-gray, moderately thick, and shaggy. Narrow fissures divide the bark into scaly, interlacing ridges.
Flowers: The pecan is a monoecious species. The yellow-green male flowers hang on catkins in pairs or groups of 3. The female flowers are also yellowish-green, and are small and 4-angled.
Fruit: The fruit is an elliptical-shaped, edible nut that is about 1½ to 2½ inches long. It is enclosed in a thin, dark reddish-brown husk and grows in clusters of 3 to 12. The seed is deeply 2-grooved and sweet.
Similar Trees on the Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest List:
Several other plants on our list also have alternate, pinnately-compound leaves.



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