Southern nut trees are valued for their lumber as well as the nuts they produce. Many nut trees make good shade trees and are important sources of food and shelter for wildlife. The southeastern United States is home to a number of different nut trees, many of which produce sweet, edible nuts.
A member of the family Juglandaceae, the pecan tree is closely related to the hickory. The pecan tree is native to the United States and found predominately in the southeast. Commercially grown pecans typically have larger nut meats and thinner shells than native grown species. Pecans have many culinary uses, including pies and cakes, and are a good source of vitamins and antioxidants. With over 140,000 acres planted in pecan trees, Georgia is the nation's leading producer of pecans, according to the University of Georgia. Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Arizona also produce large numbers of pecans. Pecans are harvested between October and November, when the shuck begins to split from the shell. Pecan wood is valued for making furniture, cabinets and flooring.
Native to North America, the black walnut tree is found in forests from Massachusetts to Texas. Although this tree was once commonly found throughout the Southeast, it is now scarce. In the 1800s, black walnut wood was so common it was used for railroad ties and split rail fences because of its rot resistance. Walnut wood is still used for furniture and gun stocks. The black walnut tree typically grows approximately 50 to 75 feet tall. The nuts are round and have deeply furrowed shells. Black walnuts have a strong, distinctive taste and are often used in baking cakes and cookies.
According to Flora of North America, the American chestnut was once one of the most important trees in North America until the chestnut blight of the 1930s nearly obliterated the species. While stands of chestnut still exist, most are infected with the fungus. Scientists are researching ways to treat infected trees and create blight-resistant hybrids. The nuts of the American chestnut, which are borne in spiny burs, have smooth, reddish-brown shells and sweet, edible meat.
Allegheny Chinkapin Chestnut
The Allegheny chinkapin chestnut or chinquapin chestnut, is a small, shrub-like tree, rarely growing taller than 20 feet. The Allegheny chinkapin is commonly found throughout the eastern United States, from New Jersey to Texas. The nuts, which are much smaller than American chestnuts, are borne singly in burs and resemble shiny, brown acorns. Once highly favored by Native Americans, chinkapin chestnuts are sweet and edible. The nuts also are an important food source for a variety of wildlife, including rabbits, chipmunks and deer.
The shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), named for its distinctive, flaking bark, is one of at least eight different types of hickory trees native to the Southeast. The shagbark hickory grows 60 to 80 feet tall and bears edible nuts. Shagbark hickory wood is used for tool handles and furniture. It is often used for firewood and to smoke meat.