Over millions of years, the pecan tree has grown to inhabit a large territory, reaching from the southern United States into Canada. Its success is largely due to several adaptations made by the tree while colonizing new areas. These adaptations have enabled pecans to thrive in wet and dry, hot and temperate conditions.
Like many other trees, the pecan is deciduous. Visibly, this means that the pecan tree sheds its leaves during the winter. Additionally, the internal processes of the plant slow and the entire plant enters a hibernation stage, taking in only the minimal amount of nutrients necessary for life. This adaptation allows pecan trees to survive in areas with cold enough weather to freeze ground water for short periods of time. Still, pecans are susceptible to damage if a freeze goes on for an extended period. Because of this, pecans are not frequently grown in the northeastern United States.
Pecan trees are distributed throughout the South and the Midwest, growing in a diversity of conditions. While pecan trees thrive in well-drained soil, varieties in areas of the Southeast such as Florida and Tennessee have adapted to the wet, boggy areas near rivers and wetlands. These pecan trees can withstand root rot and other conditions that can affect maples and other trees that require dry soil.
While many pecans grow along riversides and streams, another adaptation that makes the pecan suitable for the South and West is its ability to tolerate severe drought. Pecans are the state tree of Texas and grow throughout the West, often in areas far from visible water sources. A pecan that does not get enough water simply slows down its growth and development process, drawing on reserve nutrients and energy stored in the trunk and branches of the tree. This often leads to few, if any, pecan nuts during years of little precipitation.
The design of the pecan tree is capable of handling strong gusts of wind better than other large trees. Growing over 60 feet tall, pecan trees have a crown that allows air to pass through freely. In fact, the pecan tree is pollinated by the wind, with pollen falling from catkins onto small, star-shaped flowers.