The pecan tree, a mainstay in southern states, has a history dating back to the early American Indians. With a thousand year history, and no sign of dwindling in our lifetime, it is favored by homeowners and agricultural businesses alike.
A healthy pecan tree has a long life. Planted when a child is born, as an adult that individual would be able to harvest the pecan tree's nuts well into her 60s or 70s. A "whip" or sapling will go through a long period of juvenility before reaching its precocity stage.
Juvenility is the time span when a pecan tree uses all its energies in growing. All nutrients it takes in go to vegetative growth. Depending on the variety of pecan tree, that will take the first 5 to 10 years. With a mature tree reaching 180 feet tall in some instances, and a trunk 4 to 6 feet across, it is necessary for the sapling to get a good foundation before becoming productive.
After a 5- to 10-year period, during which the pecan tree's central leader is encouraged to grow straight, the tree enters its precocity period. Now the tree will start to produce the pecan nut for harvest. If its location remains sunny, and its enemies are controlled, the tree will continue to produce for the next 50 to 60 years. Some varieties alternate between high yield and low yield years. Other varieties work up to a certain output, which continues through most of their productive years.
Known as a parasite, the root system of mistletoe penetrates the bark of the pecan tree and steals the nutrients needed for the tree growth and nut production. Spanish moss is not a parasite but can so completely cover a tree that it shades out the much needed sunlight, keeping the tree from proper growth. Lichens can cover a tree's bark, affecting its appearance, but does not harm the tree.
Squirrels are the biggest animal hazard to a successful harvest. Pecans are gathered after they ripen and fall from the tree. Squirrels steal them before they reach this stage. Deer damage the bark on young trees when they rub their antlers against them. Rabbits also are a threat to young trees by nibbling the bark (girdling) all around the tree trunk. If a flock of crows discovers a pecan tree full of nuts, they can quickly consume a large portion of the tree's produce.
Pecan trees are grown commercially in the South for their nut harvest, where orchards produce upward of 250 million lbs. of nuts per year. Homeowners favor the pecan tree for its stately appearance and the shade it provides. Furniture, paneling and flooring is produced from the pecan wood.