Pecan, is Carya illinoinensis, and is a species of hickory. It is also considered to be one of North America’s most valuable trees. The wood, like most hickories, is highly prized for smoking meats as well as  making furniture, panelling and wood flooring. And, being a hickory, the wood is hard and useful in the manufacture of handles, ladders, and implements, and a yellow dye can be obtained from the bark. But what the average person values a pecan tree the most for is the nuts, or drupes, which are produced in huge crops every year. These are not only edible, but have a rich, buttery flavor. They can be eaten fresh or used in cooking, particularly in sweet desserts but also in some savory dishes. A popular desert is pecan pie, a traditional southern U.S. recipe. And pecans are also the first ingredient in pralines (pronounced praw-leen), a candy associated with the state of Louisiana.

The word 'pecan' is from a Native American, Algonquian word, meaning a nut requiring a stone to crack. The scientific name, Carya illinoinensis is from karyon (an ancient Greek name for nut) and a Latinized version of Illinois. Illinois nut was an early, common name for pecan.

This tree is responsible for a sizable agricultural crop and is a very profitable business in several southern states of the US. But in addition to the nuts and the aromatic, hard wood, the pecan tree is possibly the most perfect shade tree in existence, though it would only be suited for larger properties as it can exceed 100 feet in height with a spread of 75 feet, which makes it the largest of the hickories. It has a majestic form, being broadly oval with wide-sweeping lower branches almost touching the ground and trunks six feet in diameter. It leafs out late in the season and is early to drop leaves, making it useful for providing shade only after the sun becomes too warm and allowing in the warmth at the first cool days of autumn. And in most areas, the pinnate leaves develop some attractive, yellow autumn color. Pecan trees are also a blessing for wildlife due to the nuts and habitat they provide.

Pecans are grown commercially in the US and Australia but are also adapted to the UK and New Zealand. Pecans will be found in the better, landscape nurseries or in a specialty, mail-order, plant nursery.

Another popular hickory is the Shagbark hickory, Carya ovata.


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