The pecan (Carya illinoenensis) belongs to the Family Juglandaceae (Hickory family). The pecan is a large (15m-30m high), fast growing, deciduous tree with a taproot system. Both staminate and pistillate flowers exist on the same tree. These flowers develop separately from each other and the times of flowering does not necessarily overlap. Different cultivars should therefore be planted alternately in an orchard for optimal pollination and production purposes. Fruit is generally bared in clusters of 3-5 nuts, each surrounded by a husk.
The pecan is indigenous to the North American continent and endemic to fertile river valleys along the Mississippi River, down to West Texas and into Mexico. Historically, wild pecans were a great source of food for the indigenous peoples of North America. It was however only during later years when Europeans settled on the continent that formal cultivation began.
Today a large proportion of the USA crop still originates from native trees, but the quality is poor. Many of the cultivated species bear tribal names such as Choctaw, Pawnee and Wichita. The quality of the pecans from cultivated trees is generally better.
PECANS IN SOUTH AFRICA AND THE NORTHERN CAPE
The first pecan trees was imported to Kwazulu-Natal around the turn of the 19 / 20th centuries. From there, trees spread mainly across the subtropical regions of South Africa (Kwazulu-Natal and Mpumalanga). It was only during later years that farmers realised that the eastern half of the summer rainfall area of South Africa was too wet and humid for the cultivation of quality kernel.
Later the plantings spread to the more arid central- and north-western regions of the country (mainly the Northern Cape Province). Due to optimal conditions, the largest plantings today exist in the Vaalharts region, with the small hamlet Tadcaster as the Pecan Capital of South Africa.
Only one pecan cultivar has been developed in South Africa, the Ukulinga. This nut is widely acknowledged as the best for the polished nut market.