(Note: The following is part of a series of articles looking at the history and evolution of agriculture in Georgia and Bulloch County.)
Pecan trees (Carya illinoensis) are a species of the hickory group in the walnut tree family. Believe it or not, technically the pecan is not a nut but a "drupe."
Whereas a true nut is a pod that contains both the fruit and seed, a "drupe" is a fruit in which the outer fleshy part surrounds a shell with a seed inside. With the pecan we eat the seed instead of the fruit.
These "nuts" have a rounded, oblong shape. Indians along the Mississippi River called local nut trees the "pacca." The name roughly translated to "the nut which cannot be broken by hand."
French priests and trappers called the nut the "pacane," a name which then became the pecan. Friar Andre-Michaux wrote from Louisiana that "These nuts have a most excellent flavor … I believe them to possess a flavor more delicate than any we have in Europe."
In 1792 William Bartram reported in his botanical book "Travels" that he encountered just west of Augusta a nut tree that he called "Juglans exalata," which many botanists today argue was the real American pecan tree.
The first known sale of pecans in North American was conducted by William Prince in Flushing, New York. He planted 30 of the best Louisiana seed pecans in his nursery and put those up for sale.
In 1900, the 12th Census of the United States showed that Texas grew 56.4 percent (1,810,670 pounds) of the nation’s pecan crop, followed by Louisiana with 19.9 percent (637,470 pounds) and Mississippi with 7.5 percent (242,300 pounds).
Georgia came 11th in the nation that year with only 27,440 pounds of pecans. That soon changed — between 1899 and 1909, the planting of pecan trees in Georgia tripled. Not surprisingly, Georgia has been the top pecan-producing state in the nation since the early 1900s.
The 2012 U.S. pecan harvest was 302.8 million pounds, and Georgia produced some 100 million pounds of the delectable nut all by itself. In 2013, when the national total was 266.3 million pounds, Georgia’s harvest produced some 89 million pounds of the nut.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at email@example.com.