Growing Pecan Trees in the North

Learn about the Members of the Northern Nut Growers Association’s efforts to cultivate hardy, northern pecan strains that’ll survive harsh winters.

  • 056 growing pecan trees.jpg
    Hardy varieties like this one make growing pecan trees possible in the northern U.S. and southern Canada.

  • 056 growing pecan trees.jpg

Does the thought of roasted pecans and pecan pies make your mouth water? Well, here's some good news for residents of the northern United States and southern Canada: growing pecan trees may soon be possible right in your own back yard!

Although the pecan is usually thought of as a resident of the Deep South, a few native stands of these noteworthy nut producers are known to exist along the Missouri River in north central Missouri and the Mississippi River near Dubuque, Iowa. Early settlers even reported finding pecans on the Ohio River as far north as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. But, unfortunately, most of these northern strains have long since fallen to "civilization." You can imagine the excitement, then, when naturalists discovered a few scattered native trees as far north as southern Wisconsin!

Indian Orchards

Pecan trees (which can live for 500 years) originated in northern Texas and southern Oklahoma, and were spread along the canoe-trails of the American Indians. (The word "pecan" comes from the Indian word paccan : "food which has to be cracked out of a hard shell".) These nuts—once a staple of the Indian diet—were easy to collect and highly nutritious, stored well, and were good for barter.

It's believed that the native Americans planted pecans in the vicinity of regularly used campsites to provide "grubstakes" for their descendants. And—since the Indians preferred to plant the biggest and thinnest-shelled species—this "cultivation" not only increased the growing range of the beautiful shade tree but greatly improved the quality of its nuts as well!

But no one realized just how widely the tree had actually been spread until recently, when some fine examples of the "northern" pecan were found hidden away in the rugged forests of southern Wisconsin and in the northernmost regions of Iowa and Illinois. These old trees, which grow as far as 300 miles north of the currently available northern pecans, make it feasible to adapt the nut tree to much colder climates than modem growers had previously thought possible!

A Rare Seed Offer

Members of the Northern Nut Growers Association (NNGA)—a non-profit group dedicated to the promotion of nut growing in the north—have already made exploratory expeditions into this extreme northern range of the pecan. And, as a result of their efforts, a "distribution program" of this rare species is being sponsored as a public service by the NNGA.

11/18/2018 6:21:01 PM

What's up with the date of this article ? Is it correct ? In1979 the only functional Internet would have been at Universities.

David Moorman
4/27/2018 9:29:55 AM

ive have been trying to grow northern james pecans from ty ty nurseries for three years now with no success late to leaf out hen die any thoughts David

4/17/2018 12:17:14 PM

I am living in New York just over the PA line in the Southern Tier near Ithaca and Binghamton and am going to plant 2 James Pecan Trees this week once the weather breaks. I have held these bare root trees in the box for 3 weeks so I have to plant them this week what ever the weather. I am from South Carolina and have enjoyed Pecans all my life. I have been told they will not grow in New York but I am stubborn and hope these James trees are as stubborn as I am. I will let everyone know how this goes.

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