Image of pecan leaves and nuts
Safety Concerns
Scientific Name
Carya illinoinensis
Juglandaceae (walnuts)

The pecan is a large tree with a narrow, pyramid-shaped crown in the forest, and a broad and rounded crown in the open. It is the largest of all the hickory trees.

Leaves are alternate, compound, 9–20 inches long, with 9–17 leaflets; leaflets 4–8 inches long, 1–3 inches wide, lance-shaped, curved; margins toothed; upper surface dark green; lower surface paler, smooth to hairy.

Bark is grayish brown to light brown when young, becoming dark reddish brown with age; ridges long, flat, loose.

Twigs stout, reddish brown, hairy, with numerous elongated orange-brown pores; bud on end of twig yellow-brown.

Flowers April–May, male catkins and female clusters separate on the same tree.

Fruits September–October, in clusters of 3–10; husk thin, aromatic, reddish brown, winged, splitting along 4 ridges at maturity to expose the nut. Nut thin, 1–3 inches long, 2–4 times longer than broad, cylindrical, pointed at the tip, light brown to reddish brown, with irregular black markings on the shell; kernel sweet and edible.


Height: to 130 feet.

Where To Find
image of Pecan distribution map

Statewide except for northwestern counties.

Occurs naturally in rich, moist bottomland soils; widely planted elsewhere. Commonly associated in the wild with green ash, sycamore, pin oak, sweet gum, and cottonwood. Typically a southern species, pecan once grew only in the southeastern part of the state. It is thought that Native Americans cultivated this tree farther north and helped spread it. Pecans with large, thin-shelled nuts are grown in commercial orchards.

The name "pecan" has an interesting history. It started as an Illinois (Native American) word, "pakani," which early French-Americans learned and turned into "pacane" (try saying that with a Creole accent); this became our American English "pecan." But even then, pronunciations vary by region. New Englanders and many people along the Atlantic coast tend to say "PEE-can"; Louisianans, Texans, Oklahomans, Mississippians, and many Missourians say "pih-KAHN"; people in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and upper Michigan say "PEE-kahn"; and most other Americans say "pee-KAHN." Each pronunciation is correct, depending on the dialect you learned.

Pecan has been cultivated since 1766. More than 500 horticultural selections have been made to improve hardiness, productivity, and the nuts’ size, flavor, and ease of shelling. It is one of the most important cultivated nuts of North America. The wood is used occasionally for furniture, flooring, tools, and more.

Recipes abound for pecan nuts. In addition to eating them out of hand or in cookies, candies, muffins, pancakes, and quick breads, you can use them in pesto, in a coating for fried fish or chicken, in a wild mushroom pâté, in poultry stuffing, and in (or on) ice cream. (Okay, now you're drooling!)

The nuts are eaten by a variety of wildlife — larger birds, squirrels and other small rodents, opossums, raccoons, and deer. The trees also provide cover and denning areas for wildlife.

Like other members of the hickory/walnut family, pecan trees are the host for several moths and other insects whose larvae eat the foliage. Among the moths are several species of underwings, the luna moth, fall webworms, tussock moths, tortricids, and more, including the regal moth, whose spectacular caterpillar, the hickory horned devil, can grow as big as a hot dog. All these caterpillars make protein-rich meals for birds and other predators.

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Similar Species

Where to See Species

The boat ramp closes when the river reads 33' on the Cape Girardeau river gauge. The boat ramp is not usable when the Mississippi River is at or below 8' on the Cape Girardeau river gauge.

Howell Island Conservation Area is located in St. Charles County, across the Missouri River from the Weldon Spring Conservation Area. Entrance to the island is by a causeway over Centaur Chute.
There are several diverse plant communities on this small conservation area. There are two fields of native grass/native forbs planted on the upland.
About Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines in Missouri
There are no sharp dividing lines between trees, shrubs, and woody vines, or even between woody and nonwoody plants. “Wood” is a type of tissue made of cellulose and lignin that many plants develop as they mature — whether they are “woody” or not. Trees are woody plants over 13 feet tall with a single trunk. Shrubs are less than 13 feet tall, with multiple stems. Vines require support or else sprawl over the ground.