Pecan trees are prized in the landscape for their large leafy canopies and for their production of edible fruits more commonly called nuts. Pecan trees are a species group in the walnut family, are related to hickory trees and come in many cultivars, only a handful of which are commonly grown in small orchards and yards due to the professional pesticide management required for other varieties.
The most common garden cultivars include Amling, Carter, Elliott, Excel, Gafford, Gloria Grande, McMillan and Sumner. The most common varieties grown in commercial nut production include Stuart, Desirable, Western and Wichita.
Pecan trees are often planted in groups of two or more varieties for cross pollination to occur and ensure nut development. The tree size, leaf shape and mass, bark and nut casings are relatively similar on most varieties of pecan.
Look for pecan trees to be growing in states along the "pecan belt" from Georgia to Arizona or in other temperate climes. Pecans grow well where winter temperatures never drop below 0-degrees Fahrenheit and where autumn sun is strong and shines long enough to keep photosynthesis ongoing to support nut kernel development.
Consider the soil conditions and look for pecan trees growing in well-drained, slightly acidic soil where the tree is not on low ground or where water pools.
Observe the shape and size of the tree as pecan trees grow to reach between 60 and 80 feet in height at maturity and have an upright, goblet-shaped growth habit.
Inspect the leaves and look for multiple ovoid leaves with serrated edges along a central stems with between 7 and 17 small leaves attached to the stem slightly offset from one another on either side of the stem.
Look for 2- to 6-inch green snake-like catkins or male and small green petal-less female flowers in the spring and early summer.
Keep any eye out for oval nuts that are 1 to 2 inches long and hang from the branches in groups of 2 to 10 in the late summer and fall. They will be wrapped in a green, papery-looking husk that has welts or seams running lengthwise down the nut shuck. When the shuck is removed the mature nut will have a satiny light brown shell that is uniform in color or speckled or splotched with darker brown-black pigment.