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What are the Differences in Pecan Varieties?

MYTH: A pecan is a pecan. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

This statement is far from the truth.

There are over 500 different varieties of pecans with slightly different characteristics like flavor, texture, size, color, shape, etc. However, most pecans in commercial production come from just a few major varieties. The most popular are Cape Fear, Desirable, Moreland, Stuart, and Natives (these are wild seedlings). Some varieties are named after their discoverers or creators, while many varieties get their names from Native American tribes.

Native pecan tree growing for over 100 years at Royalty Pecan Farms in Caldwell, Texas

Our only Native pecan tree, growing wild for over 100 years, towers over the surrounding trees.

The difference in each pecan variety comes down to two main distinctions: the size of the nut and the thickness of the shell.

Most native or “wild” pecans have been known to have thicker shells and smaller nuts than improved varieties. These improved varieties have been nicknamed “paper shell” pecans, due to their ultra-thin shell. Paper shell pecans are so thin that they can be cracked by hand. This particular type of shell is preferred in commercial use as they are easily shelled and tend to produce more pecan meat per pound of inshell nuts.

Different pecan varieties may also have a higher or lower oil content, which affects the texture and flavor of the pecan kernel.

The most important factor in determining which variety to plant is environment.

Just like every other living thing on the planet, different pecan varieties thrive in different environments. Each variety has its own strengths and weaknesses. While some may thrive in humid areas, others may thrive in a drier climate but may be more susceptible to disease or insects. Other varieties may resist disease and insects, but produce smaller nuts. Each pecan cultivator must decide which pecan traits are the most desirable to him or her and use these decisions to decide the variety that will be planted.

The most important characteristics considered in pecan harvesting are disease resistance, precocity (the bearing age of the tree), harvest date (when the planter will start reaping the benefits), nut size, and nut quality.

Pecan trees need a lot of water to produce nuts. Normally a six to eight foot natural water table or a quality irrigation system is necessary for pecan growth. Our pecan orchard, which includes a buried drip irrigation system, sits on rich river bottomland soil just one mile west of the Brazos River. This makes our location PERFECT for growing Royalty Pecans.

So, now that you know there are over 500 different varieties of pecans with slightly different characteristics and flavors, you have something new to fight about with your friends other than the pronunciation of “pe-kahn” versus “pee-can”. Which variety is your favorite? Which variety is best for baking? Which variety should you plant in your own yard?

We’ll try to address these and other frequently asked questions here on our site. You’re also welcome to post comments and questions below or contact us for more information.

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