By: U.S. Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas
As the days grow shorter and cooler, pecan trees in Texas prepare for their annual debut. Leaves take on hues of amber and crimson, painting a breathtaking landscape that attracts visitors from near and far. Amidst this natural transformation, pecans reach peak maturity and are ready to break through their sturdy shells.
In 1919, the pecan tree was named the state tree of Texas, thanks in large part to former Texas Governor James Stephen Hogg. On March 2, 1906, Hogg expressed his wish for a soft-shell Texas pecan tree to be planted at his grave with its nuts distributed to Texas farmers for planting. Years later, journalist Katie Daffan suggested the pecan tree become the state tree of Texas in Hogg’s honor. This idea quickly gained widespread support, leading the state legislature to unanimously pass a resolution formalizing the designation in 1919, which was reaffirmed eight years later during the 40th Texas Legislative Session.
Pecans have deep cultural significance in Texas, dating back to prehistoric times when Native Americans would use them for currency, meals, and cooking. Even Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, the first European to traverse Texas, found solace in Texas pecans. Without these protein-rich nuts, he might not have survived the harsh winter of 1532.
These deep Texas roots have led to the pecan’s increased prevalence in our state, particularly in the Rio Grande Valley and Hill Country. There, pecan orchards are carefully tended. Growers use labor-intensive techniques, including grafting and crossbreeding, to produce multiple varieties of the nut.
Pecans are native to Texas’ river valleys and are the only commercially grown nut in the state. Each year, Texas farmers produce an average of nearly 45 million pounds of pecans. As a result of their hard work and bountiful harvesting, Texas ranks third in the nation for pecan production, making it a significant contributor to Texas’ booming agriculture industry.
Today, pecans are a Lone Star staple used for everything from candies and cookies to barbecue, but nothing says” Texas” more sweetly than a pecan pie, which has become the star of many Thanksgiving tables. This beloved dessert is so cherished that it eventually earned the designation as the official state pie of Texas in 2013, reflecting its special place in Texans’ hearts.
They may be a tough nut to crack, but pecans have become a source of pride and a taste of history that continues to flourish year after year. From tree to treat, our tradition of honoring and appreciating the historic Texas pecan will continue in the Lone Star State for generations to come.
Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Finance, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees.