Pecans are native to the southeastern United States. (In fact, fossils show that pecans were prehistoric and pre-dated the arrival of humans in North American!) The trees like heat and humidity, lots of water, and well-drained soil. North Carolina (particularly the eastern part) is on the northern edge of the growing zone, with Georgia, Texas, and Alabama as the top three producers.
Growing pecans is a major commitment. For starters, the farmer needs to plan the orchard location, spacing trees 70 feet apart, and must choose at least three varieties to ensure proper pollination. The trees take five years or more to begin producing; they must be well watered and protected from disease, insects, and animals. Once the trees mature, the nuts take 200 days to grow, beginning in May. When they are ripe, the “shucks” open and the pecans fall to the ground, where the farmer harvests them. Larger orchards use machinery to shake the trees and gather the nuts. The trees require a cold period to produce nuts the next year.
Pecans are so nutritious that they were selected as the only fresh food sent on the Apollo 13 and Apollo 14 space missions. They are a good source of oleic acid and healthy fat. They contain oils similar to those in olive oil. They also contain vitamins, minerals, and the insoluble fiber needed for a healthy colon.
For more information about pecans, see the source of this article, http://www.buyncpecans.com/. Got kids? The site includes pecan games, lesson plans, and trivia.
Pecan recipes are available here: http://www.pecanrecipes.info/.