Pecan Cultivars Recommendations for the Southeast
Updated February2013

By Bill Goff

Major advances in pecan cultivar development and selection have occurred in the past few years, requiring extensive evaluations and frequent updating of recommendations. Because the Alabama pecan industry has smaller growers, often without the equipment or economic incentive to spray intensively with large airblast sprayers, we have focused on pest-resistance to reduce spray requirements. We have evaluated many selections under heavy incidence of pests, especially scab, but also aphids and mites, with no sprays applied at all in replicated tests. This has enabled us to identify susceptibility to scab that escapes other researchers with standard methods for years. On the other hand, our methods lead us to ruling out some good cultivars that perhaps could be grown with a very intensive spray program. To enable evaluation of highly susceptible cultivars, which some may wish to grow despite the risks, we have added a test site with very intensive management and spraying, including crop thinning, hedging, and fertilizer banding.

In addition to pest resistance, another major focus has been early harvest date. The much higher prices in September and October, especially for giftpack quality nuts, has made and will make it essential for growers to have early maturing cultivars to remain competitive. This advantage for early harvest will intensify in seasons prior to an early Chinese New Year.

An important development emerged in marketing the 2012 crop. There was a glut of pieces, a shortage of halves, and a shortage of large nuts in general. Chinese demand, and therefore price, was heavily weighted toward large nuts, especially Desirable. The differential preference for Desirable compared to smaller nuts, even high-quality smaller nuts like Schley, was unusual, but needs to be taken into account. Because the western crop is heavily weighted toward Western Schley, a small nut, a continued shortage of large nuts appears to be something you can count on for a while. So, we have adjusted our recommendations and added some large nuts, like Ellis, to address this demand.

We list cultivars we recommend by current observations of scab resistance category (Table 1). Additional characteristics of recommended cultivars are listed in Table 2.

Regarding scab resistance level, I need to stress the word current, as strains of the scab fungus may develop on a selection which makes it worse than currently observed.  I further need to stress that the development of strains down the road that attack currently scab resistant cultivars does not mean that planting scab resistant cultivars has no usefulness.  With some cultivars, like Elliott, scab incidence has been minor for decades.  With Stuart, scab was very light for decades, then became moderate for more decades. Today, over 100 years since Stuart was introduced, it remains only middle of the pack or better in scab incidence. Similar cultivars to Elliott and Stuart certainly exist, we just need to subject the test selections to heavy enough scab pressure initially from multiple strains in many locations to identify which ones they are. Do not let pathologists or others convince you that scab resistance is not useful simply because scab resistant varieties ultimately become susceptible as new strains develop. The resistance, if the proper stringent screening is done in the beginning - and the selection passes it - can last for decades and often for your lifetime. Most selections that "lost" their resistance after a short time never had it to begin with. They were thought to have had it, because they weren't stringently screened over multiple locations with many strains of the fungus without fungicides under heavy scab pressure. Such stringent screening would have revealed they were really never very resistant to begin with.

Scab Resistance Categories. 

I will group the cultivars into four categories of scab resistance, based on observations in our experiments as well as observations from other researchers. For established cultivars, the most useful and extensive observations are from grower's orchards, mainly in Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana, and these observations are included in the rankings as well.

The categories are excellent, good, mediocre, and poor. A cultivar with excellent resistance has exhibited no scab or minor occurrence even in the total absence of sprays in wet seasons. Good resistance means that we have observed damaging scab in the total absence of sprays in wet seasons, but the disease is usually minor in dry years, or in wet years with a modest spray program of 2-4 sprays.  Mediocre resistance means that we will see serious losses in wet seasons in the absence of sprays, but the disease causes little risk with a normal 8-10 spray fungicide program. Poor resistance implies total crop loss almost every season under Southeastern conditions if no sprays are applied, and considerable risk of loss in wet years even when a normal spray program is followed.

Bear in mind that these categories apply to conditions in humid areas with 50-60 inches of annual rainfall, and scab would be expected to be less in drier areas. Be aware also that at a given location a new cultivar may be introduced and scab less than categorized for some time until strains develop to attack it, as they have done in our valuations elsewhere thus demonstrating genetic vulnerability.

Recommendations

Cultivars are grouped into four categories according to how we recommend them. Recommended cultivars are those we feel represent the best overall within their scab resistance category. Cultivars recommended conditionally or for trial are good choices also, but either have less supporting data or have problems identified with them that need to be considered before they are planted. Cultivars recommended for low input planting are those for growers who will spray, but choose to spray minimally, like organic growers. Last we have added a group recommended for home plantings. Assumptions for cultivars in this group are that they will never be sprayed, so emphasis is on tree appearance and leaf condition, and exceptional pest tolerance, with less emphasis on nut size and tree productivity.

Excellent Resistance

We recommend 8 cultivars that have exhibited excellent scab resistance. Many have nuts too small for commercial plantings, but the smaller nuts often are tastier and more likely to develop high quality kernels in the absence of spraying, so they are good choices for homeowners. Those recommended for home plantings also have exceptionally pretty foliage, indicating tolerance to foliage pests as well as to scab.

Excel

GA seedling (Pierce County) suspected to be Pierce x Success) Type II. 45 nuts/lb. 49% kernel. Excel  has a unique combination of large nut size, excellent scab resistance, and early harvest date, about October 7. Kernels are bright, but kernel percentage is only moderate as shells are thick. Yields are high, but alternate bearing and overbearing may be a problem on older trees. Excel is recommended for commercial and low input planting, for growers with shakers or access to hedging machines to reduce the excessive crop load.

Gafford 

AL seedling (Butler County) Type I. 56 nuts/lb.  50% kernel.  Produces a moderate quality nut with bright kernels with occasional speckling. Nuts are medium-sized, and harvest is midseason.  It has excellent resistance to scab and foliage pests. It is one of the most pest-free selections we have ever evaluated. Yields have been good to excessive. To maintain quality and reduce alternate bearing, crop thinning will be required.

Headquarters 

AL seedling (Macon County), Elliott x ? Type II. 60 nuts/lb. 54% kernel.   This tree is likely an Elliott seedling, but nuts are larger than Elliott and have similar quality. Headquarters, tested as HQ2-4, has produced good yields of nuts of good quality with minimal care and no sprays. Scab resistance is excellent, and harvest date is midseason, about October 17. Nuts have a rounder shape than Elliott.

Kanza  

(Major x Shoshoni) Type II. 65 nuts/lb. 52% kernel. A cultivar with excellent scab resistance that we recommend, especially for North Alabama, is Kanza.  Kanza is a Major x Shoshoni cross released by USDA in 1996. It has excellent scab resistance and unlike Elliott excellent cold hardiness.  Similar to Elliott, it alternately bears but maintains good quality in on years.  In our tests at the EV Smith Research Center, kernel brightness has been worse than Elliott, and percent kernel, at only about 49% for Kanza, is also less than Elliott or Headquarters. Perhaps shuckworm damage, which occurs earlier on Kanza than most cultivars, contributed to the lower kernel grades for Kanza in this test. Kanza is suggested for trial plantings in North Alabama, where Elliott is too freeze susceptible. It is also recommended throughout the state for those wanting a highly scab resistant cultivar with a very early harvest date in mid-to-late September.

Amling 

(TX seedling). Type II. 60 nuts/lb. 53% kernel. This selection is recommended for yard tree use only, for which it is an excellent choice. Amling is among the prettiest trees for home use, with good tree vigor, and excellent foliage condition and appearance. If you want a beautiful pecan tree for landscape and home plantings, this is the best choice we can offer. This selection has inconsistent and low yields and would not be profitable enough in commercial orchards. The absence of overbearing ensures quality and reduces stress on yard trees, which cannot be mechanically crop thinned. Scab resistance is excellent, and foliage has been rated excellent in late season with no sprays. Nut quality is very good.

Adams 5 

GA seedling (Mitchell County). 81 nuts/lb. 53% kernel. Like Amling, we recommend this selection for yard tree use, and it is outstanding for that purpose. It has the distinction of being the only cultivar that we have evaluated for many years that has never had a single scab lesion. In other words, we feel like it is the most scab resistant pecan variety that has ever been tested. Nut quality is good, but nut size is probably too small for commercial use. Foliage condition is excellent in late season even with no sprays. For making pecan pies from a yard tree, few if any selections are better.

Miss L

LA native (Pointe Coupee Parish). 86 nuts/lb. 52% kernel. We collected numerous Louisiana natives from Pointe Coupee Parish, and have evaluated them for many years. Miss L stands out because of pest resistance, good yields, and excellent quality good tasting nuts. We recommend this selection for yard tree use only, as nuts are too small to bring competitive prices needed for commercial plantings. For a yard tree, appearance is beautiful, production is dependable, and taste and quality will be superior to most others in the absence of sprays. Foliage condition is excellent in late season even with no sprays.

Prilop

Texas native (Lavaca County). 84 nuts/lb. 54% kernel. This selection produces excellent quality, but small nuts, with little care. Quality is attested by the fact that this cultivar was the “State Champion Native” at the Texas Pecan Show in 1991. It has performed well in our unsprayed test at Fairhope. It would be a good choice for home plantings, and perhaps low input or organic plantings if the high quality excellent tasting nuts offset the small nut size.

Cultivars with excellent scab resistance that we don't recommend include Gloria Grande and Jenkins.  

Gloria Grande is a cultivar producing a large nut of mediocre kernel percentage, about 47%. Yields are good and consistent.  A serious drawback of Gloria Grande is extreme susceptibility to black aphids. Jenkins can produce excellent quality nuts of medium size, with 53% bright kernels.  However, as trees get older and with irrigation resulting in larger nut size, kernels have frequently been off- grade and fuzzy. Yellow aphids and sooty mold accumulation, and susceptibility to zonate leafspot are additional problems with Jenkins.

 

Good Resistance 

Next, we'll discuss cultivars with good scab resistance, which can be grown with a minimal fungicide spray program.

Ellis

GA seedling (Dooly County). Type II. 44 nuts/lb. 57% kernel. This is an exciting new cultivar that will be patented by Elliott Ellis, who has 30 years of observation on his performance. This selection combines several highly desirable traits, and has no major flaws, other than it has not been evaluated in replicated trials yet. Scab resistance is good, similar to Sumner. It has exhibited a remarkable and exceptional ability to produce excellent quality, even when nuts are large and crop is heavy. Harvest date is early to mid-season, a few days earlier than Desirable. The Chinese demand for large nuts should make this a valuable nut for the export market, and it would be highly valued here for the giftpack and inshell market as well.

Eclipse

USDA (Mohawk x Starking Hardy Giant). Type I. 60 nuts/lb. 55% kernel. This cultivar has a confusing history. Andy Clough discovered a tree in Pierce County, Georgia, that he thought was a seedling. Because of its promising characteristics he applied for and was granted a patent for the selection, which he named Eclipse. Later other trees with similar characteristics surfaced, and these trees were thought to be USDA selection 1963-16-182, a Mohawk x Starking Hardy Giant cross, a full sib of Pawnee. Molecular profile evaluations by USDA comparing Auburn University grafted test trees grafted from wood taken from the parent Eclipse tree with USDA 1963-16-182 established that the two were the same. Currently USDA scientists are debating whether to release the selection with a USDA Indian name or not. For the time being, I will refer to this selection as Eclipse, since the only trees commercially available are being sold by that name. Eclipse is an exciting cultivar because of his extremely early harvest date, about September 5, two weeks or so earlier than Pawnee. The nuts are smaller than Pawnee and are longer and more slender. There are about 60 nuts per pound, with 55% kernel. Kernels are also similar to Pawnee, with bright kernel color and occasional flecking. Yield potential from grower observations appears to be greater than Pawnee, with less alternate bearing. Scab  resistance, at least currently, is much better than Pawnee and similar or better at this time than Sumner. We suggest this cultivar for those hoping to get an early jump on harvest and a very early-season market advantage.

McMillan 

AL seedling (Baldwin County). Type II. 56 nuts/lb. 51% kernel. This cultivar has been highly productive and consistent. Scab resistance has been good on this cultivar, similar to Sumner.  In wet years with no sprays scab losses can occur, but scab is easily controlled with a modest fungicide program of 3-4 sprays.  Kernels are somewhat dark and occasionally, like Pawnee, have ugly dark kernel markings. Harvest date is about October 20.

Baby B 

(GA seedling (Dougherty County) Type II. 67 nuts/lb. 50% kernel.   This tree, tested as Pippin 99-4 is exceptional with respect to foliage appearance and condition. The large leaves remain on the tree in full canopy even in years with heavy pressure from diseases and insects. Likely related, yields are heavy and consistent. Nuts resemble Elliott, but harvest date is very early, similar to Pawnee and Kanza. Scab resistance is good, but some spraying will be required. Nut quality is not as good as Elliott, but yields are far higher and baby B is very early, similar to Pawnee and Kanza.

Cultivars with good scab resistance that we recommend conditionally or for trial include Elliott and Sumner.

Elliott 

FL seedling, (Santa Rosa County). Type II. 72 nuts/lb. 51% kernel. Elliott is an older cultivar widely planted in the Southeast. It has been the standard for scab resistance and retains good resistance in most locations over 80 years since its release about 1925.  The reason for its conditional status is because Elliott has known flaws that need to be considered.  The widespread planting has allowed strains of the fungus to develop at certain locations such that the usual excellent scab resistance has weakened, resulting in our current scab resistance rating of good. In the face of these strains of the fungus, scab resistance is no longer strong enough to grow Elliott without sprays in many locations. Foliage condition on Elliott on unsprayed trees is often weak, as Elliott is susceptible now to foliage diseases and is quite susceptible to yellow aphids and sooty mold accumulation.  Elliott trees in our unsprayed test are usually ugly and black in late-season and defoliate early in the absence of sprays. Alternate bearing is severe, though Elliott usually maintains high quality with excellent bright kernels even in heavy on-years. Elliott's early budbreak makes it quite susceptible to spring freezes. Elliott has low yields on young trees when compared to similar selections like Baby B and Headquarters.

Sumner 

GA seedling, (Tift County) Type II. 50 nuts/lb. 50% kernel. Sumner is a productive cultivar with good kernel quality, high and consistent yields, large nuts, and good scab resistance. A major disadvantage for Sumner, like Gloria Grande, is that it is highly susceptible to black aphids, and damage from these pests can be serious unless systemic insecticides or aggressive scouting and spraying are used. Sumner also has the disadvantage of late harvest, about 11 days after Stuart. We have frequently seen total crop loss to scab when no fungicides are used on this selection, although the disease is easily controlled with a modest spray program of 3 or 4 fungicides. Sumner may have a niche in the Chinese market, as demand exists there for large, long nuts.

Mandan 

USDA (BW-1 x Osage) Type 1. 50 nuts/lb. 57% kernel. This cultivar is conditionally recommended for trial by those seeking to begin harvesting very early, several days ahead of Pawnee. Kernel quality and appearance are suspect, as Pat Conner cut down the trees in the test at Tifton because a portion of the kernels were dark and unattractive with veining. Kernel color is described in the USDA release as “excellent”  Scab resistance so far has been good, but we have had insufficient time to test in multiple locations with many strains.

Mediocre Resistance. 

Among the many cultivars in this category, we recommend three Caddo, Giftpack and Apalachee.

Caddo 

USDA (Brooks x Alley). Type I. 70 nuts/lb. 54% kernel.      The small, football shaped nut of this cultivar is consistently well filled with bright kernels.  The nut has good cracking qualities, and is suited to shelling markets.  It is a very prolific and consistent bearer.  Scab is easily controlled with sprays, but it can be susceptible to fungal leaf scorch and black pecan aphids. Harvest is early, about October 11.

 

Giftpack 

(GA seedling (Dougherty County) Schley? x ?. Type II. 56% kernel, 61 nuts per pound. This cultivar, likely a Schley seedling, has kernel quality similar to Sioux and Schley, and should sell well in the giftpack market. Kernels are bright and the nut is thin-shelled. It is earlier than Schley, with harvest about October 12. Yields are very good and consistent. Scab resistance is mediocre, but scab is less than on similar cultivars Schley or Sioux. Black aphid damage has been less than Schley. Like with Schley, bird predation of the thin-shelled nuts will be a problem.

Apalachee 

USDA (Moore x Schley). Type I. 80 nuts/lb. 57% kernel. One of the most thoroughly-evaluated cultivars before release, tested as USDA 48-13-311, Apalachee is planted in grower trials and research orchards in Georgia, Alabama, Texas, and Louisiana. Consistently for many years, it has exhibited remarkable yields of high quality nuts with early harvest date. The high quality, beautiful kernel appearance, and early maturity of the nuts have resulted in good prices for the limited quantities available despite the very small nut size. Kernel percentage is about 57-58%, with 80 nuts/lb. In addition to small nut size, problems include alternate bearing and black aphid susceptibility. Kernels can be dark, especially if left to lay on wet ground. Bird predation is a serious problem, so nuts must be promptly harvested.

 

Cultivars with mediocre scab resistance which we recommend conditionally or for trial include Creek, Forkert, and Surprize.

Creek 

(Mohawk x Western?) Type I. 54 nuts/lb. 50% kernel. Variety trial results understate the yield potential of Creek, as the small compact trees tolerate crowding and should be spaced closely, resulting in high per acre yields. It is only conditionally recommended, as trees must be crop thinned, have good irrigation, aphid control and late fertilizer applications or quality and alternate bearing are intolerable. Scab is easily controlled with sprays, and this cultivar has relatively low levels of aphids and sooty mold. When managed aggressively, Creek is a very dependable producer of high yields of good quality nuts which can be sold on the early market.

Poor Resistance. 

Since scab is such a major limiting factor in pecan production in the Southeast, we do not fully recommend any cultivars with poor scab resistance. However, some cultivars are so exceptional regarding other characteristics, that they are worthwhile to plant despite enormous scab risk.

Desirable 

(Success x Jewett) Type I. 46 nuts/lb. 53% kernel. This old standard cultivar we conditionally recommend. The conditions involve scab control. Desirable should not be planted in low wet areas with poor air flow. Desirable orchards need to be open, with no more than 50% canopy coverage. Growers need to be prepared to spray fungicides at 7-day intervals during wet periods. Advantages of Desirable are well-known, a large nut that shells well with bright kernels, and the most consistent yields of any widely-planted cultivar. The preference in 2012 by Chinese buyers for this cultivar mad the nuts very valuable relative to most others. A major and often overlooked advantage for Desirable is that it is not as susceptible to aphids or sooty mold as most cultivars. In addition to scab susceptibility, disadvantages include weak limb structure and susceptibility to pecan leaf scorch mites. Be aware that there is great risk in wet seasons of substantial crop loss on a cultivar this susceptible because of inability to get sprayers in the orchard when the orchard floor is too wet.

Pawnee

USDA (Mohawk x Starking Hardy Giant) 55 nuts/lb. 54% kernel. Another cultivar we conditionally recommend, at least for trial, is Pawnee. The nuts of Pawnee are highly valued because of the early harvest date, about Sept. 20, large size, and excellent quality. Pawnee is very scab susceptible, but scab is not as difficult to control as on Desirable. Good growers willing to spray, irrigate properly, crop thin, hedge, and fertilize properly can produce excellent yields and quality on Pawnee. If overloaded, or not managed well, quality can be poor and alternate bearing very severe. This cultivar, like Desirable, is suited only to growers dedicated to intensive culture.

 

 

There are many other cultivars with good or outstanding characteristics but with poor scab resistance. Because of the devastation of this disease and the high risk, we do not recommend planting them. These include Sioux, Nacono, Western, Wichita, Morrill, and Byrd.

Additional information, and color pictures of these selections, can be found at the Alabama Pecan Growers Association website.   http://alabamapecangrowers.com/cultivars.html

  Table 1. Pecan cultivar recommendations for Southeastern Orchards, grouped by scab resistance.

Recommended Recommended
Scab conditionally for home plantings
resistance level Recommended or for trial only
Excellent Excel Kanza Amling
  Gafford Adams 5
Headquarters Prilop
      Miss L
Good Ellis Sumner Baby B
Eclipse Elliott  
McMillan    
Mediocre Caddo Creek  
Apalachee Mandan  
Giftpack  
Poor Pawnee  
    Desirable  

Table 2. Characteristics of recommended cultivars for the Southeast.

Worse than
Pollination Harvest Date  Scab average
Cultivar type Origin Nuts / lb. % kernel (50% shuck split) Resistance susceptibility to:
Adams 5 ? GA seedling (Mitchell) 81 53 7-Oct Excellent
Amling I TX seedling (Schley? x ? 60 53 11-Oct Excellent
Apalachee I USDA Moore x Schley 80 57 7-Oct Mediocre Birds, black aphids
Baby B II GA seedling (Dougherty) 67 50 28-Sep Good Birds
Caddo I Brooks x Alley 70 54 7-Oct Mediocre Black aphids
Creek I Mohawk x Starking Hardy Giant 54 50 8-Oct Mediocre Overcropping
Desirable I Success? x Jewett? 47 52 16-Oct Poor Scab, limb breakage
Eclipse               
(USDA 1963-16-182)
I USDA (Mohawk x Starking Hardy Giant) 60 56 8-Sep Good Birds
Elliott II FL seedling (Santa Rosa) 72 51 10-Oct Good Freeze, alt. bearing, yellow aphids
Ellis II GA seedling (Dooly) 43 57 13-Oct Good
Excel II GA seedling, Pierce? x Success? (Pierce) 45 49 7-Oct Excellent Overcropping, alt. bearing
Gafford I AL seedling (Butler) 56 50 18-Oct Excellent Overcropping, alt. bearing
Giftpack II GA seedling (Dougherty) 61 56 10-Oct Mediocre Scab 
Headquarters II AL seedling (Macon) Elliott x ? 53 57 17-Oct Excellent
Kanza II Major X Shoshoni 65 52 28-Sep Excellent Alt. bearing
Mandan I BW-1 x Osage 50 57 25-Sep Mediocre Birds
McMillan II AL seedling (Baldwin) 56 51 22-Oct Good
Miss L ? LA native (Pt. Coupee) 86 52 5-Oct Excellent Birds
Pawnee I USDA (Mohawk x Starking Hardy Giant) 50 53 20-Sep Poor Scab, alt. bearing, birds
Prilop I Texas native (Lavaca) 84 54 20-Oct Excellent
Sumner II GA seedling Schley? x ? (Tift) 50 52 29-Oct Good Black aphids

Photo Credits

Photos of Excel from University of GA Pecan Breeding program 

Photos of Kanza, Elliott, Sumner, Mandan, Apalachee, Creek, and Desirable from USDA Pecan Breeding program