Pecan tree at the Alamo
The Pecan Tree at the Alamo is the oldest on the property, planted in 1850.
Monika Maeckle

The pecan tree at the Alamo is the oldest tree on the property, according to Alamo horticulturist Mark Nauschutz.   It was planted in 1850 by explorer, rancher and entrepreneur Peter Gallagher who owned the property where the Alamo gift shop now stands.

Nauschutz labeled the tree a “pampered princess,” given the excellent care and feeding it has enjoyed by caretakers of the Alamo.

Pecan tree at the Alamo
The Pecan Tree at the Alamo is the oldest on the property, planted in 1850.  Photo by Monika Maeckle

Pecan trees grow largest of any member of the walnut family and are the most important nut crop produced in the United States.   This year will yield a bumper crop of pecans, thanks in part to last year’s historic drought.   When trees are severely stressed and sense they may not survive another year, they typically produce optimal amounts of seed – or in the pecan tree’s case, nuts – to ensure the survival of the species.

San Antonio City Forester Michael Nentwich pointed out that 2012 in general turned out to be a fantastic year for trees.

“We had a warm, wet winter, an early spring when flowering occurs, and more rain at the right time,” he said.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service suggested the 2012 Texas pecan harvest will tally 65 million pounds – about one million pounds above average.

Pecans, shelled and unshelled
Pecans, shelled and unshelled. Photo via Wikipedia

Unfortunately the Alamo Pecan does not produce great nuts, despite sporting “limbs the size of individual trees,” said Nauschutz.  The tree serves well as a shady staging ground for events–weddings, receptions, even military activities.

“It drops a lot of pecans, but they’re not even the size of peanuts,” said Nauschutz.

Some argue that with pecans, small nuts are tastier.

“The smaller the pecan, the sweeter the fruit, more flavor in a smaller package,”  said Nentwich.

Pecan flowers can be messy
Tassel-like pecan flowers can be messy on your windshield. But the nuts are worth it. –Photo via Wikipedia

Pecan trees grow fast and make handsome shade trees.   They’re messy, though, dropping wafts of tasseled blossoms and pollen on sidewalks and cars.    The high oil content of the nuts can stain sidewalks.   Squirrels, raccoons, opossums and turkeys leave half-eaten nuts and empty shells on the ground, creating a long-lasting mulch, which some nurseries and landscape companies sell for a premium.  The nut’s appeal is no wonder, pecans rank #1 in antioxidants and contain excellent “good fats.”  Pecans contain no trans-fats.

Under the shade of the Alamo Pecan Tree
The shade of the Alamo Pecan Tree serves well as a stage for special events and receptions. Photo by Monika Maeckle

According to the book, Trees of Texas, Cabeza de Vaca reported that “the Karankawa Indians sat under pecan trees when the nuts were ripe and did little else for weeks but crack and eat them.”  Squirrels tend to sock them away in the yard where you’ll often find them in the spring as a single sprout emerging from your vegetable garden, the long taproot making it almost impossible to clear.

The Pecan Tree at the Alamo

Species:   Carya illinoinensis

Height:    80 feet

Canopy:  81 feet

Diameter at breast height:  46 inches

Circumference:  12 feet

Age:   162 years

Location:   Behind the Alamo, in the back yard adjacent to Bonham St.

Also known as:   the “pampered princess” tree of the Alamo

NOTES:  Diameter at breast height, or DBH, is a standard of measuring tree diameter at four-and-a-half feet off the ground.  

*Regarding the age of trees, arborists and foresters are reluctant to cite them.   The only accurate way to determine a tree’s age is with an increment boring test, whereby a hollow drill bit is bored into the tree trunk.  Very traumatic for the tree.  Since soil and water availability determine tree growth, some trees grow huge in several decades while others live  a century and can be much smaller.  The tree’s temperament is also a factor.

In short, when it comes to determining tree ages, size doesn’t matter.    We will cite educated guesses by certified arborists for the ages of featured trees, unless scientific or historical data are available.

Have a favorite heritage tree?   Send us a photo, a story and we’ll consider it for inclusion to monika@rivardreport.com.

More on San Antonio’s trees:

San Antonio’s Initiative to Plant One Million Trees by 2020

Challenges to San Antonio Tree Ordinance

Read our periodic series on Heritage Trees.

Monika Maeckle writes about gardening, butterflies, conservation and the Monarch butterfly migration at the Texas Butterfly Ranch.  She covers nature in the urban environment for this website.  You can reach her at monika@rivardreport.com or follow her on Twitter @monikam.

Monika Maeckle

San Antonio Report co-founder Monika Maeckle writes about pollinators, native plants, and the ecosystems that sustain them at the Texas Butterfly Ranch website. She is also the founder and director of...