I can’t recall another Saturday morning that began with sawdust in my coffee. That was the salute and send-off for one of our favorite pecan trees, a 42-year-old that fell to the gales of last Tuesday night’s storm.

The gnarly example of Carya illinoinensis had taken some hits in its short life. For most of four decades, it thrived mostly unattended in an empty lot a block from the river in downtown San Antonio. It endured wind, freezes, drenching, and drought.

In recent years, a four-year construction project likely contributed to its demise, opening a wound where bark rot took hold. The strange-looking fungus attacked the lean, straight tree, producing large dark brown mushroom bracts that jutted sideways from its bark like so many convenient shelves. When gardening, I would often lay my pruning shears on the handy natural shelf. Squirrels found the fungi ledges an ideal sitting spot, a well-placed bench to rest or enjoy a pecan from the tree’s regular alternate-year crops.

Many evenings our family sat on the front porch and enjoyed the squirrels chasing each other across the yard. In the spring, they pounced from limb to limb in a courtship chase as mockingbirds tweeted their aggressive evening calls and titmice jockeyed for spots on the bird feeder. Not only did the squirrels use the gnarly pecan as a midpoint rest stop, its location in the middle of the yard made for a common place to jump.

The fungus provided the perfect shelf for pruning shears. Credit: Monika Maeckle / San Antonio Report

The entrance to our home accommodated this tree with a U-shaped detour around its young, broad trunk. Family and visitors respected it by walking around it. We all enjoyed its shade and oily autumn fruits, marveled at its mushroom shelves, and appreciated its yellow tassels in the spring. The annoying yellow catkins, the male flowers of the pecan, litter the sidewalk, but their messy appearance assures future fruits.

Each fall, we gather dozens of pounds of nuts from the gnarly pecan and its siblings in our yard and along the river. Pecan tarts and a special snack mix follow shortly thereafter.

Last Tuesday’s storm put an end to the gnarly pecan. Around 7 p.m., after the winds died down, I looked out the front window and noticed the tree had tipped at a 45-degree angle across the yard. It had uprooted, tipped east, and was thankfully caught by its sister tree – a gesture that likely prevented the crash of a nearby power pole in its path. The gnarly tree’s rotted roots were exposed to the sidewalk, making the destruction of the last few years obvious. Fungus had been composting the dead matter from the inside out, undermining its health and ultimately causing its death.

It took several days to locate a certified arborist to tackle the aftermath. Tree people were busy in the wake of the storm. But Saturday morning, Derling Martinez and Miguel Blanco of Tree Musketeers arrived with their chainsaws, ropes, and extension saws to harvest the wood and restore order to the yard.

We watched as the tree climbers expertly tied ropes and pulleys around the healthy limbs of the sister tree to catch the falling branches of the fatally injured pecan. No gutters were damaged, no power lines downed. Over three hours, the tree team dissected the gnarly pecan. Limb by limb, they extricated it from its sister’s arms, brought it gently to the ground, then sliced its 18-inch trunk into hefty logs for firewood. A few select chunks will become treasured sitting stumps on the porch.

Rest in peace, gnarly pecan. We appreciate your service.

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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...