Saturday, February 15, 2014

The original Giles tree

The original Giles tree, February 2014
    Just south of the old Missouri-Pacific railroad line and two miles east of Chetopa, Kansas  the original Giles tree still stands among other trees in a native pecan grove (photo at right). Its not a very impressive tree with its forked trunk and scraggly branches. The tree suffered major limb loss back in the 2007 ice storm but has sprouted numerous new branches.
    The Giles pecan was first described by J.Ford Wilkinson back in 1932. Mr. Wilkinson was a nurseryman from Rockport, IN that traveled widely across the northern pecan belt in search of outstanding nut trees. Back in the late 1920's and early 1930's, Mr. Wilkinson made several trips to SE Kansas to graft trees for area growers. In fact, the oldest grafted pecan grove in Kansas (currently owned by Raymond Conard of rural Chetopa) was propagated by Wilkinson.

Giles nuts still litter the ground
    Wilkinson made his trips to Kansas at the request of Mr. A.E. Giles of Peoria, IL.  Mr. Giles owned a pecan grove near Chetopa, KS that contained an outstanding seedling tree that he had named after himself--"Giles". Here is how Wilkinson described the Giles tree in 1932; "In three trips in as many years that I visited this tree it was bearing bountifully, while two of these were not favorable seasons and most of the tree surrounding produced only light crops. A top-worked tree of this variety in my nursery, now four years old, has produced for two seasons, a splendid crop last fall. The nut is good size, thin shell, with kernel of good quality."
     It is interesting to note that the original Giles tree is growing in a ditch that often holds water (photo at right). The reason I still found nuts under this tree in February (photo above) is because when the harvesters picked this grove back in December the ditch was too wet to pick.
   Giles is now fading as a cultivar to graft in new orchards. As a young tree, Giles preforms beautifully. Yields are heavy and nut quality good. However, as the tree matures, problems with pecan scab, over-production, and poor kernel quality make Giles a difficult cultivar for growers to manage profitably.  Giles' most lasting legacy may be that the seeds of this cultivar are still widely used for growing rootstock trees.