Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Posey pecan: early history and current observations

Posey 2014
   During the late 1800's, a large native pecan tree growing on the east bank of the Wabash River became famous for its large nut size and thin shell. History does not record who found the original tree but local residents called the tree, "Grayville",  after the small Illinois town located across the river on the Wabash's west bank. One hundred years ago, esteemed members of the newly minted Northern Nut Growers Association decided "Grayville" was not a very marketable name for a northern pecan cultivar and choose to rename the tree,"Posey", in honor Posey County, IN.  Ironically, the original tree was actually located in Gibson County just north of the Posey county line.  Even though locals continued to call the tree Grayville for much of the early 1900's, the name Posey came into common use as the tree was propagated across the northern pecan region.
    The early 1900's was an exciting time for the naming and propagating of northern pecan cultivars. Names we know today, such as Major, Greenriver, and Posey, were first popularized back in those days. However, other cultivars from that era have largely disappeared from modern pecan orchards including; Busseron, Butterick, Hodge, Indiana, Kentucky, Niblack, and Warrick. It is interesting to me that Posey has survived so long despite some obvious flaws as a pecan cultivar. In 1925, Prof.  A.S. Colby, from the University of Illinois stated, "The Posey is said to be the easiest of the northern cultivars to crack and is of good size. It has the reputation, however, of being a shy bearer."

    I have also noticed that Posey never sets a really heavy pecan crop but I think a more serious cultivar defect is that Posey produces dark colored kernels.  In the photo at left, you can see how dark this year's Posey kernels are as compared to the current season's Kanza kernels. Since dark kernel color is associated with old or rancid pecan kernels, it has become increasingly difficult to market perfectly tasty Posey nut meats to the consumer.
Posey kernels

    In 1923, former NNGA President, T.P. Littlepage, made these observations about Posey. "The parent Posey tree grows in Indiana, and I had the pleasure of naming it. That tree is a good bearer, and it is the thinnest-shelled northern-grown pecan with which I am familiar. It is a very beautiful nut, with the exception that frequently one side of the kernel will not fill out as it does on the other side. It is not defective, but simply deficient."   In the  many years of growing and shelling Posey,  I had never noticed that Posey produces kernel halves of unequal length. However, this year I took the time to carefully remove the shell from several Posey nuts. The photo above shows two examples of what I found. In every case, one half of the Posey kernel was shorter than the other. The difference was sometimes pronounced (nut at left) and at other times only slight (nut at right). Looks like Mr. Littlepage was right.

     Posey has a couple of unique characteristics that make field identification of the cultivar easy. Posey nuts are surrounded by a thick, course-textured shuck that features prominent "wings" along the suture lines (photo at left). Posey nuts have dark colored shells and a strongly flattened shape (see photo above).
    The bark of Posey trees is also distinctive.  In the photo at right, you can easily see the graft union between the seedling pecan rootstock and a Posey scion.  The seedling rootstock has furrowed bark typical for pecan trees of this diameter. In sharp contrast, the Posey top exhibits a scaly bark appearance reminiscent of a shagbark hickory.
    Posey is a unique cultivar in many ways. However, it is a cultivar that is fading, slowly being replaced by better northern cultivars.