What a great question! The answer to that question is more of a history lesson than an explanation.
The use of pecans dates back to the 1500s. Although fossils of pecans seeds can be dated back all the way to 6100 BC, Native American’s are most noted for the harvesting of native pecans for their nutrient-rich nut. They also used the leaves and tree bark for various medicinal purposes. Pecans are the only tree nut native to North America. Meaning the pecan was readily available for the Native Americans to use and eat.
Side Note - Ever wonder how the heck to say pecan? The word pecan is derived from the Algonquin tribe's word "pacane" which translates to "nuts requiring a stone to crack”. It’s not an age-old debate, it’s pah-kan, not pe-kan.
Back to the history of wild natives. By the 1700s, the use of pecans had drastically taken off thanks to the Native American’s introducing European explorers to the various uses of the pecan. It didn’t take long for the commerce of pecans to take off after the first planting of a pecan tree in Long Island, NY in 1772. Soon after that, Thomas Jefferson planted a pecan tree. He even sent seeds to George Washington.
Due to its popularity, the exportation of pecans took off in the 1800s. It didn’t take long for grafting to enter the scene. Abner Landrum is said to have discovered the technique in 1822 in South Carolina. Although it wasn’t until Antoine, an African-American slave gardener, from Louisiana, successfully recreated this grafting technique that it began to take off slowly. The grafting technique really took off in the 1880s when Louisiana and Texas nurserymen learned of pecan grafting. They took the technique of propagation to a commercial level.
Thus leading us to two types of pecans. Wild Natives Pecans and Improved Pecans.
If you are looking for a graphic version of the history of pecans, please check out American Pecan’s website.