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'Centennial' (Tree trunk, 1902)(Nut drawing, 1902) (Tree, 1941) (Nut photo, 1995) 'Centennial' was the first pecan cultivar whose successful propagation led to the establishment of a productive orchard of the cultivar, and to nursery sales. As such, this cultivar represents the beginning of modern pecan culture. Although Abner Landrum budded pecan on hickory in South Carolina in 1822 (American Farmer 4:7, 1822), his propagation is not linked to commercial propagation either for orchard establishment or nursery sales. It is auspicious that the pecan cultivar that carries such historic distinction should be named in honor of the 100th birthday celebration of this nation. It is especially poignant that those first commercially successful grafts, a significant horticultural step in the establishment of the pecan industry, were accomplished by a slave, Antoine.
The following is the very thorough account of the cultivar provided by W. A. Taylor (Promising New Fruits, Yearbook of the Department of Agriculture, 1904):
"The original tree of this variety stood on the Anita plantation of Mr. Amant Bourgeois, on the east bank of the Mississippi River, in St. James Parish, La., from some date early in the nineteenth century until March 14, 1890, when it was destroyed by the disastrous Anita crevasse, which swept away, to a depth of 15 feet, the earth in which it stood. Whether it was a chance seedling or was grown from a planted nut is not known. So far as known, the first effort to perpetuate the variety by grafting was made by the late Dr. A. E. Colomb early in the "forties." Not succeeding in this effort, Doctor Colomb later cut scions from the original tree and took them to the late Telesphore J. Roman, owner of Oak Alley plantation, on the east (sic, should be 'west') bank of the river, whose slave gardener, Antoine by name, succeeded in grafting 16 trees near the mansion and quarters with this variety in the winter of 1846 or 1847. Somewhat later than this Mr. Roman had 110 trees grafted "in the large pasture which was forty arpents from the river" with the same variety, so that by the close of the civil war (1865) there were 126 grafted Centennial trees in bearing on this plantation. The plantation having changed hands shortly after the war, the later plantings of grafted trees were cut down to make way for sugar cane, although they were just reaching their most productive age and the nuts from them were selling at from $50 to $75 per barrel".
"In 1876, Hubert Bonzano, who then owned Oak Alley, exhibited nuts from these grafted trees at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. He was awarded a diploma based upon an examination by Prof. William H. Brewer, in which the variety was commended for its "remarkably large size, tenderness of shell, and very special excellence".
"It is not clear at to who first applied the name Centennial to the variety, but so far as ascertained it was first catalogued under that name by the late Richard Frotscher, of New Orleans, in 1885, the propagation of budded and grafted trees of it for sale having begun about 1882 by William Nelson, who was associated with Mr. Frotscher in the pecan nursery business."
"So far as ascertained, the Centennial is the first variety of pecan that was succesfully propagated by budding or grafting (editor's note: Taylor was evidently wrong about the budding, according to True, 1919, who attributed the first budding to Abner Landrum of South Carolina). It was also the first variety planted in commercial orchard form, with a definite view to producing nuts for sale, and one of the first three to be catalogued and offered for sale."
"Two of the earliest grafted Centennial trees, above referred to, are still standing at Oak Alley. They were thrifty, productive, and in fine condition when inspected by the writer in the autumn of 1902. The date of their grafting by the slave Antoine (1846 or 1847), under Doctor Colomb's direction, marks the beginning of modern pecan culture."
"Size large, average nuts running about 45 to 50 to the pound; form long, compressed cylindrical, grafually tapering to the wedge-shaped apex; base conical; color bright grayish brown with rather scanty purplish splashes toward the apex; shell rather thick, partitions thin; cracking quality medium; kernel clear, reddish yellow, deeply and narrowly grooved, but quite smooth and separating easily from the shell; plump, solid; of delicate texture and flavor, quality very good."
"The Centennial tree is a rather slender grower with grayish green yound wood sprinkled with small light dots. It becomes pendulous as it attains age, and is on this account one of the handsomest varieties for parks or large lawns. It is slow to come into bearing, but appears to be a fairly regular cropper after attaining an age of about 15 years from bud or graft."
"The specimens illustrated on Plate LVI were from one of the two surviving trees that were grafted in 1846-47 on Oak Alley plantation, Feitel, St. James Parish, La. They were furnished by the present owner of the plantation, Mr. A. M. Sobral."
Nut: oblong with acute apex and acute base; round in cross section; 70 nuts/lb, 45% kernel; kernels golden in color, dorsal grooves narrow near apex, flared at base, with prominent secondary grooves. Protandrous. Very slow to bear, low production. Discounted for use in 1913 (Reed, Proc. Nat. Nut Growers Assoc. 12:52): "Variety too tardy and shy in bearing to be recommended for any locality."
LJ Grauke , Research Horticulturist & Curator
USDA-ARS Pecan Genetics
Route 2 Box 133
Somerville, TX 77879