Back to December 2019

Speaking of Family Trees…

Adding to his discussion on the history of the pecan breeding program, Dr. LJ Grauke shares the story of the 'Fayette' cultivar.


Two nut vouchers which show the kernel, inshell and color characteristics of the 'Fayette' variety.

Ellis Brown obtained graftwood from Clinton Bippert, Austin County Extension Agent, and established 'Fayette' trees in the Brownwood orchard in 1980. These are the nut vouchers from those trees.

New tools will help us understand and use some of our old favorite cultivars more efficiently. I had the chance to judge the Pecan Show in Brenham on Nov. 20, 2019. Kara Matheney, Washington County Extension Agent, and her Pecan Committee did a good job bringing in samples from Washington and Austin Counties in an off-season crop. Most samples showed hickory shuckworm damage caused by Cydia caryana since late season protection of a light crop is often hard to justify. I was surprised to see two samples of what I thought looked like ‘Fayette,’ but they were unnamed in the “Other Varieties” category.

I asked about the entries and learned that Robert Luedeker (New Ulm) and Tim Meier (Brenham) had entered the samples, both submitted as ‘Fayette.’ Robert visited the show later in the morning, and we talked about the cultivar as we had in the past when he visited our College Station worksite. He knew the history of the seedling selection that was made by Frank J. Willmann of La Grange and was initially thought to be a ‘Mahan’ seedling. Robert has verified trees of the cultivar and had shared graftwood with Tim. He commented on how clean the shucks were on ‘Fayette’ trees.

USDA-ARS records go back to 1979, when Clinton Bippert, Austin County CEA, wrote to Dick Hunter about ‘Fayette,’ telling him that “the strong unblemished shuck is the feature that strikes me the most. This tree is in an orchard of 35 ‘Success’ trees and does not show shuckworm damage.”

Ellis Brown obtained graftwood from Bippert and established trees in the Brownwood orchard in 1980. That orchard was removed in the winter of 1990-1991, but graftwood was taken from all trees. Grafts were established at the College Station worksite, but the ‘Fayette’ grafts were lost in the Halloween freeze of 1991.

With help from Bippert, Tommy Thompson and I were able to find the original ‘Fayette’ tree and collect graftwood in 1993. I grafted the tree at CSV 11-16. Wood from CSV 11-16 was used to graft trees at BWV 2-31 and BWV 3-14 in 2005. The molecular profiles were run from samples of CSV 11-16. Microsatellite markers disqualified both ‘Mahan’ and ‘Schley’ as parents. Still, I did not know the true parent until we had Genotyping By Sequencing (GBS) profiles obtained in cooperative work with Jennifer Randall (New Mexico State University) and Hiroyoshi Iwata (University of Tokyo). I went back to check profiles of ‘Fayette’ and ‘Desirable’ using our simple microsatellite markers, and found them to be accurate and informative, confirming the genetic pattern seen with the more sophisticated—but slower and more expensive—GBS procedure. One of the goals of the SCRI research is to develop reliable methods that could be made available for profiling trees quickly and inexpensively.

It is very valuable to have an archive of original documents so we can maintain connections to the history of our crop. By returning to the primary documents, we can avoid the error that often accompanies retelling a story. It is also important to have a central place where we can trust information to be updated and accurate, which will be necessary as the improved resolution of new technology helps us correct mistakes. The database being developed in conjunction with the SCRI grant should accomplish that goal. Some of the information will be proprietary. But the historic archives, phenotypic records related to NCGR-Carya inventories and the accurate lineages based on current information should be easily accessible to the pecan industry.

Although our records show where the original ‘Fayette’ tree is located, that tree is not an available source for graftwood. Graftwood is available from verified NCGR-Carya inventories. Propagating from a verified inventory increases confidence that the resulting trees are true to type (although labeling and aftercare must be practiced).

Bill Ree has recently done some very interesting quantification of shuckworm damage. Bearing trees of ‘Fayette’ and known susceptible cultivars are in NCGR-Carya orchards. Using the broad collection of bearing cultivars in the collection for screening and using the excellent genetic sequences now available, researchers could obtain markers related to shuckworm resistance, contributing to future selections.

Author Photo

L.J. Grauke

Dr. LJ Grauke is a retired Research Horticulturist with the Pecan Genetics and Breeding Program in the USDA Agricultural Research Service. After 30 years of service, Dr. Grauke moved onto a new adventure. The Pecan South staff and family thank Dr. Grauke for his years of service and wish him all the best. If you have questions or comments regarding this article, please contact Joshua Udall or Xinwang Wang with USDA-ARS via [email protected] or [email protected] respectively.