History Of The Sumner Pecan Tree

July 30, 2009

I’ve got a special treat today, a guest post from someone who knows a lot about the history of Sumner Pecan trees.  Hope you enjoy it!

By Edker H. Mc Donald – 2009

The Sumner tree is rated by most experiment stations and research people as one of the top two pecans in the Southern United States.  It is known that it is the most sought after tree from the nurseries of this area.

Here’s how I learned about the Sumner pecan tree.

Sometime around August of 1939, Mr. Wallace Childs, the basketball coach at Nichols High School in Coffee County in Georgia, asked me if I would be willing to go with him and Randle Kirkland (another student of his) to Mr. Walter L. Sumner’s place.  He lived across the branch from Wallace’s dad’s house, at a little place called Waterloo, where Wallace was raised.  All of these places are in Tift county.

I told Wallace that I would be glad to go.  We left early on Saturday morning and was at Mr. Sumner’s Nursery about the time to go to work.

Young Sumner Pecan Tree
“Newly planted Sumner Pecan tree”

Mr. Sumner took the three of us to his young pecan nursery and started showing us how to bud pecan trees.  His pecans had been planted in rows like corn about 15 inches apart.

The young trees were about 18 inches high.  He showed us how he budded the young trees about 4 inches above the ground.  Mr. Sumner seemed to take a liking to me and Randle.  He asked us to come back the next Monday and work with him all week and he would teach us how to bud pecans.

We both went back to Chula, Georgia, on Sunday and budded pecans all week.  You can learn a lot from a person like Mr. Sumner when you set on the next row to him all day for a week and bud a pecan tree every time that he budded one.

Mr. Sumner was a very jolly fellow and even though it was the middle of August and hot and dry, he made it a pleasure to be out in the heat.  He liked to joke and tell little stories while working.  He was one of the better teachers that I have ever met.

The following year I received a letter from Mr. Sumner asking that I come back and help him bud trees for two weeks in August of 1940.  He said that the trees that I budded lived a lot better.

I was very interested in learning every thing that I could about pecans and I knew that I had run into a fellow that would spend the time with me to teach me what I needed to know.  So when the time came, I went back to Mr. Sumner’s and stayed in his home.

Mr. and Mrs. E. H. McDonald

Kathleen (Kat) Carter and Edker McDonald

Mr. & Mrs. Sumner had 6 children: the two boys and three of the girls had already married and moved out.  They had one daughter, Pauline, who was my age.

She later became my wife for well over 60 years.  She was like Mr. Sumner – she loved life and people.  Whenever you saw her with a group of people she usually would be in the middle of them and every one would be laughing.

After studying, budding, and evaluating a large amount of seedling pecan trees, and after years of hard work, Mr. Sumner liked one special tree in his orchard.

This one tree stood out to him not only in the size of the nut, but the taste, how they shelled out, the number it took to make a pound, the percentage of meat they hulled out, the trees resistance to diseases, most of the nuts would shell out with the halves whole instead of all cracked up, and the fact that it started bearing earlier than the other trees. All these good traits had caught his attention.

from University of Georgia

from University of Georgia

He started budding and selling this one tree. This took many years but it was not too long before every one was calling it the Sumner tree, and the name has stuck until this day. It is a shame that Mr. Sumner didn’t get the patent on the Sumner tree, but he just didn’t have the money at the time to get the patent. The Sumner pecan tree was patented by another nursery after Mr. Sumner’s death. He was in his 50s when he died.

Another person who deserves a lot of credit for the development of the Sumner pecan would be his daughter, Mrs. Roy Ford.  In a time when there was no money on the farm, Mrs. Ford worked at one of the Tifton Department stores and furnished Mr. Sumner with whatever money she had so that he could develop and sell the Sumner tree around the country, with a big part around Albany, Georgia.

It was quite a job to plant, grow, bud, dig and sell a pecan tree, and very few people in those days tried to.  Mr. Sumner had what it took to do all these things, and delivered the young trees all over the state.

Mr. Sumner also developed a grafting knife , which consisted of two 1x1x6 inch long blades, hinged together at one end. There were four blades, one on each side of each 1×1 so that when you took the hinged knife and put it around the tree the four blades cut one inch apart. You first made the cut on the young tree, then split the back from the two 1-in cuts and snapped the bark off between the two cuts around the little tree about four inch off the ground.

Budding Knife with Bark Lifter

Example of a budding knife, NOT the one Mr. Sumner developed.

This left the bark off the little tree for 1 inch. You then took the same budding knife and went around a bud on a new growth limb, which had been cut off of the original Sumner Pecan tree that morning .

Then you snapped the 1 inch piece of bark with the new bud on it off the Sumner limb and put the new bark with the bud on it around the bare place that you had prepared on the small tree then you wrapped it with a strip of cloth dipped in bee’s wax, tar, and tallow. This piece of tape was wrapped around the new bud that had been put on the little tree.

The seedling tree was allowed to grow from August until December.  During this time the little bud would come out (if every thing was right and the season was any where right).

Commercial 4-blade Budding Knife

Commercial 4-blade Budding Knife

Example of a budding knife, NOT the one Mr. Sumner developed.

If the new bud that had been put on the small tree had come out and was still living, the young tree was cut off just above the new growth from the Sumner bud.   The Sumner tree from the bud up was allowed to grow for a year and one half, and then the tree was dug up and sold.

Getting the tree dug up and ready for sale was a lot of work, for it had to be dug by hand. Most times the tap root was four foot or more down in the ground.  You were not allowed to cut any of the tap root off.  It all had to be dug up and the hole it was placed in had to be the same depth.

I believe that if Mr. Sumner was living today that I could show him where grafting works better than budding. But the thing about it was that what Mr. Sumner did worked for him.
by – Edker H. Mc Donald

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