This story appears in the September 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine.
In 1915 Paul Popenoe gave 26 photos of giant trees to National Geographic. One of them was this shot mailed from San Antonio—a massive pecan over five feet in diameter and ornamented with a daring, suspendered soul (inset).
Popenoe wrote widely on topics from date palms to the promotion of eugenics; he was later known in the United States as the father of marriage counseling. This photo came from a contest to find America’s largest hardwood, the results of which were published by Popenoe.
This shot didn’t win, but the pecan would become the Texas state tree in 1919. Its popularity had been growing since 1906, when former Governor James Hogg’s last wishes included a walnut tree at his feet and a pecan tree as a headstone, the nuts to be “given out among the plain people so that they may plant them and make Texas a land of trees.”