Grounds crew to work on Pershing Pecan Tree

In the coming weeks, a nonagenarian on campus will undergo a nip and tuck that will result in a drastic aesthetic transformation but for life-prolonging purposes.

Pershing Pecan Tree

Gov. William Hobby shovels dirt onto the pecan tree named for Gen. John Pershing (right).

The Pershing Pecan Tree — named for World War I military hero Gen. John Pershing, who helped plant the tree in February 1920 in Founder’s Court — is experiencing significant health issues, said Ron Smith, Rice’s grounds superintendent.

A possible lightning strike several years ago damaged the vascular system of the tree and made it susceptible to boring activity by insects, he said. The Rice grounds crew has been caring for the tree with fertilizer and root treatments and eliminated the insects, but about a month ago, one side of the tree turned brown and died.

“Now we’re focused on keeping the tree alive as long as possible,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can to prolong its life.”

Within the next few weeks, the tree will be significantly trimmed to remove the dead material on one side. On the other side, branches will be pruned to help balance the weight of the tree.

Pershing Pecan Tree

Gen. John Pershing stands at the tree named in his honor. Rice's first gardener, Tony Martino, is at his feet.

“The danger is having too much weight on one side of the tree, which would put stress on the trunk and possibly cause it to crack,” Smith said. “The tree will be going into dormancy soon, so it’s a good time to do this work. Then hopefully in the spring it will come back a bit healthier.”

Smith appreciates the historical significance of the tree, which is marked with a plaque at its base. Pershing, one of the most accomplished and celebrated soldiers of his time, had commanded American troops in Europe during World War I and was often mentioned as a potential presidential candidate in early 1920. His visit to campus Feb. 5, 1920, drew crowds and dignitaries, including the governor of Texas, William P. Hobby. Pershing spoke to the crowd from the cloisters of the Physics Amphitheater and then helped plant, as President Edgar Odell Lovett said, “a tree that shall symbolize to succeeding generations of students the strengths of the planter of the tree.”

The Pershing Pecan Tree was planted as part of an Arbor Day celebration to honor those who served in the military. Rice continues to mark Arbor Day with tree plantings twice a year. The next planting will be Nov. 15. Volunteers for the event can contact Susann Glenn, communications manager for Facilities Engineering and Planning, at


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About Jennifer Evans

Jennifer Evans is a senior editor in the Rice's Office of Public Affairs.