A Pecan Tree Wasn’t There! (Brazil, French Morocco, Togo)

Some weeks ago I wrote about a Horse Chestnut tree I admired. And in the last few weeks another tree caught my eye.

This summer my wife and I have been buying fruits and vegetables from a farm. It’s the “last farm back,” as the handmade signs nailed to trees on the potholed road indicate. There I was drawn to a large tree with an abundance of small nuts. I asked the farm woman what kind of tree it was. “Pecan.” I was amazed. We’re in Maryland. I think of Pecan Trees (Carya illinoinensis) as being southern, as in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia. Yet here it is.

I thought this discovery would make an interesting post—a followup to the Horse Chestnut story. I looked for images of Pecan Trees on stamps, assuming an easy search since trees are a common stamp topic. “No Pecan Tree!”

I did learn that Pecan Trees are native only to the southern U.S. and Mexico. That limited range likely accounts for “No Pecan Tree” stamps. The Pecan is, however, the state tree of Texas (an interesting story), and a difficult tree to propagate. They’re slow to grow and bear nuts, which can have differing characteristics from differing trees, so grafting from mature trees is an obvious strategy for propagation. This grafting was first accomplished in about 1846 by a slave, Antoine, at the Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana.

And did you know the pecan isn’t a nut? It’s a member of the hickory genus and is a drupe, a fruit with a single pit surrounded by a husk.

Searching for Pecan Trees on stamps, a few others (trees and stamps) intrigued me. A French Moroccan stamp (above) featured a goat herder. And is that goat attempting to climb a tree in the background? This photograph (Wikimedia) would seem to confirm that possibility.

A  leaf-and-nut-shaped stamp from Brazil (left) honors the Cashew Tree of Pirangi, which entered the Guinness Book of World Records 1994. That single tree covers a mere two acres!

And then there was the comforting scene of a teacher and students planting trees in Togo (below). I commend them.

So, a Pecan Tree wasn’t there (on stamps), but unexpectedly there is one near me, though without any nesting goats—at least none that I’ve seen.

Light and Color in French Morocco

Color gradations artfully employed by stamp designers always attract my attention. Think of Great Britain’s long-running Machin series or Israel’s Twelve Tribes definitives from the 1950s. But the five stamps of French Morocco shown here, from the Townscapes series of the late 1940s, are perhaps my absolute favorite. The stamps were designed by Camille Paul Jooso (1902-1986) and engraved by Pierre Gandon (1899-1996, see an earlier post about Gandon’s Sarah Bernhardt stamp).

When I see these stamps, the acclaimed French artist Henri Matisse (1869-1964) comes to mind as does his lifelong quest for, as he told the art critic Pierre Courthion (1902-1988), “the clarity of light.”Matisse travelled often, including two stays in French Morocco in 1912-1913, not to see different places but “to see light, to restore, through a change of its quality, the freshness it lost as a result of being seen day after day.”To me, these stamps powerfully convey that clarity of light through their sensitive  design, exquisite engraving, brilliant color selection, and masterful printing. They are a marvel!

The other quality within these stamps that brings Matisse to mind, is the complex patterning of the terraced townscape. Matisse’s paintings, beginning in the early 1900s, abound with the patterns of textiles, with the objects they cover being visually flattened and converted to an overall decorative image. The Terraces stamps convey that same flattened decorative quality. Kudos again to the stamp designer and engraver for achieving such complex and enticing imagery.

Forgive my dream, but I can easily imagine Matisse looking out his hotel window in French Morocco at the scene we experience viewing these stamps…and being delighted just as I am.

1 & 2. Schneider, Pierre, et al. Matisse in Morocco, Exhibition Catalog, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 1990, page 31.