Whether you call them puh-KHANs or PEE-cans, Pecans seem to be ubiquitous in the deep south, especially in the fall. They are everywhere. There are pecan trees in public squares and in private yards, and they are so large that their branches often overflow their boundaries. Pecans are in yards, on sidewalks, and on streets. All of which begs the question: if there is a pecan tree in someone’s yard, and you take a pecan lying on the ground, have you stolen something?
Because it seems that there is no subject that is as yet untouched by the law, there are a whole series of laws regarding pecans and the collection thereof. Harvesting season is not decided by nature and the ripeness of the nuts, but rather by statute. O.C.G.A. 44-12-240 defines pecan harvesting season as “that portion of each calendar year beginning on October 1 and ending on December 31.” The owner of the pecans is the “person, firm, or corporation owning the land on which pecan trees are growing or the person, firm, or corporation having legal possession of the land.” That last part means that if you are renting your house, and there is a pecan tree in the yard, the pecans are yours and not the landlord’s. I think it is safe to say that there was a court case somewhere that provoked that subsection of the law, in which a landlord came and took all the pecans and the tenant sued, or the tenant took all the pecans and the landlord demanded them back and sued.
What happens, though, if there is a pecan tree growing in someone’s yard, and the tree’s branches shade the sidewalk and part of the street. There are, say, hundreds of pecans littering the sidewalk. Can you come by with a bag and scoop them up to make pies? The answer is that you can if and only if:
A) You have the owner’s permission; or
B) It is between January 1st and October 30th.
Otherwise, the law says you are stealing. Likewise, you can’t pluck a pecan off of a tree if the tree is on private property, even if the branch smacks you in the head when you walk by on the sidewalk. This is true whether or not it is harvesting season. You also can’t shake the branch to make pecans fall off. It’s a misdemeanor if you do. Seriously. See O.C.G.A. 44-12-241.
There’s an exception for this, too: if employees of the government take or clean up the pecans as part of normal governmental activities or maintenance, it’s ok. Also, if your pecan tree’s pecans end up on the right of way of an interstate or other limited access highway, you can’t harvest them. In other words, don’t run out in to traffic on the interstate to chase your pecans.
I couldn’t find any law governing public property, so I suppose if the pecan tree is in a public park you can take what you can find.
You can, however, buy as many pecans as you like from the store, and if you want to bring me a pecan pie, I would absolutely let you.
Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. It is being offered for informational purposes only. No lawyer can advise you about your case without hearing the particular facts of your situation.