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July 2017 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden

The Natural Side of Peckerwood
Calendar
Plant of the month: Wright’s Yellowshow (Amoreuxia wrightii)  

(If you are in Outlook and are not seeing the images, please click here)


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Adam’s notes from the garden

Leucophyllum zygophyllum ‘Desert Dazzler’, John Fairey’s wild selection, responding to the recent rains
It is difficult to relay via photo the monstrous proportions of Zephyranthes x ‘Cookie Cutter Moon’

It is nice to report that our typical Texas summer heat and dryness has occasionally been interrupted by at least a few drenching afternoon thunderstorms, though it is always not enough or too much! Even though I always got away with it in Florida, I’ve also learned that in Texas you cannot provide overhead water to sad looking, wilted plants in the heat of the day as the water droplets on the leaves will quickly heat to scalding temperatures that significantly damage plants. Last week I thought it was overcast and “cool” enough that I could get away with a quick drenching of the rock garden when it was convenient, but was then horrified to come back to some plants looking almost like boiled spinach. Fortunately, it was superficial and things are resprouting.

Aside from the appearance of our rain lilies, another impressive response to the rain is the mass flowering of the south Texas native tree Havardia pallens.

Havardia pallens blooms en masse following a good rainfall after a dry spell

This thorny legumous tree resembling an Acacia is something that needs to become a staple in the landscape. Though native to the dry thorn scrub areas of deep south Texas that experience mild winters, it has proven quite hardy in our neck of the woods, with no damage in the mid-teens this past winter. Through spring and early summer, it flowers on and off with white puffball flowers emitting a slight fragrance that tends to attract a variety of pollinators.

Erythrina vespertillo is an unusual Australian relative of our native coral bean, Erythrina herbacea

The real show seems to follow several weeks of dryness abruptly interrupted by a significant rainfall. Several days later, the tree is completely covered in white flowers. We have had at least three of these mass flowerings coinciding with a sudden rainfall during the summer.

John’s wild Mexican collection of Yucca thompsoniana, which rejected my pollination attempts!

One of John’s wild Mexican seed collections of Yucca thompsoniana flowered, and I finally decided to attempt to pollinate the plant. Our non-native yuccas don’t produce seeds as every region has its own species of moths that are specialized for pollinating specific yucca species. I had learned about manual pollination of yuccas, and it appeared quite simple, at least for self-fertile species, with Y. thompsoniana reportedly being among them. The process was to collect the bundles of pollen being shed from the anthers, and in the evening when the stigmas are receptive, insert the pollen into the tip of the stigma using a small tool. I was out one evening pollinating every flower that appeared to be at the perfect stage, confident I was going to yield plenty of seeds. But after a few weeks, the inflorescence died with no fruit set.

The weeping Himalayan cypress Cupressus funebris

We are already thinking of the upcoming acorn season, both from the standpoint of collecting from our oak trees to propagate and share, and more important continuing to increase our valuable collection through new acquisitions collected from the wild.

The edible fruits of Casimiroa pringlei are ripening

Some exciting trips are being planned in order to preserve the diverse genetics of some rare U.S. native oaks along with resuming John’s work in exploring Mexico’s immense oak diversity, though focusing on safer regions than the now-dangerous areas he frequented. Volunteer Craig Jackson and his son Charles have been helping enter our oak collections in the powerful database Craig created for us. When completed, we can register our collection with the American Public Garden Association’s Plant Collections Network, which identifies significant germplasm resources that actively work to conserve key plant groups. .


The Natural Side of Peckerwood

By Adam Black 

Our resident snapping turtle. Photo by Dev Lee

A garden should provide visitors with a sense of connectivity to nature, but the extent of immersion into this realm varies with the location, size, and plant assemblages. Peckerwood is best known for John Fairey’s outstanding landscape design utilizing a palate of unusual plants from around the world, many of which he personally collected in Mexico. These plantings take advantage of natural topography and existing features like the creek that flows through the garden. However, the cultivated portion of the property is only a small portion of the 40 acres owned by our foundation. Future plans hope to better manage the natural areas that dominate the western portion of the property, and developing primitive trails through this natural landscape will allow visitors access to the “wild” areas.

The sinuous charcoal grey vines of Berchemia scandens adds a sense of mystique to the dense understory.

Toward the back of the arboretum, the manicured lawn abruptly turns into a dense wall of shrubbery. Ducking through a small opening, one finds that the “wall” is really just that, a separator to the floodplain forest bordering the south shore of the creek. Light is dim due to the intertwined crowns of the yaupon overhead, this living ceiling further stitched together with the charcoal colored muscular vines of supplejack (Berchemia scandens). Its attractive dark blue fruits are a favored food of many birds.

A plume of light off in the distance illuminates the ground with an amber glow due to light reflected off the bark and heavy leaf litter under a large native sycamore, Platanus orientalis. The understory thins closer to the creek but the tree canopy grows denser. Joining the sycamores are numerous large trees with green ash trees (Fraxinus sp.), hickories (Cary asp.) American Elm (Ulmus americana) water oaks (Quercus nigra) and box elder maple (Acer negundo) being the most prevalent.

Catfish often sit motionless at the surface of our creek’s deeper stretches. Photo by Dev Lee

A noteworthy shrub represented on the property by at least one individual is Viburnum dentatum. Also known as arrowwood, this

shrub has shiny blue fruits and attractive leaves that are ridged like potato chips with jaggedly toothed margins. Though common throughout most of the eastern US in the right habitat, our location in Waller County represents the southwestern-most limit of this species’ recorded range.

In fall, goldenrod dominates the fields

Finally reaching the creek’s steep, mossy banks, the light levels are further increased. Patches of ferns (Theypteris sp.) and various sedges (Carex sp.) grow in these humid locations, and in the sunnier spots are patches of Saururus cernuus, whose long pipe cleaner-like inflorescences arch over with the tapered tip hanging limply downward, earning it the common name “lizard’s tail”.

Photographer Dev Lee captured a great portrait of a harmless yellow-bellied water snake framed with a curl in its tail along Peckerwood’s creek

Heading south from the creek, the alternating thickets and high canopy eventually thins into a more open area behind the site of the original Yucca Do Nursery location. Originally better maintained by Carl Schoenfeld and Wade Roitsch, the property remained unmanaged in the years since their relocation and our foundation’s recent purchase of the property. Numerous ornamental trees and shrubs were interspersed in this area among the existing meadow and clusters of native trees. Shortly after we started mowing the thick jungle of weeds on a regular basis in late spring 2016, it was amazing to see the amount of wildflowers whose seeds had been waiting for this opportunity to be rid of their competing vegetation. In early spring of this year, it was nice to see a reasonable number of bluebonnets whose seed banks had persisted after being blanketed for years with dewberries and ragweed.  Antelope horn milkweed appears here and there and are currently dispersing their wind-blown seeds. In fall, we can likely expect another excellent show from the many patches of goldenrod that added sulfur splashes to the mowed areas last year. With continued management, these and other prairie plants will only get better in upcoming years.

One of the oldest inhabitants of the property, a massive gnarled post oak Quercus stellata

One notable tree interspersed among this “prairie in the re-making” is a massive post oak with wonderful branching architecture and tremendous character that comes with old age, especially when fully unveiled in winter. A second rather large post oak stands proudly within eyeshot of an immense, dome-shaped colony of smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) that provides year-round interest in flower, fall color, and fruit that persists long after the leaves drop, providing wildlife with a late-season food source.

My idyllic description thus far has not mentioned the conspicuous abundance of invasive trees, shrubs and vines cohabitating with these natives. In all areas, we do indeed have the typical exotic colonizers including china berry and tallow tree.  Thickets of Chinese privet exist along the creek, joined by the occasional glossy privet tree growing from the creek bank, itself sometimes smothered in areas with Japanese honeysuckle vine. Removal of these exotics are all projects for the right volunteer groups to chip away at.

Peckerwood Garden once harbored a natural population of a special plant endemic to only a few counties in the Brazos River valley west of Houston. Texas meadow rue (Thalictrum texanum) is only known from a handful of sites within these counties that provide the right habitat. Being a diminutive ground-hugging plant, it requires moist but well-drained conditions that are naturally free of smothering vegetation. The open areas of the “hallway” lawn paralleling the creek in developed portion of the garden seemed to provide optimal areas for it until it disappeared in recent years. Fortunately, John has it preserved in other areas of the garden. Following removal of the thickets of privet in the undeveloped creek bank areas downstream, we can only hope that Thalictrum texanum can become re-established on its own, or with our assistance.

With all this plant diversity comes a myriad of animals seeking food or shelter. Of course, insect pollinators, as well as those that use certain plants as larval or adult food sources, are abundant. Though most visitors are attracted to the butterflies on our flowers, others find delight in the beautiful jet black and metallic green damselflies that flitter about along the creek. Among the many species of fish, a large resident snapping turtle has remained in the same stretch of the creek for at least a year and a half, somehow staying put despite several bouts of brisk flowing flood waters. There was reportedly a young alligator in the creek years ago, and they could still exist in the region. 

Ebony jewelwing damselflies are frequently seen fluttering around the creek bed

Both the cultivated and natural areas of Peckerwood’s property are an oasis for birds among the surrounding open agricultural areas. A variety of birds of prey can be spotted in the sky waiting to swoop down on a rodent, snake, or other bird. Hummingbirds are of course present in numbers, further encouraged to stay with the supplemental hummingbird feeders that volunteers Cherie and Frank Lee maintain. Peckerwood’s property is also an official Bluebird sanctuary, with bluebird houses stationed around the open areas, with regular nesting surveys conducted by volunteer Roger Holland. Countless other bird species stop off here during the migratory periods, and we hope bird watchers will be among the many groups of nature lovers that can enjoy Peckerwood with the gardening enthusiasts.

A fossil mammoth or mastodon sternum segment (right) are among the several ice age mammal fossils found in the creek

Mammals ranging from rodents and bats to bobcats and deer are residents of the property. Fortunately, most of these are not pests, and rarely do we see any evidence of severe deer browsing, their only problem being when a choice tree is picked to rub their antlers on. Beavers are in the creek, and occasionally a prized specimen will be gnawed on, but with so many other native trees in the area chances of this happening is minimal. Future visitors will hopefully be as lucky as volunteer Pam Romig was recently when she got to observe a river otter heading up the creek. Fortunately, our problem with feral hogs was brought to an end after better fencing methods were installed several months ago.

Though John Fairey’s legacy will always be the centerpiece of Peckerwood, it is only the beginning of what our property has to offer to those who want to experience nature. With primitive trails through the natural areas already in development, we soon will make the “wild” areas more accessible to visitors in the future. Aside from those who want to escape the concrete jungle of Houston, our own local residents of the city of Hempstead could utilize the garden as a convenient place to experience nature. As we develop our educational programs for young and old, having this balanced synthesis with cultivated and natural features in one location will prove to be integral in our missions. Support through memberships and donations are the only way to make these improvements possible.


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 Calendar


Plant of the month: Wright’s Yellowshow (Amoreuxia wrightii)

By Adam Black 

An elusive photo of Amoreuxia wrightii caught during the few hours of late morning when it is open

During my first year at Peckerwood, a strange plant suddenly appeared in a raised bed near John’s house. The intriguing foliage was unfamiliar to me, with each leaf bearing toothy-edged finger-like lobes jutting out in all directions. At first, the leaf looked green, but the more I focused on it, a blue hue became increasingly apparent. The point from which the lobes radiate out from is accentuated with a silvery splotch.

I noticed flower buds, but I missed blooms that quickly aged to amber. More buds, and the next day they were again crumpled vestiges of this mystery flower. Then pendulous fruits began to form, green and roughly the size and shape of a small chicken egg. This still didn’t give me any further clues as to the plant family. Finally, one day a flash of gold through the vine-covered lattice immediately got my attention, and I realized it was a flower that was actually open. I rushed over, not wanting to miss this opportunity, and there it was, a pleasantly gaudy, bright-yellow five-sepaled flower. Four of the petal-like sepals bore brush strokes of blood red at their bases, the fifth solid gold individual seemed to be the outcast, shunned in the opposite direction from the red-marked cohorts crowded on the opposite side. I realized I had seen this flower in one of my books, a photo online…somewhere, but the name still eluded me. A friend homed in on the genus – Amoreuxia – when he saw the photo I posted on Facebook.

When ready to shed seeds, the pods reveals its internal details

Later, John confirmed it was A. wrightii, one of the several species native to the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, all with similar flowers that earned the collective common name “Yellowshow”.  Wright’s Yellowshow is native to southern Texas and into Mexico. John said he has seen extensive desert flats covered with flowering plants across the border, but in Texas, it is found more infrequently. The plant currently in the garden was a descendant from the original that John received from the late noted San Antonio gardener Margaret Kane around 1985.

John’s description of the fruit left me checking the plant daily, looking forward to the green pod transitioning to a translucent thin shell “resembling a sheet of mica” as he put it. Every day I checked it remained green, then it was gone. This plant, first eluding me with the flowers, which only are open for a few hours in the late morning, was now frustrating me with the anticipated mature fruits. I then learned that Adolfo, our head gardener, also had been watching and collected the mature fruit and extracted the seeds.

Like miniature Japanese lanterns, the mature fruits bear translucent windows with the dark masses of seeds visible inside

This year, I finally saw a mature fruit, hanging like a miniature Japanese lantern with the delicate, see-through membrane unveiled by the formerly green covering that had split and shrunken back to the fruit’s three longitudinal ridges. Visible inside the three conjoined capsules were dark clusters of seed adhered to the center of the inside wall in a neat cluster.

Though easy to grow in full sun and well-drained soil, Wright’s Yellowshow will always offer the busy gardener the anticipation of one day being at the right place at the right time, to finally observe a flower in its full glory after finding many taunting remnants of flowers missed. Then you then will need to pay close attention to catch the fruits when they mature, deceptively hidden under the foliage, into their easily overlooked works of delicate art. Germinating easily from seed, it can be one of those pass-along plants that can continually offer the same challenges of timing to those who wish to catch a glimpse of the Yellowshow’s elusive beauty.


Peckerwood has many more acres to develop and grow, so I hope that as our volunteer group grows we can offer even more exciting tasks to undertake.  If you are interested, please contact Bethany and we will get you involved!!!


 

 

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June 2017 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden

Yucca Do Nursery’s Final Days
Calendar
Plant of the month: Purple Jade Vine (Mucuna cyclocarpa)  

(If you are in Outlook and are not seeing the images, please click here)


Adam’s notes from the garden

Gaillardia aestivalis var. winkleri – the rare variety of blanket flower native to a very restricted range in east TX
Calycanthus x raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’

I’ve returned from several weeks immersed in the botanical riches of New Caledonia and want to thank the staff and volunteers for their dedication and hard work while I was away. It was tough adjusting to Texas again after enjoying the beautiful tropical winter weather in the southern hemisphere, but fortunately, after many weeks of intense heat combined with almost no rain, we have received several good soakings over the past week that helped cool things off a bit.

The sudden showers have coaxed the first notable flowering of the Zephyranthes and Habranthus selections this year. While inspecting the earliest risers, I noticed a white Zephyranthes sp. that stood out from the others with more petals than typical.

A surprise on the rain lily berm – a double form of Zephyranthes sp.

We will have to watch this one to see if this remains a stable trait, or simply a temporary fluke. Another bulbous plant growing on the rain lily berm has been in flower, though easy to miss. I must not have been paying enough attention last year, as I only spotted one plant of Alophia veracruziana in the north dry garden at that time, while this year volunteer Brenda Wilson pointed out a group of them on the rain lily berm.

Alophia veracruzana is a smaller delicate relative of our native Alophia drummondii

The subtle flowers, similar to our native Alophia drummondii but smaller and paler, are nonetheless beautifully complex upon closer observation. Perhaps I didn’t focus on them prior as they are growing among a patch of Eleutherine bulbosa which shares the same strappy leaves that look very similar to that of a seedling palm. We will need to be cautious when thinning the weedy Eleutherine so we don’t accidentally remove the more desirable Alophia.

Tetrameris sp. is a shrimp plant relative collected in Mexico

Various gingers are drawing visitors’ attention in the woodland garden, including some early flowering Hedychium hybrids, the peacock gingers (Kaempferia) and several Curcuma species. Similar in appearance but in a different family, Calathea burle-marxii is an interesting tropical that gets frozen back every winter but re-emerges vigorously with large paddle-shaped leaves under which is a cone-like inflorescence of an unusual soothing translucent blue which earned it the common name “Icee Blue Calathea.”

Calathea burle-marxii ‘Ice Blue’

North of the creek, a curious yet more subdued relative of the common shrimp plant has been flowering away in the dry shade.

Callicarpa acuminata – the Mexican beautyberry, has among the showiest flowers in the genus. The resulting fruits will turn a jet black color in fall.Likely a Tetramerium species, this delicate shrubby perennial that John Fairey collected in Mexico has inflorescences with tubular pink flowers emerging from tiered scaly lime green bracts as in a shrimp plant.

An elusive photo of Amoreuxia wrightii caught during the few hours of late morning when it is open

Seemingly appearing out of nowhere, Amoreuxia wrightii (Wright’s Yellow-show) has emerged in John’s raised trial beds near his house, flowering and already producing a few fruits. Catching the large golden flowers with crimson brush strokes in the narrow window of time they are actually fully open (a few hours in the late morning) has proven to be frustrating, but making up for it is the discovery of a few additional individuals in one of the beds recently weeded by volunteers.

The variegated form of the Taiwanese Acer caudatifolium

We never noticed them last year, but they have clearly been persisting since Yucca Do Nursery was still located at this site.

 

Though I may be focusing on the smaller items of interest, things also look great throughout the garden on a larger scale, with all the typical hard-to-miss summer flowering perennials and woody plants looking great.

 

 


Join us Saturday, July 15th at 5 p.m.  to learn about Agaves, Yuccas, and relatives – The “Woody Lilies” of Peckerwood with Adam Black.
Tickets for the Evening at Peckerwood Lecture available here
We recommend I-10 rather than HWY 290 for Houston visitors. see a map here: From Houston via Interstate 10

Yucca Do Nursery’s Final Days

By Adam Black 

Nursery Manager Wade Roitsch (left) and owner Carl Schoenfeld.

Last summer, we sadly reported that Yucca Do Nursery had announced its impending closure and was in the process of selling down their inventory. As of June 1st, online sales were ceased, and dwindling opportunities exist to visit the nursery by appointment to purchase some of the remaining inventory.

In case you aren’t familiar with this legendary, world-renowned collector nursery, Yucca Do Nursery started 29 years ago as a partnership between Carl Schoenfeld and Peckerwood founder John Fairey. Over the years, many amazing plants were introduced to horticulture through the nursery, most notably the results of John and Carl’s many expeditions to northeastern Mexico. The nursery was an exclusive source of key plant groups that included the woody lilies (Agave, Yucca and relatives), Mexican oaks, succulents, and geophytes.  The nursery originally existed on the property adjacent to Peckerwood Garden, but later moved to its current location an hour west of Hempstead on long-time nursery manager Wade Roitsch’s ranch near Giddings. 

I visited Wade the other day and purchased a few more choice specimens that we didn’t have represented at Peckerwood. Though inventory is very low, there are still a number of rare treasures to be had if you can arrange a visit before the doors close for good. Though sales cannot be placed online anymore, Wade and Carl are planning to keep the website active and update it with an illustrated listing of all plants introduced to cultivation over the course of the nursery’s heyday. This undertaking will serve as a valuable resource and testament to the nursery’s significant contributions to the horticultural world. Wade has indicated that he will continue to be involved in plant collecting on an independent and more relaxed basis.


 

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 Calendar


Plant of the month: Purple Jade Vine (Mucuna cyclocarpa)

By Adam Black 

Purple jade vine has got to be one of the most requested plants in the garden. Growing on the trellis near the fountain courtyard, this vigorous vine dies back to the roots every winter but quickly covers the area over the gate with its dark green leaves composed of three leaflets in the arrangement familiar with many members of the pea family. In May it begins flowering with pendulous clusters of dark purple-brown flowers that enamors most observers and leaves them desiring one for their own garden. Originally received in a seed exchange with Shanghai Botanical Gardens, this vine from tropical southern China tends to be shy at producing seed pods and otherwise, cuttings are difficult to root, so this plant has remained rather difficult to acquire. Wade Roitsch, the manager of Yucca Do Nursery, mentioned that manually squeezing the individual flowers to open them up more and presumably facilitate pollination had slightly improved seed set. I will have to remember to do this on a regular basis so we can start satisfying the demand. 

As beautiful as this vine is, it bears a deceptive annoyance. Tiny hairs on the leaf undersides can shed off and create an intense itching. The pods, should we finally produce some, are even more densely covered with these irritating hairs. In fact, a close relative, Mucuna pruriens, is the source of itching powder that was at one time marketed for practical jokers.

Stemming from our postings of photos on Facebook and Instagram of this plant, we have had many requests not just locally, but from all over the world for this plant. If we are successful this year at producing a good crop of seeds, it will be at least another year before we have plants to offer, but well worth the wait.


Peckerwood has many more acres to develop and grow, so I hope that as our volunteer group grows we can offer even more exciting tasks to undertake.  If you are interested, please contact Bethany and we will get you involved!!!


 

 

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May 2017 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden

On the trail of the blue horsetail
Calendar
Volunteers have put in hundreds of hours this May, Thank you!
Plant of the month: Butterwort (Pinguicula aff. moranensis) 
Slideshow of May photos

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Adam’s notes from the garden

Brie Arthur’s Foodscape Revolution presentation and book-signing were preceded by a wonderful dinner.

Peckerwood hosted an inspiring, successful evening with Brie Arthur earlier this month. Following the wonderful meal accompanied by Brie’s bloody Mary demo and tasting, we literally packed the house for her presentation illustrating techniques in her new “Foodscape Revolution” book.

Brie’s famous quick and easy bloody mary demo and tasting

Pam Romig coordinated volunteers and Waller County Master Gardeners to make it all happen.

Shortly after, I traveled out of the country, and as I write of the Brie event in my hotel, I read a detailed message from Pam with relieving notes that things are going well. Most notably are the two events Peckerwood hosted that I regret having missed with Chipper Wichman, director of the National Tropical Botanical Garden.

John Fairey interviewed in the garden for Garden Dialogues

I also see Bethany’s initially frightening note about a greenhouse fan not working, but then the reassuring follow-up that her husband, Zachariah, was able to diagnose the problem, and finally, the word that it had been replaced and working again. Volunteers Craig Jackson and Cherie and Frank Lee have been stopping by regularly to make sure the plants are taken care of in the greenhouses. Sadly, head gardener Adolfo Silva’s wife is receiving cancer treatment in Mexico, but he continues to make Peckerwood a priority as well, traveling back and forth despite our insistence to focus on her. Whether on a local or international scale, great things happen when we all work together.

New Caledonia’s famous flamethrower palm, Chambeyronia macrocarpa, has shocking red new leaves.

I am fortunate to be exploring New Caledonia. Where is that? It is an island in the South Pacific, roughly southeast of New Guinea and northeast of New Zealand. Botanically unparalleled, it is home to some of the most primitive plants on earth, including strange fern relatives, a conifer that parasitizes another conifer, and so many additional other-worldly oddities that look more like

The primeval mountain-top vegetation in New Caledonia

something you would see in the pages of a Dr. Seuss storybook. Being surrounded by so many living fossils makes me feel as if I have been transported back to the time of the dinosaurs.

One of the beautiful New Caledonian flowering plants, Xanthostemon aurantiacus

This is actually my second visit, my first was when I managed the University of Florida forest pathology lab, where we conducted field work to research the causes of decline among some of the rare conifer species found on the highest peaks of the island. This time, I am again fortunate to have been invited by the UF lab to assist Ph.D. student Nicolas Anger, who’s thesis is focused on one aspect of the prior studies, specifically visiting ailing populations of Araucaria humboldtensis, a relative of the commonly grown tropical “Norfolk pine” (Araucaria columnaris) that is restricted to a handful of mountain-top sites in the southern part of the island.

The wind-contorted New Caledonian conifer Neocallitropsis pancheri 

With local support from the South Provincial government and the New Caledonian Institute of Agronomy, we are granted access to sites otherwise inaccessible to even the locals, requiring helicopter transport and hoping there is a clear spot to land. Plants we will collect to test pathogens on will be housed at Atlanta Botanical Garden’s state-of-the-art facilities, and for one collection, possibly a new species of Araucaria, we will send DNA to collaborators at Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh Scotland.

The perpetual fog lends further prehistoric feel to New Caledonia’s forests of living fossils.

It is tremendous that Peckerwood Garden can be part of such a wide-reaching collaborative research. First and foremost our mission is to preserve the amazing garden that John Fairey created, but as we enter the realm of being a public garden there is so much more we can do to become an international player in the role of conservation and education. Though our current facilities will not allow us to grow many of the exotic tropical plants from this distant land, Peckerwood can be instrumental in other ways: getting imperiled plants into other suitable collections, working to change local perceptions of the importance of conservation, and sharing with the world the knowledge gained on expeditions like this while attempting to adequately convey its unmatched beauty. Again, it’s amazing what happens when we all work together. This is only the beginning, and we can be proud of the direction John’s creation may help serve in the future on a global scale.


Join us this Saturday at 10 am to learn about the Palms of Peckerwood Garden with Craig Jackson.
Tickets for the Peckerwood Insiders tour available here.
We recommend I-10 rather than HWY 290 for Houston visitors. see a map here: From Houston via Interstate 10

On the trail of the blue horsetail

By Adam Black 

The view among the Riley Mountains – a relative term for the higher than average hills of the region.

I was pleased Darla Harris, president of the Texas Gulf Coast Fern Society, invited Chad Husby to be a guest speaker for the March 2017 meeting. I’ve known Chad for many years, first when he worked at Montgomery Botanical Center, and currently at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens, and we were pleased to provide accommodations for him in Peckerwood’s guest house. Chad generously agreed to also give a talk for Peckerwood’s evening lecture series which coincided with his visit. Among his many interests that tend to focus on primitive plants, Chad is an expert on the genus Equisetum, a fern relative commonly known as horsetails, and this was his presentation topic at the fern society meeting. Chad had mentioned to me the desire to verify the report he had heard of a “blue” horsetail found in the Hill Country west of Austin – something that may prove to be quite novel. I was immediately interested and began planning for us to find the plants in habitat with its discoverer, Austin area plant enthusiast Craig Nazor.

I was familiar with Craig’s name due to his involvement in the cycad world, but I did not personally know him. I contacted him for more information, and soon he generously offered to take us out to the location where he originally found the horsetail during Chad’s visit. Craig had planted some in the prehistoric garden at Austin’s Zilker Botanical Garden years ago, but unfortunately, it no longer exists. Since he had not revisited the site where he discovered it, he was not sure he would remember the exact location. Sounded like an adventure was in order, and even if we didn’t find it, we surely would give Chad a taste of some truly beautiful Texas country along with plenty of other botanical diversions.

The morning of the excursion, Darla joined Chad and me at Peckerwood, and we headed to Austin to meet up with Craig. Soon we were coasting up and down the Hill Country’s namesake geological formations with the roads lined with bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush, and many other wildflowers at their peak. The limestone gave way to granite outcrops as we entered the region that bears the Llano Uplift, an intrusion of metamorphic rock that was pushed up by the earth’s forces through the younger limestone. Off the main road, we stopped at a river crossing and examined some of the plants unique to this region. Among the bluebonnets were the occasional white individuals, surrounded by magenta winecups. We soon found the interesting xeric sun ferns of several genera including Cheilanthes, Astrolepis, and Pellaea growing among the crevasses of the rocks. Along the water, we spotted the four leaf clover arrangement of the water fern in the genus Marsilea. A variety of cacti became evident above the high water mark, mixed with several species of yucca. Craig said it was somewhere along this particular drainage, growing in the granite-based sand, that he found the blue horsetail, but felt it was further downstream.

The first sign of the Equisetum – a single shoot glowing in the dappled light.

We drove on and stopped at a site that had several small cactus species growing in a rather cryptic manner. Mammillaria heyderi was growing in abundance in the shade of low shrubs. Its flat face barely protrudes from the ground and is often partially obscured by leaf litter and grass, making it difficult to spot. Craig noticed one individual with several flowers, which we all photographed. A fishhook cactus (Ferocactus sp.) also was present among the grass. Mahonia trifoliata was in full bloom, with its bright yellow flowers accentuating the olive-grey hollylike foliage.

At another stop we found an abundance of lush green Thelypteris sp. emerging beneath the many limestone boulders, giving the otherwise dry landscape a cool moist feel. Diving through a tangle of vines, I was lured by a glowing scarlet beacon atop a ledge. It proved to be a claret cup cactus in full bloom, requiring the others to bushwhack their way uphill through the dense underbrush to appreciate the plant. A walk down the road revealed patches of Gregg’s Skullcap (Scutellaria greggii) and its bluish-purple flowers growing among antelope horn milkweed.

The next stop was at an intermittent creek that was flowing nicely, and here we found another species of the clover fern Marsilea that had very narrow lobes. I don’t think any of us had seen two naturally occurring species of Marsilea in one day – the things that excite true plantsmen. In a calm pool within the drainage, a dense circular mass of green caught my eye. Closer inspection provided no clues in the way of flowers or other characteristics to allow identification. The best we could tentatively agree on was a species of Ludwigea. Later research revealed it was Callitriche heterophylla, a plant with the ability to be pollinated by water currents when immersed, or by wind when the water dries up. It had great potential in a shallow pond.

Craig took us down a short trail to a high spot overlooking the Riley Mountains, where we found more species of xeric ferns among other unique flora growing out of the steep slopes. Winding down a hill, we arrived at an expansive area of sandbars dominated by willows at the base of a vertical rocky slope covered in Opuntia, Yucca and so many other inaccessible plants we could only peer at through our camera lenses. Craig felt a sense of familiarity as we walked along the periodically flooded sandbars, thinking this might be the place. We began scanning the area looking for the elusive blue horsetail, but there was nothing but grass, rushes, and willows. Suddenly I happened to spot a segmented shoot illuminated by a beam of light filtering down through the willow canopy. It was a horsetail, which prompted me to yell for everyone. Soon everyone was spotting horsetail shoots poking up through the rushes all around the area we just had walked. They were not growing aggressively thick like anyone who has cultivated them can attest, but rather sparsely with a few shoots here, a few shoots there. Even more important, they were not blue, but rather common green. Chad confirmed they appeared consistent with the common Equisetum hyemale. At the very least we could tell they were a lighter green than the typical dark green form.  Collections were made and divvied up between Peckerwood, Fairchild and Darla’s fern nursery. Perhaps the blue population continued to elude us among the typical green form, or perhaps they were simply not as blue at the moment growing in the shade of the Salix nigra and cottonwood canopy. We will grow them out and see. Regardless, our mission was successful in finding horsetails, a true living fossil that is always fun to find in the wild.


May Slideshow

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Plant of the month: Butterwort (Pinguicula aff. moranensis)

By Adam Black 

Seedlings originating from John Fairey’s original wild collection of the Mexican butterwort, grown at Atlanta Botanical Garden.

We deviate this month to a plant that illustrates the value of sharing a plant to get it backed up in various suitable institutions, yet is unlikely to survive in our often hostile climate. “Carnivorous” plants always garner attention due to their unique methods of obtaining nutrients by trapping living things. Usually, they have dramatic methods of capture ranging from elaborate and colorful pitfall traps as in the pitcher plants, or the bear-trap jaws of the Venus fly trap. The butterworts of the genus Pinguicula are no less fascinating despite their lack of elaborate vegetative modifications or moving parts. Their pale yellow-green leaves arranged in a neat rosette may look innocuous, and their brightly colored flowers held high above on a thin stalk add to the deceiving look. The leaves are the equivalent of living flypaper, with a sticky surface that ensnares any insect that dares to land on its surface. These get slowly digested, with the nutrients absorbed through the leaves.

So where is the connection with Peckerwood? When visiting the Atlanta Botanical Garden last year, conservation and conservatory director Ron Determann mentioned their collection included some Pinguicula that John Fairey and Carl Schoenfeld collected in northeast Mexico. Presumed to be related to, or perhaps a form of P. moranensis, this species gets rather large and has showy purple flowers. Unlike many of the native U.S. species found growing in sandy acidic bogs, this species, according to John, was found growing around seepages on vertical rocky cliffs with a species of sedum. They also are found growing as epiphytes, like orchids, on moss-covered tree trunks in seasonally moist forests. This illustrates their preference for well-drained conditions that stay moist. Interestingly, during the dry winter season, these butterworts dramatically change their appearance, creating contrastingly compact winter rosettes that don’t have the ability to capture insects. As soon as the spring rains arrive they revert to the broad sticky leaves and begin flowering again. Though Texas doesn’t provide suitable conditions to grow this species outdoors, it can succeed as a container plant indoors. We are grateful that Ron donated a pot full of seedlings from John and Carl’s original collections that we will keep in the greenhouse until perhaps we can display properly.

Ron also gave us an adult, flowering Pinguicula gigantea, a related species that, as the name implies, is among the largest in the genus, also with purple flowers and similar habitat as an epiphyte or lithophyte in the mountains of Mexico.


Volunteers have put in hundreds of hours this May, Thank you!

By Pam Romig

Brie Arthur

Events in the garden help us promote the beauty of the collection of plants that we are so earnestly striving to protect and share. Recently we held an event at Peckerwood that was very successful in promoting the garden, educating the public, and an overall great social time.  The Brie Arthur event had many hours of volunteer activities that led up to that success.  After cleaning up the outside of the garden house, volunteers also assisted in trimming up trees, mowing and weed eating areas of overgrown grass and weeds, and the essential hand weeding around many special plants.  The house itself was cleaned, and then preparations began on organizing the food.  Some volunteers cooked items before the event and brought them.  Others helped us shop and brought food to the garden where we prepared it.  Amazingly many of the vegetables that we used in our meal were grown by our Master Gardeners in Waller County and made the meal all so much tastier. All in all setting up the garden house, cleaning the grounds, and preparing for the dinner totaled around 95 hours.  It was a fantastic evening, made more so by our visitors, many of who were with the Grimes County Master Gardeners, and visitors from the Houston Chronicle.  Brie’s demonstration of her simple method of making tomato juice and then sharing that juice in Bloody Mary’s was much appreciated.  The lecture was thought provoking and has already helped me in designing new areas of my personal garden!  Hopefully, Brie will return this Fall, so please keep reading our newsletters, as you do not want to miss this event.

The Garden Dialogue event was a huge success although we might have had a few more attendees.  Those who attended were treated to a special chance to hear John Fairey discuss his views of the garden, why he planted certain things, and how his garden evolved.  We are hoping to have more such visits with John in the future.  Special thanks to those who attended, and to those who helped us prepare a few snacks and refreshments.

Another special treat this month was a visit by Chipper Wichman and his wife, Hau Oli from Kauai, Hawaii.  Chipper shared with us his history with the National Tropical Botanical Garden and all that they have accomplished in saving tropical plants, through discovery, conservation, scientific research and public education of tropical plants.  The biodiversity of healthy ecosystems is reliant on tropical plants. This organization has done so much in keeping history alive and protecting their current gardens.  Their volunteer organization (comprised of around 200 people), weed, paint, repair items, work in the nursery, become tour guides and sew crafts for craft fairs.  They are treated by going to special places on their preserves and having potluck lunches and sharing events.  What a reward to be in such beautiful scenery, but they all seem to have the same sense of purpose, doing something for the environment and keeping a beautiful place “Beautiful”.  We enjoyed some wonderful tasty treats prepared by Ruth McDonald and Brenda Wilson.  Thanks so much!

The grounds around our office have been steadily maintained by a core group of volunteers.  Brenda Wilson and Harvey Newman are such fantastic helpers in so many ways.  They have recently begun gathering pine straw to help mulch around so many of the areas that have been weeded.  It’s an arduous task and we are so grateful for their contributions.  We have had a few new volunteers through the past few months who have also assisted in this task. Jane Theiler from Waller County Master Gardeners and Lisa who joined the volunteer group by asking online have also helped with weeding.  Thank you so much for helping to beautify our grounds.

More recently we have had a couple of film students working in the garden in exchange for the rights to film their entry into a 48 Hour film competition. Alex and Reginald have been working in the garden for most of the month of May.  They have scouted out locations as they have worked, so that once they are given a topic, they can write the script, perform, film, and edit the final film in 48 hours.  We are excited to be included in this effort and hope that their film will win this competition so that eventually they can compete in the Filmapalooza and eventually Cannes!

Watering the special plants that we have around the office, and keeping our propagation stock watered as well as our plants for sale has proven to be a bit of an undertaking this month.  Special thanks to Frank and Cherie Lee as well as Craig Jackson for coming and watering many plants by hand.  Special thanks to Zachariah and Bethany as well for keeping our equipment running.  Frank and Cherie have also helped to keep our plants as happy as possible, and have done a lot in protecting and “up potting” plants that are in stress and growing outside their current pots!

Lastly, special thanks to Harvey.  He has been helping me with moving and maintaining a couple of beehives that we recently placed at Peckerwood.  I love bees and am always fascinated by how quickly they adapt.  I’m especially fond of what great workers they are.  So far our two box hives grew to 3 and even 4 hive boxes, with full boxes of honey.  Depending on how they fare through the summer, we might have some of our very own Peckerwood honey to sell!

Peckerwood has many more acres to develop and grow, so I hope that as our volunteer group grows we can offer even more exciting tasks to undertake.  If you are interested, please contact Bethany and we will get you involved!!!