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April 2017 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden

In Search of a few East Texas rarities
Guest Speakers and special lectures in May
Plant of the month: the genus Tephrosia 
Slideshow of April photos

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

Adam’s notes from the garden

Silene regia in the rockery

We’ve had a steady stream of visitors, both groups, and horticultural professionals, touring the garden. These tour times allow me a more thorough opportunity to keep better tabs on current highlights in the garden while sharing the joy of finding that surprise just around the path’s corner. In showing visitors around, I didn’t miss the patches of Spigellia marilandica in full flower, the inflorescence on Arisaema heterophyllum, the brief blossoms on some of our miniature cacti, and the sight and scent of another of John Fairey’s flowering Mexican Philadelphus species.

The low light casts long shadows in the dry garden north of the creek
The metallic silver undersides of Croton alabamensis var. texensis, known only from a few sites in central TX. Donated by Pat McNeal.

It’s educational to see what others find interesting that I may not focus on, but perhaps should, and to learn what excites visitors that I may interpret as “common.” One example is our Zamia floridana, the only cycad native to the U.S. In my home state, this Florida native, a durable and attractive plant known by its Seminole name “coontie,” is one of the most commonly used species in commercial landscapes. Though a staple in Florida nurseries for decades, it has never caught on here. I’m also amazed at how many visitors ask about our saw palmettos, Serenoa repens. Again, using Florida as a reference, it is abundant in well-drained soils throughout the state in both natural and cultivated settings. Many despise this palm due to the thought that snakes and other vermin inhabit the dense mass of clustering, creeping trunks, and eradication services exist on Craig’s List. John prefers our specimen – the highly attractive silver form, to be kept free of the old, dead inner leaves that tend to accumulate on wild plants, resulting in a stately and structurally bold presence adjacent to the fountain courtyard area.

Sphaeralcea ambigua ‘Louis Hamilton’
Dyschoriste linearis is proving to be a carefree xeric plant

The Magnolia tamaulipana germplasm collection has been flowering nicely the past few weeks. I think this species, native to only a couple of small natural populations, has among the most beautiful and graceful flowers of all magnolias. It is interesting to see how variable the flowers are among these different clones, which were collected as cuttings from the original trees in the wild. Visitors during the past year have been immediately struck with the abundant black spots on the leaves of all our M. tamaulipana, yet completely absent on the adjacent species of magnolias. These are strange blue-green algae(cyanobacteria) that proliferates when moist conditions are right. It causes no harm to the tree, and despite the concerning appearance, it does not draw any nutrients, just uses the leaf as a suitable surface on which to exist. It easily can be scraped off, revealing no damage to the leaf’s tissue. It is simply living like an orchid on a tree branch or moss on a tree trunk. Of course, it may be unsightly, and everyone asks “isn’t there something you can spray on it?” Even if there were a spray to kill it, the dead colony would remain adhered to the leaf, so all we can do is hope this year’s environmental conditions aren’t conducive for the recolonization on the new flushes of leaves, and the old polka-dotted leaves will naturally fall off in time. Until then, it is fun to educate visitors on the complexities of these harmless cohabitating organisms utilizing the garden as their habitat, and how everything doesn’t need chemicals, with patience and acceptance persevering.

Carpinus tropicalis, formerly identified as a Mexican version of C. carolinianus
Clematis pitcheri is native to east Texas, but this particular form was collected in Mexico

Near the fountain courtyard, visitors walk beneath a “musclewood” John collected in northeastern Mexico. This has been identified as a disjunct Mexican version of the wide-ranging Carpinus caroliniana found throughout much of the eastern U.S, with discontiguous populations occurring throughout Central America. In early April, visitors enjoyed the amazing flush of the tree’s corrugated bronze foliage which soon hardened off to green. After some scrutiny, I have recently found that this may actually be a different species that occurs in Mexico – Carpinus tropicalis. In fact, C. tropicalis was elevated to an accepted species after formerly being considered a varietal form (C. caroliniana var. tropicalis). It’s always exciting to discover a new species in the garden. 
Another mystery I want to solve is that of a Mexican collection of jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema sp.). I missed the flowers last year, and with its return from dormancy, it should flower soon. The foliage resembles our native “green dragon” (Arisaema dracontium), which also occurs in Mexico, but there is yet another species restricted to south of the border, A. macrospathum, with foliage that resembles A. dracontium but bears an inflorescence that has a much broader spathe – the hood-like structure that shelters “jack” in his pulpit. I am hoping to see it flower this year before my travels through much of May, and I’m also hoping the seed we produced last year will germinate.

In Search of a few East Texas rarities

By Adam Black 

A driver’s view of the dwarf plum, Prunus gracilis, forming a low groundcover on the sandy banks

With spring in full swing, I had been wanting to make a trip into the east Texas woodlands to track down some of the more unique or rare ephemeral plants, and finally, on a whim, I woke up one beautiful late February Sunday morning and decided this was the day. My target was to find the rare Texas trillium (Trillium texanum) and see if I could track down some trout lilies (Erythronium rostratum). I knew where these would be found, there would be other surprises. With some inside tips on a few recorded trillium populations, I set out on the two-hour drive eastward.

The endangered Trillium texanum

Not far from home, I noticed a roadside patch of the common Phlox pilosa that was highly variable in color, ranging from dark pink to lavender to white. The crests of hills along the way were dotted with the blue-gray foliage of emerging Baptisia bracteata, a few already starting to produce their horizontally oriented spikes of cream-colored flowers. Then, just east of Huntsville, I angered a truck driver on my tail when I had to suddenly pull over to see what the solid white carpets of flowers were that capped the sandy roadcuts. It was a dwarf plum, Prunus gracilis, which Will Fleming had told me about a few weeks earlier. These particular colonies of this extensively suckering shrub were consistently maxing out at about two feet high, creating a neat groundcover of snowy white prior to the emergence of the foliage. In the right situation, this would have tremendous horticultural potential. Also with great potential were it not so invasive was a beautiful gold leaf form of the maligned Chinese tallow tree, Sapium sebiferum.
Light rain began to fall as I arrived near the first ravine where I hoped to find T. texanum. As I hiked down a powerline easement, native azalea (Rhododendron canescens) flowers were clearly visible in the lower reaches. And as I looked off into the forest from the cleared strip of land, flowering dogwoods showed as masses of white in the distance while the copper retained leaves of American beech (Fagus grandifolia) added a warm feel to the cool late morning. Reaching the drainage, I hiked up to the source – a muddy seep, where, from my understanding, the T. texanum prefers. A good sign was the presence of Onoclea sensibilis – the sensitive fern, unfurling its new fronds. It is an indicator species for the proper habitat for the trillium. A bad sign were the extensive craters excavated by feral hogs. An extensive search yielded no signs of any trilliums.

An Itea virginica individual with exceptionally long inflorescences, worthy of selection for cultivation

Two more sites where the trilliums had been recorded also had similar destruction and were similarly unproductive. As the afternoon progressed, I gave up on finding T. texanum and decided to check out a site Georgia trillium enthusiast Charles Hunter told me has an extensive population of another more common species, T. gracile along with Erythronium rostratum. On the way, I spotted some purple flecks on a roadcut that proved to be the charming birdfoot violet, Viola pedata. This population was variable, with individuals bearing small and large flowers, with colors ranging from dark to light purple to nearly blue. One distinctive clump had a few anomalous characteristics. Normally violets have a pair of posterior petals that point upward like bunny ears. Every flower in this clump lacked those two petals, and even stranger, the erect shape curved abruptly downward like a candy cane with the flowers drooping atypically.

As Charles had indicated, the final stop of the day was indeed a surprisingly thick population of T. gracile. These were highly variable, some quite tall, some with exceptionally long petals, and some with solid green leaflets instead of the typical mottling. In between were the trout lilies, but in the waning light, the flowers were mostly closed up for the day. Mixed in were cut-leaf toothwort, Cardamine concatenata, with its white flowers held above its Japanese maple-like leaves. Though common throughout much of the eastern U.S., it is only known from a few counties in Texas, and this may be the southwestern-most population.

Trillium recurvatum with both typical maroon along with some yellow flowered forms

I had been holding off visiting a better-known population of T. texanum for a trip planned with Rick Lewandowski, director of Shangri La Botanical Garden in Orange, Texas, but our schedules did not coordinate. I didn’t want to miss them flowering, so I met up with native plant enthusiast Peter Loos several days later. But first, as an additional treat, we decided to check out one of the most southwestern populations of T. recurvatum in Texas on the private land of well-known plantsman Greg Grant, just north of Nacogdoches. Aside from being one of the more distinctive trilliums, this population harbored a few yellow-flowered forms among the typical maroon to red flowers. Also noteworthy at this site was the rare gooseberry Ribes curvatum, which has a spotty distribution throughout the southeast.

Hopefully these aren’t the last individuals of Parnassia grandiflora in Texas

We readily found the T. texanum at this particular site along a creek. There was still quite a bit of pig activity, and therefore potentially Peckerwood can help with conservation efforts in the future. Unlike the other Texas native trilliums, T. texanum has white flowers on a long arching peduncle as opposed to the other species where the upright flower is nestled tightly against the junction of the three leaflets. It is also unusual in that it prefers wet sites while the others require sloped, well-drained conditions.

Aesculus glabra var. arguta

Peter took me up to a secondary drainage of the main creek where the state’s only population of grass of Parnassus (Parnassia grandifolia) is known. Unfortunately, we did not see any plants where he remembered them to be, now quite disrupted with hog damage. Further downstream we found two individuals, hopefully not the last two in Texas. Yet another area where we should take the conservation lead before all is lost.

Penstemon murrayanus is one of the most beautiful in the genus

Peter mentioned the presence of the spectacular Penstemon murrayanus in the high sandy scrub above the creek bottom. We hiked up the hill, and he quickly found the rosettes of leaves and last year’s dried inflorescences, but no signs that they were making any attempt to flower yet. A few other interesting plants in this well-drained area were Pediomelum sp., a small ground-hugging plant with palmate, bluebonnet-like leaves and compact inflorescences with tiny blue flowers. With them was the rather uncommon Tetragonotheca ludovicianum, a member of the sunflower family with robust foliage and short yellow rays around the large central disc. Unusually large Yucca sp. were present in the scrub, some with long thin arching foliage more resembling that of a Dasylirion. In the low mesic areas, an occasional Texas variety of the Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra var. arguta) was displaying its yellowish green flowers.

The conjoined bracts on the erect inflorescence of Penstemon murrayanu form cups

A few weeks later, when I found myself in the region, I decided to check on the P. murrayanus to see if they were flowering yet. I tried to revisit the two Parnassia but could not find them. The area was heavily engulfed with ferns at this point, so I am hoping I overlooked them. The trilliums had begun fading, but many jack-in-the-pulpits with bold dark streaks on the inner lining of the “pulpit” were now fully up. Hiking back up the hill, I soon found the scarlet beacons of the penstemon inflorescences dotting the open sandy field. The four-foot-high flower spikes bore bracts uniquely modified into a cup that encircled the scape, giving the plant a most curious appearance. Here and there, clumps of silver hairy pinnate foliage gave rise to inflorescences of pastel yellow-green and pink pea flowers of Tephrosia virginiana, which is always nice to see.

April Slideshow

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Plant of the month: the genus Tephrosia

By Adam Black 

Tephrosia lindheimeri
Tephrosia sp. John and Carl collected in Mexico

One of my many botanical focuses that I think deserves more attention for landscape diversification and beauty are those members of the pea family (Fabaceae) that tend to be low-growing, compact, with attractive foliage and flowers. Most that fall into this category are often found in dry, well-drained conditions and therefore perfect for xeriscaping. Tephrosia is a genus I have become quite fond of for these situations. In our south perennial garden, we have a nice patch of the Texas native T. lindheimeri, which is currently flowering away with intense magenta flowers held above a spreading mat of blue-gray foliage. Even better is one of John’s Mexican collections, an unknown species with broad blue-green leaflets edged in white and erect spikes of dark pink flowers, forming a non-aggressive groundcover with a pleasing appearance even when not flowering.

Tephrosia virginiana photographed in Bastrop, TX

Native to east Texas and throughout the southeastern U.S. in fire-maintained sandhill scrub habitat is Tephrosia virginiana. Unlike the previous two, this one forms a clump of short, upright stems with fuzzy silver leaves bearing narrow leaflets. The bicolored flowers are a most distinctive combination – pastel shades of rose pink and greenish yellow. Familiar to me from Florida, I recently found a roadside population in the pinelands near Bastrop, and more recently growing with the spectacular Penstemon murrayanus near Nacogdoches. All species die back to a woody taproot in winter, vigorously emerging again in spring. Along with perfect drainage, full sun is necessary for proper growth of these species, which we hope to offer in our developing nursery in the near future.

Special guest speakers in May

By Bethany Jordan

Peckerwood Garden is pleased to present several interesting options to visit us or join us in Houston for special guest lectures in May (pre-registration required, limited space available).

May 6th join us for Garden Dialogues 2017: Artist in Residence with John Fairey. Tickets are $75.

May 9th we are proud to welcome author and horticulturist Brie Arthur for a lecture and book signing “The Foodscape Revolution”. There are few spaces remaining for this, please purchase tickets now.  

May 19th Charles “Chipper” Wichman, President, CEO, and Director of National Tropical Botanical Garden will present ” Plant Conservation and Research at the National Tropical Botanical Garden” here at Peckerwood Garden, 7 pm. Tickets are $15 for our Evening at Peckerwood Lecture series.

Also, Join us for Open Day May 13th and 27th. tickets are $10. May 3rd we will have our Peckerwood Insider’s tour of the North Dry garden and other collections located across the creek. Tickets are $15.

please contact us if you are interested in volunteering.


Posted on

March 2017 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden

Preserving Ancient Giants at Peckerwood Garden
Volunteer appreciation
Plant of the month: The mysterious upland naked-flowering Spider Lily – Hymenocallis sp. 
Slideshow of March photos

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

Adam’s notes from the garden

Double-coning on Cycas revoluta.
Fuzzy red new flush on Quercus crassifolia.

It almost feels like summer as we approach April, but at least all our fresh new growth wasn’t nipped back with a sudden freeze like portions of the southeastern U.S. recently experienced. I never like to think we are out of the woods until May rolls around, having experienced a hard freeze in mid-April in north Florida years ago that impacted even the native plants. We only protect a few of John Fairey’s select frost-tender plants in the garden and aren’t going to expand on things that require time rushing around with frost blankets when the weatherman reconsiders his forecast at sunset. We will continue to trial things, but if it doesn’t survive unprotected, then it wasn’t meant to be, and we won’t recommend it for local landscapes. I’ve wasted a lot of money and plants with optimistic “zone pushing” over the years and now sit back comfortably while friends who excitedly tout their prize specimens weathering three or four mild winters only to be defeated when the inevitable harsh winter arrives. Gardening shouldn’t be stressful. These days I have no problem watching something die for the sake of knowledge, as long as it is backed up in other suitable collections. We would never know a plant’s limitations otherwise, and hardiness surprises abound in the most unexpected tropical plants.

Bauhinia lunaroides pink form

Though John never put much emphasis on flowers as stars of the garden, we do have lots of floral color complementing various foliar forms and textures. The Mexican orchid trees have been flowering nicely since they didn’t sustain dieback after the two consecutive nights in the teens in late January. First, the deep purple flowers of Bauhinia bartlettii nestled snugly within its glossy leaves in the shape of a deer hoof print.  This was followed by B. ramosissimum, with its delicate, airy crown of miniature leaves, each almost completely divided into kidney-shaped lobes and equally delicate fuchsia flowers. Next in succession is B. macranthera, with much larger grey-green leaves bearing a noticeable rippled margin and masses of dark pink flowers. Found in both Mexico and parts of Texas, the native B. lunaroides normally is white-flowered, but we have a pink form which grows near the Devil’s River area in Val Verde County, a locale also famous for having the state’s only native stand of Monterrey oak, Quercus polymorpha.

A vining Mexican Philadelphus sp. with flowers clustered near the shoot tips.

A still-underutilized yet significant component of the gardens are John and Carl Schoenfeld’s collections of “mock oranges” (Philadelphus spp.), which are beginning to flower. There is tremendous diversity among these Mexican collections beyond the commonly cultivated old-world species that often sucker aggressively. Most of these Mexican plants don’t spread at all, and come in a variety of sizes and growth forms. One at the entrance to the woodland garden forms a liana, with its thick woody vines growing up through the canopy from which long pendulous branches form a curtain over the walkway. Some form single-stem shrubs with rigid or pendulous branch tips and still others are dwarfed with delicate pinky-nail sized leaves on thin wiry stems. Flowers on many are quite fragrant and borne in profusion.

Phlox douglasii from the northwestern US, at home so far in Texas.

The rock and scree gardens around the office area are coming alive with color. I’m always a sucker for various species of Penstemon and Phlox, so they are well-represented and currently flowering nicely. The blinding reds of Silene regia and S. virginica catch the eye from some distance, along with Verbena peruviana which is of incredible intensity.

Spathicarpa hastifolia – a tropical that has been reliably returning for a few years.

The delicate yellow flowers of Genista sagittalis are coming into show from this newly acquired groundcover legume with curious winged stems that are at first erect then lay flat on the ground after flowering.
When it fills in it should be a sea of sulfur yellow. Some of the collections from the Colorado and New Mexico foothills are doing well, including a Lomatium sp. that flowered upon emergence from its carrot-like taproot. This member of the parsley family has exceptionally finely cut, lacy foliage that feels like it is made of plastic, and sports umbels of yellow flowers. Phlox douglasii from the northwestern U.S. is at home so far; this particular selection was received from Denver Botanical Garden having lavender flowers. Even some Ephedra species are happily flowering, along with Texas natives like Viola pedata and Calylophus drummondianus. The shale barren-dweller Dicentra eximia ‘Dolly Sods’ continues to bloom up a storm. I am hoping two recently planted forms of globe mallow (Sphaeralcea sp.) will be happy in the well-drained, exposed conditions.


Preserving Ancient Giants at Peckerwood Garden

By Adam Black 


The massive trunk of Oaxaca’s ‘Arbol del Tule’ Photo courtesy of David Creech

When many people think of ancient, massive trees, the California’s coast redwoods or giant sequoias usually come to mind. In terms of age, perhaps 5000+-year-old bristlecone pines enter the thoughts of some despite their much smaller proportions. Redwoods are indeed among the tallest, and giant sequoias are the most massive in terms of wood mass. In Oaxaca, Mexico, lives an exceptional Montezuma cypress tree that claims the title of the world’s “stoutest” tree. Lacking any impressive height, this tree known as the Arbol del Tule is no less spectacular considering its disproportionately broad trunk that spans a mind-boggling 38+ feet in diameter across its widest point and at least 116’ in trunk circumference. This tree has stood the test of time – perhaps thousands of years – but in a changing world, its health has been declining. Though no living thing will survive forever, a piece of this tree that has witnessed so much history will be given a new chance to persist at Peckerwood Garden, in a sense rendering its genetics immortal.


The ‘Arbol Del Tule’. Photo courtesy of David Creech

Montezuma cypress (Taxodium mucronatum) is a Mexican relative of the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) and pond cypress (T. ascendens), the latter two so familiar to swamps and waterways of the southeastern quadrant of the U.S. It is found from southern Texas to Guatemala. Some taxonomists consider these various cypresses simply one variable species, but at the very least the Mexican form differs in that it does not produce the abundant “knees” that protrude upward from the roots of the U.S. bald cypress. It also has a different branching habit creating a broad spreading form, and it is nearly evergreen in mild winter climates.


Trunk of ‘The Senator’. Photo courtesy of David Creech

Though not the tallest, the “Arbol del Tule” is the oldest individual of the species in addition to its record trunk diameter. It is so massive that it had been thought to perhaps be several trees that had grown together over time. However, DNA studies confirm this is not the case. Because of the tree’s amorphous trunk shape in cross-section, accurate measurements of the diameter and circumference is subject to interpretation. The base is heavily flared along with deep vertical furrows, so simply encircling it with a measuring tape creates a significant error. Age estimate records that utilize trunk measurements also are tremendously variable, ranging from 1,400 to 6,000 years old. Regardless of different figures from varying sources, everyone likely agrees that the Tule tree is undeniably impressive.

The tree formerly grew in a swampy environment thick with cattails. As humans altered the land around it, the water was diverted, and the town of Tule sprang up on the now dry land. The tree’s decline may be due to these and other environmental changes, or simply it has finally reached its golden years. Fortunately, Taxodium enthusiast Dr. David Creech at Stephen F. Austin University brought back a cutting of the tree which he grafted and is now growing at the school’s arboretum. Upon learning that a piece of history was growing on the campus in Nacogdoches,  I had to propagate it further for Peckerwood’s collections and to further back up with other collections.

‘The Senator’ lived and met an untimely end near Orlando, FL. Photo courtesy of David Creech

During our Taxodium discussions, David was excited to learn that another superlative cypress was in reach despite no longer existing. Until recently the largest and oldest bald cypress in the world stood just outside Orlando, Fla. It was named “The Senator” after a Florida state senator who aided in the tree’s preservation. Though incomparable to the Tule tree with “only” a 17-foot trunk diameter, the Senator’s height was five feet shorter than the Tule tree’s 130 feet height. Still, it was an awe-inspiring tree with an age estimated up to 3,500 years old. I remember the morning in January 2012 when I turned on the morning news and saw live coverage via helicopter of the Senator’s long life coming to an untimely end. With a hollow trunk, flames were burning the tree from the inside out until the monster fell. It was determined that a drug addict had started a fire nearby which got out of control and ignited the tree.

Graft of a branch from the Arbol del Tule’

All was not lost, as fortunately, a nursery had propagated a fallen branch from the Senator several years earlier, thereby preserving its genetics. Eventually, one of these clones was planted in the park where the Senator once stood. This past January, Dr. Jason Smith from the University of Florida secured permission to collect cuttings of the Senator’s new embodiment. This material from the Senator, along with cuttings of the Arbol del Tule, were distributed to several collections featuring Taxodium germplasm including Peckerwood, and we will further propagate and share with other gardens.

I find it amazing that a single tree will die but can still live on forever by repropagating via cuttings that spark a rejuvenation in the genetic material. Weeping willow, for example, is one of the oldest ornamental tree cultivars. Normally with branches pointed upward, all weeping trees in cultivation go back to one mutant individual with a pendulous habit that someone found in Asia hundreds of years ago. The trees are rather short-lived, surviving for only several decades, but continual propagation of cuttings allows the genetic material to persist as long as humans continue to appreciate its beauty.

The Senator and the Arbol del Tule will live on in our collections, but will likely never attain the proportions of the original behemoths. Still, even as a humble sapling, it is mind-boggling to touch these plants and realize these are still the same organisms that have outlasted most other living things on the planet.


March Slideshow

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Plant of the month: The mysterious upland naked-flowering Spider Lily – Hymenocallis galvestonensis

By Adam Black 

For most of my life, I could care less about spider lilies (Hymenocallis spp.). It wasn’t because I didn’t think they were attractive, they were just everywhere in the swamps and waterways and even salty beaches I used to frequent in Florida, not to mention those in cultivated settings. I recall trying to identify one I had found in north Florida to species level, but quickly gave up when I realized it was akin to splitting hairs to determine all the overlapping features that supposedly make each of the region’s native species distinct.

I then came to Peckerwood and found several species that John and Carl had collected in Mexico that actually had some distinctions compared with those native to the southeastern U.S. However, one particular patch caught my eye last spring. There, at the base of a sand live oak, was a bare, un-mulched mound of sun-baked soil from which maybe a dozen or so evenly spaced patches of erect, blunt leaves in a stiff, fan-like arrangement that weren’t the typical rich green, but instead had a glaucous blue cast. Without supplemental irrigation, the plants looked flawless and never showed signs of wilt. The tag read “Hymenocallis galvestonensis, Navasota, Tx.” Intrigued, I asked John about them, and he told me they were rescued prior to the widening of a highway and were not from a moist haunt like I had assumed all hymenocallis needed.

The late summer re-flowering is similar to that of Lycoris sp.
A secondary flowering occurs in late summer after the rest of the plant has died back.

The real surprise occurred in late summer. Earlier in the year, the plants flowered nicely with typical white spidery clusters, and then the entire plants died back into dormancy by early summer. The withering infructescences had spilled their marble-sized fleshy green seeds all over the bed.  In late August, I was amazed to see the sudden emergence of inflorescences jutting up out of the mound, completely lacking any foliage. Soon they all flowered heavily, yet with no attempt to produce any leaves – just bare flower stalks sticking up out of the ground, mimicking the “surprise lilies” (Lycoris sp.) that also produce flowers from the underground bulb without foliage. The spectacle of this secondary, leafless flowering of a xeric-growing Hymenocallis changed everything I thought I knew about the genus.

Leaves are very rigid, blunt-tipped, and have a blue sheen.

Researching for more information on this upland spider lily only produced confusion and headaches. It is clear others also were intrigued, but it also was apparent that there were varying opinions as to how it relates to the other east Texas natives. Though we had it labeled H. galvestonensis, it also had been known as H. eulae and simply had been considered a form of the otherwise swamp-dwelling H. liriosme or H. occidentalis. I have read several justifications for each of these differing names, and there was quite a bit of overlapping ambiguity in the claims. A few descriptions mention the upland form as having uniquely brown seeds, rather than the typical green of the mesic versions. Ours produces olive green seeds, so more confusion. Adding to the challenges is the possibility that “wet” and “dry” populations hybridize.

The dry, exposed conditions favored by H. galvestonensis

I keep scanning the roadsides near Navasota in an attempt to find this xeric spider lily in the wild but have yet to spot it anywhere. This species, variety, or perhaps more accurately, “ecotype,” also is documented from Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana, so it would be interesting to develop a collection from these different localities to study them further. A few weeks ago, when touring plantsman Greg Grant’s property north of Nacogdoches, I was surprised to see Hymenocallis growing in his restored longleaf pine uplands. The foliage on his plants was significantly more powdery blue than our blue-green Navasota form. He generously shared a plant, which I planted in our full-sun xeric scree bed, and it will be interesting to compare how it behaves compares with our other collection.


Volunteers Needed for Open Days

By Bethany Jordan

 Spring is off and running and our volunteers have consistently been here several days a week working, weeding, leading tours, and more. We have a special thank you to those volunteers that worked with us and with the Garden Conservancy in Houston last week. Also a special thank you to Grace Pierce and staff gardener Adolfo Silva for hosting a large group when we were in Houston this week.

March, April, and May we have additional Open Day events and will be here on both the second Saturday and the Fourth Saturday. please contact us if you are interested in volunteering for any of these dates.

Weekly workdays on Tuesday and Friday continue and we will need plenty of volunteers to help with the spring season. We hope to begin heavier clearing work soon and would like to hear from volunteers interested in heavier work and preparing trails in the developing areas.

Please email



Posted on

February 2017 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden

Preserving a Stunning Golden Live Oak
Volunteer appreciation
Plant of the month: Orange Blood Lily 
A Variegated Oak Donated to Peckerwood

Garden Conservancy Houston Tours
Slideshow of February photos

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

Adam’s notes from the garden

Our evergreen maple Acer fabri already bearing red samaras.
Thalictrum texanum is a rare native that has an unusual low spreading habit.

Spring is in full swing in the garden, with crisp shades of fresh green filling in wherever you look, accompanied by bulbs and spring ephemerals bursting out of the ground and into bloom. All the freeze-killed foliage of the understory plants in the woodland garden has been removed and quickly replaced with tender new leaves as if nothing happened. Everyone comments on what an early spring we appear to be having, but looking back at last year’s photos for comparison, most of what is currently stirring seems to be on the same schedule as in 2016. Either way, let’s hope we don’t get a surprise hard freeze.


New foliage on Quercus tarahumara.
Magnolia x ‘Daybreak’ is one of the more distinctive deciduous selections with its flamingo pink flowers

In the woodland garden, the bloodroot patch from the Florida panhandle is flowering nicely. Our several patches of the east Texas native Trillium gracile are up, and the buds are starting to open. A few other species I brought from Florida and transplanted last month as they were emerging, are now fully up and beginning to flower, including T. maculatum, T. lancifolium, T. underwoodii, T. foetidissimum, T. decipiens, T. catesbaei, and T. stamineum. Though considered more northerly plants, these are all coastal plain species that I grew in north Florida and should do fine in the area as long as they are planted on a low berm or mound of soil that promotes good drainage. They do appreciate occasional irrigation, but this needs to drain away quickly. They also like some annual supplementation of lime if the soil is otherwise acidic but beyond that, trilliums are quite durable. I was upset to discover my silver leaf variant of T. underwoodii not emerging on schedule following some hog disturbance earlier this year. However, the other day I was relieved to find the plant coming up about three feet away from its original site, resting on the top of the soil, attesting to this genus’s resilient nature when a few requirements are met.

The flowers of Trillium foetidissimum smell like aged cheese
A species of Tectaria fern that John collected in Mexico returning vigorously after the freeze.

Epimediums are in full flower, complemented with new angel wing-shaped leaves, often initially streaked with random patches of red on light green, which eventually harden off to a dark green plastic texture. This genus seems unknown in Texas, but there are so many wonderful species and hybrids that are great candidates to try.


Various azalea cultivars are replacing the waning camellias, while magnolias of all colors continue to come into flower. Shrub flowers aren’t the only highlight. The new fuzzy metallic gold leaves of Lindera aggregata are emerging subtended by tiny yellow flowers. Most flowering apricot (Prunus mume) cultivars are bloomed out, but a few late-flowering cultivars remain to show themselves.

A detail of the male flowers of a floriferous Quercus polymorpha selection.
New foliage on Quercus crassipes

Out in the arboretum, the oaks are stealing the show. Between flowering and new colorful leaf emergence, the various oaks from Mexico, Eurasia and the southern U.S. offer tremendous ornamental interest, making them the subject of our March 4 Insider’s Tour. A few individual Monterrey oaks (Quercus polymorpha) are fully deciduous and flower en masse before leaf emergence, with each branch tipped with long hanging clusters of male catkin inflorescences. Who would have thought an oak could compete with the more familiar flowering trees? Other oaks have new foliage emerging in various shades of red, bronze, silver, orange, lime green and white. One particular loquat-leaf oak (Quercus rysophylla) is producing blood red new growth that will persist for weeks, a lot longer than our other selections that transition to green rather quickly. These floral and foliar features are highly overlooked among oaks, and some superior selections may be propagated by cuttings to preserve these characteristics if they continue to perform consistently every year.


The new rock garden
Harvey Newman, Craig Jackson, and Pam Romig helping install plants in the first of several alpine style rock gardens

The first portion of our developing complex of alpine-style rock gardens around the office/reception courtyard looks amazing. It combines several rock gardening design styles: crevice, scree and traditional.Incorporated are plants with features that mimic alpine plants, which tend to be low, compact, creeping or encrusting. Many of these are known performers, or even native to the southern U.S., Mexico, Argentina, China, Europe and other places with hot summers and cool winters.

Dicentra eximia ‘Dolly Sods’ in our new rock garden
The red new foliage of the Royal Oak, Quercus germana

We have received many other esoteric plants that will be trialed under these well-drained conditions. Other plants with minute qualities are best displayed strategically among rocks since they would otherwise get lost in a typical garden bed. Further rockery additions will be themed, including one featuring plants and limestone all collected from the Texas Hill country. Texas rock gardens don’t need to be limited to cacti, agaves and other traditional succulents.

Preserving a Stunning Golden Live Oak

By Adam Black 



Q. virginiana ‘Grandview Gold’ is a real standout in the spring landscape. photo courtesy Mariette and Pieter VandenMunckhof-Vedder

Several years ago, a friend sent me an email with the subject reading “Have you seen this?” and a link to a forum discussion. When I opened it and saw the photo of a bright gold form of a small tree, I was shocked to see it was a live oak, Quercus virginiana. As common as the tree is in the southeastern U.S., I always had wondered how there were never any ornamental selections of this species. There are clonal cultivars, often touted by nurseries as having some wonderful form for street trees or other landscape uses, but these are selected solely based on a particular clone’s propensity to root at higher rates than typically seen among the species. Still, I figured there should be other unique forms that had presented themselves by now, and here it was, a selection called ‘Grandview Gold.’

The new spring flush with male catkin flowers. Photo courtesy Mariette and Pieter Vanden Munckhof-Vedder

How was this not on my radar? A quick search revealed it was simply unavailable anywhere, and otherwise not present in any searchable botanical gardens’ collections. I brought it to the attention of other key figures in the know, and none of them were familiar with it, yet clearly eager to get their hands on it. A few websites listed it as a known cultivar, but information was otherwise lacking. The Gardenweb discussion was focused on a tree growing at a private residence in central Georgia, where someone had discovered the blog of the tree’s owners proudly showing off their specimen. I figured with the lively discussion in the forum, the owners were being bombarded with requests for propagation material, yet I hesitantly contacted them through the blog. I was relieved when I received a kind response from Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder. Despite all the excitement generated online, nobody else had bothered to contact her. She was aware of how special this tree was and was open to my attempt to propagate it. Many other one-of-a-kind plants have been unexpectedly lost forever when effort isn’t put into propagating and distributing back-ups at multiple sites. I planned to visit that winter when the tree was sufficiently dormant in order to collect cuttings to graft.

Another view after the spring flush. photo courtesy Mariette and Pieter VandenMunckhof-Vedder

In February 2013, I made the four-hour drive from my Florida home to Dublin, Ga. Mariette and her husband, Pieter, were gracious hosts and had a beautifully landscaped property with many interesting plants. They gave me a history of their golden oak, a pricey purchase from Louisiana Nursery in January 1996. The tree was offered only once in the company’s mail-order catalog with the brief description: “This wonderful clone found by Mr. Earl Vallot of Grandview Nursery has golden colored foliage.” Grandview Nursery was a well-known source of plants for many years, but has long since closed and Earl passed away a number of years ago. The current staff at Louisiana Nursery have no recollection of the plant.

One of the many grafts done with Scott Reeves at Creekside Nursery

After seeing the blinding coloration in the photos Mariette posted in her blog, my first-hand inspection of the tree was somewhat disappointing. She explained that the spring new growth is the peak coloration, but as the foliage hardens off through summer, the leaves progressively turn dark green, each with a varying dusting of gold as if lightly accentuated with a touch of gold spray paint. Nonetheless, this was still a very special tree – clearly the anticipated spring highlight in their property.  Though clearly healthy, its growth was slowed by its gold coloration, which is basically a genetic mutation that displays a reduction in the amount of chlorophyll and therefore less energy the plant can utilize. Another nearby typical green live oak planted on their property around the same time was significantly larger.

The winter foliage of ‘Grandview Gold’ is green with a touch of gold ‘spraypaint’

Since the tree was producing acorns, Pieter had been trying to propagate it from seed, hoping to yield some similarly colored offspring. Though most came up green, he had selected a few seedlings that showed some golden coloration, but nothing approaching the parent plant. The fact that some did have a muted gold hue meant that there was the chance better-colored individuals might result if large amounts of seed were germinated. I collected some just in case.

I grafted several dozen cuttings onto seedling live oaks, but none of them survived. I was excited when a few seedlings germinated showing some reasonable gold in the first leaves, but as they grew, the coloration in the new growth became less noticeable. I also had set up cuttings under intermittent mist, but they all failed as well. The following year I visited the tree again for more cuttings, using some of its seedlings as rootstock, but again, nothing. I had heard that live oaks had a reputation for being difficult to graft, and the slight decrease in vigor with this mutation might further complicate things. Obviously, the parent tree was grafted, so it was possible, but perhaps in very low rates, which had kept this plant scarce. I was not going to give up until this tree was backed up, as it was the only individual that seemed to be remaining.

A photo taken by the owners in June, showing the less intense but still beautiful gold. Photo courtesy Mariette and Pieter VandenMunckhof-Vedder

I missed the following grafting seasons due to extra commitments and my relocation to Peckerwood Garden, so I eagerly planned my next attempts in 2017. David Creech at Stephen F. Austin University mentioned he had experience grafting live oaks successfully, so I planned to work with him on this in hopes he had some secrets to success. Scott Reeves at Creekside Nursery, conveniently down the road from Peckerwood, also expressed interest in attempting to propagate ‘Grandview Gold.’  I also sent cuttings to oak enthusiast and experienced grafter Ryan Russell in Missouri. I figure between the four of us we had better get at least one to take.

It is still too early to see if we’re successful, but with the various grafting methods used, I feel more confident that we will finally have ‘Grandview Gold’ backed up to some degree.

I still have not seen Mariette and Pieter’s tree in its full spring glory, only their photos. I hope to visit this April, and I hope to have an indication by then as to whether our grafts were successful. Though this will never be the next mainstream landscape tree despite its beauty, it will be preserved among botanical gardens and eventually in the gardens of collectors. I greatly appreciate Mariette and Pieter’s generosity in accommodating me in my visits to propagate their amazing tree.


February Slideshow

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Learn more about visiting Peckerwood Garden

 “Exploring the Spice Islands in the footsteps of David Fairchild”

Ombak Putih view
Tidore Island sunset

Chad Husby will present at the Evening at Peckerwood Lecture on March 17th. This talk will feature highlights of an 11-day expedition in the Moluccas (Spice Islands) organized by Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in October 2016, retracing part of the last great plant collecting expedition of Dr. David Fairchild aboard the junk Cheng Ho in 1939 and 1940.  The talk will feature the islands visited, natural wonders, plant highlights, people, and history.

Chad Husby, Ph.D. is Fairchild’s Botanical Horticulturist.  His work focuses on international plant exploration to enhance the Garden’s collections and to find worthy new plants to share with the public.  In addition, he collaborates with the science and education programs at the Garden.  He received his undergraduate degree from Alma College, a Master of Applied Statistics from Ohio State University, a Master’s in Horticulture from Virginia Tech and Ph.D. in Biology from Florida International University.
Tickets $10 or $5 for members

Garden Conservancy Houston Tours: March 25


Peckerwood Garden is proud to once again partner with the Garden Conservancy to bring you the 2017 Houston Garden Conservancy Open Day tours and our Peckerwood Garden Plant sale. We will also be open that day for our Peckerwood Garden Open Day, so you are welcome to join us in Hempstead after your Houston tours.

The Garden Conservancy is a national organization that works to preserve and restore gardens. The Open Days allows people access to private gardens in their area. A percentage of the proceeds benefit Peckerwood Garden.

Learn more about the Garden Conservancy Open Day tour program and the Houston tours.


Plant of the month: Orange Blood Lily

By Adam Black 

It is tough to beat Scadoxus puniceus for imposing form and shocking color. This tropical-esque South African geophyte is amazingly hardy in Zone 8 as long as it stays dry and well-drained during the winter dormancy. The cantaloupe-sized flower heads look like giant flaming orange shaving brushes held atop thick, 30-inch-tall stems. Around the leaf bases just above the top of the bulb, dark purple spots and squiggly lines add further decoration. It is fun to watch honey bees diving into the masses of flowers, disappearing completely and reappearing a few inches away, looking like they are enjoying themselves as together they make the inflorescence pulsate.  At least half a day of full sun is best, but this plant can take fully exposed conditions as well. Though it likes well-drained soil, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t want some supplemental irrigation through spring and early summer. The plant is dormant summer through winter, but against conventional wisdom, this bulb doesn’t like to be completely buried. Keep the top ¼ exposed and free of mulch. It will begin pushing new leaves, or if mature, inflorescences in late winter, but in my experience, brief hard freezes seem to have no effect on the tender emerging growth. Our flower spikes were emerging during the January freeze with two consecutive nights at 17 and 18 degrees, yet the blooms were completely unfazed. Heidi Sheesley at Houston’s Treesearch Farms (wholesale only) has been promoting and propagating this species for some time, and therefore it shows up in some of our local retail nurseries that carry her plants. The last time I visited her, she had some interesting variation among her seed-grown crops, ranging from narrow to broad leaves, rippled margins, highly pronounced (or completely lacking) purple basal markings..

Volunteers Needed for Spring

By Bethany Jordan

 As we enter the spring season, we return to having 2 open days a month for March, April, and May (second and fourth Saturday). We also will be participating in events with other organizations, such as the Garden Conservancy Open Day tours. We will need additional volunteers for these events. Monthly docent training will be merged with our added Open Day and trainee docents will assist with tours and share leadership of tours to learn.

March 25 will be a day we need volunteers both in Houston for the Garden Conservancy Open Day and at Peckerwood Garden for our Open Day, please contact us if you are interested in volunteering for either event.

Weekly workdays on Tuesday and Friday continue and we will need plenty of volunteers to help with the spring season. We hope to begin heavier clearing work soon and would like to hear from volunteers interested in heavier work and preparing trails in the developing areas.

Please email

A Variegated Oak Donated to Peckerwood

By Adam Black

When grafting the golden live oak with David Creech at Stephen F. Austin University, he mentioned a variegated live oak sapling that Leon Macha, formerly of Greenleaf Nursery, had found and was originally interested in donating to the SFA Mast Arboretum. My first impression was how exciting it was that the golden oak, and now a variegated live oak, were coming out of the woodwork. David suggested, with our oak collection and proximity to Leon, that perhaps Peckerwood would be a better home to trial the young plant and see if it turns into anything of horticultural value. I met up with Leon on his way to an event in Houston and received the oak, a seedling that he had spotted as being different. Although the sapling resembles a live oak, it is actually one of the many variable leaf forms of a juvenile water oak, Quercus nigra. The variegation is interesting in that it is a white dusting, which at first glance could be interpreted as a spider mite infestation. However, closer examination reveals that the coverage is quite consistent on every leaf on the three-foot-tall plant, and with inspection under magnification does not reveal any infestations. I am curious how much more sharply the variegation on the new spring growth will look. Though the common water oaks are often discounted as weeds, they can be beautiful native trees for the landscape and a variegated example will add further interest for collectors. We greatly appreciate Leon’s donation and look forward to integrating it into our collection.


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The Garden Conservancy Open Day Tours

Peckerwood Garden is proud to once again partner with the Garden Conservancy to bring you the 2017 Houston Garden Conservancy Open Day tours and our Peckerwood Garden Plant sale. We will also be open that day for our Peckerwood Garden Open Day, so you are welcome to join us in Hempstead after your Houston tours.

The Garden Conservancy is a national organization that works to preserve and restore gardens. The Open Days allows people access to private gardens in their area. A percentage of the proceeds benefit Peckerwood Garden. 

Purchase tickets here: 

this year, they will be showcasing 4 gardens, all located near Interstate 10

Greentree Woods – Learn More

Habitat House – Learn More

Natalie’s Prospect – Learn More

Briarwood Court – Learn More

Peckerwood Garden Plant Sale will be Located at the Habitat House – Join us anytime during the tour times. Each garden tour is $7, cash payable at the gate.

The Garden Conservancy and Peckerwood Gardens are looking for volunteers to docent a couple hours on March 25. The overall hours are 10:00 am -4:00 pm. You will have free access to the gardens on the tour. As always for this event, you may contact either our office ( or the Garden Conservancy ( to volunteer.

Greentree Woods
Briarwood Court
Natalie’s Prospect
Habitat House
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January 2017 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden

Visiting exciting plant collections through the Carolinas
Social Media
Volunteer appreciation
Plant of the month
Slideshow of January photos

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

Adam’s notes from the garden

A garden seedling Mahonia x media with very compact inflorescences being enjoyed by honey bees.
A photo from last year, taken January 16, 2016, showing color we missed out on this year due to leaf spot issues on the maples.

Throughout the past year, I touted how winter, specifically late January through February, is arguably the most beautiful time to experience Peckerwood. This was based on the winter I found when I came to work here. Those two months were a riot of foliar and floral color, a confused mix of brilliant “autumn” color of maples, oaks and other deciduous trees combined with abundant flowering Camellia, Magnolia, Mahonia and flowering apricot cultivars. We didn’t offer any open days during that time frame so few got to see the display. We knew we needed to offer visitor opportunities this year.

I could tell this past December that our current winter was not going to follow the same pattern. Some trees that were in full fall display in early February 2016 were in color again the same year.Other deciduous trees seemed to be on schedule, but the leaves had been blemished with leaf spot fungi stemming from the excessively wet conditions in April and May.

The pressure was now on the winter flowering trees to dominate the show. On cue, the pinks, whites, reds and yellows started lighting up the woodland garden.

The kinky twigs of Prunus mume ‘Contorta’ become quite muscular as they age.

Then…a two-day hard freeze hit in early January, plummeting to 17ºF one morning and 18ºF the next, with extended night-time durations in the low 20s and daytime highs barely above freezing. Though in no way record low temperatures for our area, the long duration caused more damage than a single, brief dip followed by significant warming. This didn’t harm the buds on the flowering trees, just the flowers that were currently open.

An exceptionally early flower in our patch of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).

What it did temporarily harm though was the woodland garden understory – browning the foliage of many of the cycads, ferns and the masses of Farfugium japonicum. In last year’s mild winter, with only two brief dips into the low/mid-20s , these plants never missed a beat, and the groundcover was unscathed.

Cephalotaxus harringtoniana ‘Korean Gold’ with coloration emphasized by the recent chilling

Though initially disheartening after playing up a winter spectacle on par with last year, plants will be back soon enough. The Farfugium are resprouting, and many winter ephemerals are emerging. Several species of Trilliums are unfurling, and the often boldly patterned leaves of various Arum selections are standing proud.

The symmetry of this Chinese fringe tree, Chionanthus retusus, is best appreciated in winter.

A few individuals among our large patch of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) couldn’t stay in the ground any longer, and one rebellious individual already has flowered. More Magnolia species and cultivars are flowering by the day, new Camellia cultivars are being swarmed by honeybees, and more Mahonia species continue to come into flower. Among these headliners are many unique winter surprises coming into peak performance in the upcoming weeks.

The shining foliage of the Chinese conifer Torreya grandis
The Camellias are in full swing in the woodland garden

There’s more good news regarding some not-so-seasonal damage to the garden’s lawns and plantings. Recent visitors touring the garden could not miss the damaged grass in the arboretum from marauding feral pigs. They had gotten to a point where they simply wouldn’t enter our live traps anymore, probably after watching their relatives get caught. Though our staff is good at piecing the sod back together every morning, a new morning routine of taking care of other priorities will now ensue. We are pleased to report we are finally fortifying the west edge of the property with a secure fence.

Visiting exciting plant collections through the Carolinas

By Adam Black 

One of the scree trial beds at Plant Delights Nursery and Juniper Level Botanical Garden.

I had long been meaning to visit old friends and meet new ones in the country’s epicenters of hardcore horticulture: North and South Carolina. This area has long harbored great plantsmen, nurseries, and botanical gardens, many quite influential to American gardening. I planned to visit one site per day, which was quite ambitious in some regards, but I’m prone to going overboard. This trip turned out to be one of the most rewarding in terms of meeting up with old collaborators on a different level in my new position affiliated with Peckerwood, while also initiating long-overdue contact with other botanical greats of the region.

Though it looks like a planted hillside, that’s a green room designed by Kirk Laminak (left). Also enjoying the view are Moore Farms staff Katie Dickson (center) and Leanne Kenealy

I drove from Texas for 17 hours to South Carolina in one day, dragging a trailer with a few plants to share that I was able to quickly muster in my rush to leave. As I made my way through northeast TX toward I-20, I began to see an ever-increasing abundance of possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua) along the roadsides, prominent this time of year with the masses of scarlet fruits adorning the leafless stems.

Weeping bald cypress skillfully trained around the edge of a fountain at Moore Farms Botanical Garden.

One particular individual spotted on the westbound side of the interstate had strongly weeping branches. We have the cultivar ‘Pendula’ at the garden but it is only gently downward arching at best.

A highly contorted sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum) I found in a park near Lake City, SC.

Hopefully I can propagate this new find in the near future. Eventually arriving in Columbia, SC for the night long after dark, I eagerly anticipated my morning visit to Moore Farms Botanical Gardens in Lake City, SC, a small town just south of Florence. Senior horticulturalist Katie Dickson had visited Peckerwood last year during a plant gathering expedition for the garden, so I looked forward to visiting her again as well as meeting with their propagation coordinator Leanne Kenealy, whom I had heard about from many mutual acquaintances as having amassed likely the most complete collections of Taxodium and Magnolia grandiflora cultivars, among many other interesting things.

Touring Moore farms was quite an experience, seeing how they use quite rare or underutilized plants in both formal landscapes as well as more naturalistic. Not being open to the public, it was quite peaceful and desolate.  There was so much to take in that it was hard to focus on any of the actual plants, which were immaculately maintained. As we proceeded back to the nursery area the green roof on one of the buildings really caught my attention. Most green roofs are flat, but this is sloped, which shows off the plants very well to viewers at ground level. Furthermore, most green roofs tend to default to sedums and masses of other low-growing xeric plants. This innovative roof, designed and constructed by research horticulturist Kirk Laminak was quite different, with a diversity of perennials, larger shrubby plants and vertical accents of trunked yuccas and accentuated with bold plants like Agave ovatifolia. A catwalk accessed by a spiral staircase allowed for closer inspection, and once on the expansive roof it was hard to believe there was a building underneath, looking more like a lushly planted hillside.  I was told there were many spring bulbs that will be creating a colorful display soon.

A huge sprawling X Mangave at Plant Delights Nursery

The Magnolia grandiflora cultivar collection was interesting in that, as presumed, there are many unique standouts, while also too many that simply run together with other similar-appearing selections. Still, there were some very distinct cultivars that Leanne had tracked down that I had never seen before, including some narrow leaf forms, plus a lot of interesting hybrids that may prove to be popular landscape plants in the future.

Prunus mume ‘Bridal Veil’ at J.C. Raulston Arboretum.

Off to the nursery, Leanne and Katie began loading me down with plants. Though the Taxodium collection was leafless this time of year, it was still clear how extensive Leanne’s grafting prowess had amounted to a quite a signature collection for Moore Farms. Having longed for a very blue Taxodium mucronatum I had once seen in Noel Weston’s Raleigh nursery years ago, I asked and sure enough Leanne had it, and even had a spare grafted plant to share with Peckerwood! Added to this were dozens of Asian rarities from wild collections of Ethan Kaufman, former director of MFBG, a Baptisia hybrid collection, and so much more – quite an exciting haul!

Mesmirizing patterns on the leaves of a rare form of cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior) at J.C. Raulston Arboretum

When leaving Moore Farms to work my way north towards Raleigh, NC, I saw a sign for Lynches River County Park. I had remembered the river’s name from old geological reports in reference to one of my other interests: paleobotany. Hoping to track down some fossil plant exposures, I followed the signs and found a nice park with trails through beautiful mixed forest. Though there were no fossiliferous outcrops along this stretch of the river, perhaps due to high water levels, I did find some interesting modern living plants, most notably a highly contorted sparkleberry, Vaccinium arboreum. Being a larger shrub, its twisted and kinked branches were of a size that displayed the nice peeling reddish bark. Further back in the woods, well off the trail, I found an old home site indicated only by the brick fireplace and tall chimney still standing, the base surrounded by a thicket of deciduous pinxter azalea (Rhododendron canescens) in bud. Growing from between the chimney bricks were many spleenworts, likely Asplenium platyneuron glowing in the dappled light that lent a tropical feel to the chilly afternoon shade.

The next morning I drove to Raleigh to one of my long-time favorite botanical gardens – the JC Raulston Arboretum. There I meet up with director Mark Weathington and off we went for a stroll through the garden, seeing old favorites that had grown significantly since I last saw them while also being introduced to new plantings. This arboretum is interesting in that new plants are constantly being trialed in limited space, so as things get big decisions are made and less valuable plants are removed to open up space for new plantings. Rare and significant specimens are left indefinitely as deemed necessary. It makes for a very dynamic garden with a wealth of things that need to be grown more in the southeast. Huge specimens of Prunus mume cultivars were in full flower, including the weeping white-flowered selection ‘Bridal Veil’ released by Camellia Forest Nursery years ago. The tendril-like clusters of witch hazel flowers also were catching the light in various colors ranging from yellow to red. Mark took me back to the nursery and loaded me down with all sorts of plants from his own wild collections from China and beyond, plus other material received from elsewhere, including some exciting small perennials suitable for our developing rock garden complex.

One of the many nice views at Bartlett Research Arboretum.

The following day was the requisite visit to see Tony Avent’s famous Plant Delights Nursery and Juniper Level Botanical Garden. This place is best summed up by a comment Dr. Jason Smith once made after his head was left spinning from a past visit – accurately likening it to the horticultural equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Every time I visit Tony’s empire, at least once a year, there is so much expansion with the trial and display gardens that it is increasingly difficult to take in everything in one day. It was quite an honor to see one of my Taiwanese collections I shared with him a few years ago, Debregeasia orientalis, listed in the current issue of their extremely popular catalog. Plant records specialist Zac Hill showed me several of the other plants I had contributed to the collection and soon our attention turned to the many southeastern US Yucca species and hybrids in the trial garden areas, some quite impressive. It was interesting to learn the origin of some of the hybrids date back to Nazi Germany when there was a breeding program to produce superior forms for fiber! They were beautiful plants in themselves, and neat that they are preserved here. I secured cuttings of many of Tony’s beautiful Taiwanese evergreen oaks for Peckerwood’s collection, and among other things he shared with me a promising hardy Ficus species with huge heart-shaped leaves.

The much-anticipated blue Keteleeria sp. at Bartlett Arboretum.

The next morning I was off to Charlotte, NC to a much-anticipated collection I had yet to visit. Bartlett Research Arboretum is a branch of the country-wide tree service company, Bartlett Tree Specialists. Their seemingly endless property is packed with rare woody plants, especially oaks, magnolias, conifers, and hollies. Research plots are scattered throughout the trial plantings and the rolling hills and lakes make for sweeping vistas of the assemblages. Garden director Greg Paige toured me around the grandiose property, which left me content that my first visit was in winter when a third of the holdings were leafless, as the remaining evergreen species were enough to keep my mind on sensory overload. I had heard of an exceptionally blue Keteleeria species that was high on my list to see. It did not disappoint, and was happy to be given access to all the cuttings I wanted to add to Peckerwood’s holdings of this underutilized genus. Nearby was another plant others had raved about – an exceptionally blue form of Taiwania cryptomerioides, a beautiful warm-climate conifer from, you guessed it, Taiwan. The shady Rhododendron garden gave the instant impression that we were suddenly jettisoned to the Pacific Northwest. The customary trip to the nursery area resulted in more treasures being added to the trailer for Peckerwood’s collections.

Cupressus arizonica ‘Sulphurea’ at Scott and Julie Antrim’s home.

With the ability to focus on another plant completely gone, it was time to go see more at the nearby home of long-time plant collector friends Scott and Julie Antrim. Scott mainly collects conifer cultivars and species, and has quite a diverse and immaculately maintained landscape which clearly sticks out like a sore thumb among his neighbors. It was nice to see many plants I had shared with him doing exceptionally well under his care. Scott and Julie flew out to Peckerwood and back on the same day a few months ago and intended to bring with them donations of several Mexican pines that were not going to be hardy for them in the ground. They were too large to bring on the plane, so they had to leave them behind for me to finally pick up on this trip. When going through his greenhouse looking for more plants that would be more reliable in Peckerwood’s climate, he handed me a Cupressus cashmeriana that was exceptionally silvery white. Looking at the tag, the handwriting was familiar and realized it was one I had given him a few years ago from a seed collection by my late friend and conifer enthusiast John Silba off an exceptional tree at the Mirov Pinetum in San Diego. I had forgotten about this seed batch as I must have unexpectedly shared everything away before realizing I hadn’t kept any for myself. As continues to be the case, sharing plants is beneficial in so many ways, not the least being the reclamation of plants back you forgot you had in the first place!

An after-dark visit to Paul Pawlowski’s skillfully arranged xeric garden.

At dusk Scott arranged to take me over to see the garden of Paul Pawlowski, who has a quite a collection of hardy cacti, agaves, and other desert plants displayed very effectively. With flashlights, we explored his xeric landscape, which included a number of Peckerwood plants Paul had ordered from Yucca Do Nursery. His greenhouse full of tender cacti and succulent specimens was beautifully arranged and well-tended.

The famous mile of oaks in Aiken, SC.

After the whirlwind of plant camaraderie the past several days, it was nice to finally have a relaxing evening with Julie and Scott and get a long night’s sleep in a comfortable bed after a few nights sleeping in the car. After a quick morning coffee and run around Scott’s frosty property for a few cuttings, I was off to Aiken SC to finally meet the legendary Bob McCartney in person. Bob owns the connoisseur collector plant nursery Woodlander’s Inc., which he describes as having the market cornered on plants that nobody wants to buy! An exaggeration, of course, alluding to the niche market for many lesser-known plants, but many great landscape plants, both native and exotic, have stemmed from Bob’s wild collections over his years combing the swamps, forests, and sandhills of the southeast and west to Texas. Beyond the nursery, Bob has worked with the city of Aiken to create an extensive “city-wide arboretum”, where rare plants are used in beautifying city parks, roadsides, and municipal landscapes. There is a famous mile-long stretch of oaks in a strip between a railroad and a highway, with each tree being an often-exceptionally rare species from Mexico, Europe, Asia and the US. It was quite surprising to see oaks from California and the Mediterranean region thriving in the humid southeast.

Bob McCartney of Woodlanders poses with Actinodaphne lanceolata.
Go ahead, try it! Call the phone number on your cell phone and hear about a plant that has some Peckerwood involvement being that John Fairey was with Lynn Lowery when it was collected. Aiken City-Wide Arboretum.

The tour of Hopeland Park was a real treat, containing a diverse array of rarely-seen plants Bob had planted in this Aiken city park. Highlights included rare members of the Laurel family, including the beautiful Persea grijsii and Actinodaphne lancifolia, with multicolored peeling bark that rivals any crepe myrtle or lacebark pine. Immense specimens of deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara) tower over historic buildings on the site along with ancient sprawling live oaks. Near a cypress swamp, one of the unexpected highlights was a tall, shrubby species of smooth-bark St. John’ wort (Hypericum lissophloeus) with tall trunks bearing peeling shiny chocolate brown bark and needle-like leaves on strongly pendulous branches. It resembled some odd plant you would expect to see in Australia rather than a native to the Florida panhandle, where it has a very limited range in only two counties. This was my first time seeing this plant and I was in love! A wonderful feature of this city-wide arboretum is that each plant is clearly labeled with a unique number, and more information on every plant can be accessed via a recording accessed by cell phone. Back at the nursery, Bob generously loaded me down with a number of oaks from Mexico and Asia, many I had never heard of. Despite his extensive collection of oaks in the nursery and planted around the city, he was especially happy to receive one of our seedlings of Quercus tarahumara, the fabled handbasin oak that all the collectors want to get their hands on.

The beautiful Persea grijsii .

After a night in the circa 1900 nursery house, and a quick morning stroll down some of the streets for a closer look at Bob’s specimens in the median plantings, I was off to central Georgia to collect cuttings of a very rare and stunning golden live oak that is deserving of its own article, which I will report on in the next newsletter. On the way there I was quite distracted by a variety of plants in the sand hills south of Augusta, GA from which I made several collections. It was also fun to take the back roads through small antiquated towns bearing huge deodar cedars, china firs (Cunninghamia lanceolata) and sizeable deciduous magnolias in full flower. Old homesites were denoted by naturalized clusters of daffodils already flowering along the roadsides. This was truly one of the most memorable plant-gathering forays on both a personal and professional level that reinforces the passion and dedication of plantsmen and plantswomen of the southeast while further bringing value to Peckerwood’s collections with the incorporation of all the treasures so generously shared by all.

January Slideshow

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Learn more about visiting Peckerwood Garden

Follow Peckerwood on Instagram or Facebook!

We maintain an active Instagram ““@peckerwoodgarden” and hope you will become one of our followers and join our hosts, Adam Black and Craig Jackson. On Facebook, “peckerwoodgarden” shares images of what the garden is like that week and what is happening soon, hosted by Bethany Jordan and Adam Black. “@PeckerwoodG” on Twitter also updates you on current happenings at Peckerwood Garden and is hosted by Bethany Jordan.


Plant of the month: Brazoria Palm (Sabal x brazoriensis)

By Adam Black 

It was only six years ago that a long-known, mysterious palm growing in Brazoria County, Texas was scientifically described. This population contained palms that had trunks over 25’ high. The only other native trunking palm, Sabal mexicana, is limited to the Rio Grande Valley near Brownsville and a small population further north near Victoria, TX, about 65 miles west of the Brazoria stand. The common Sabal minor may rarely form a short above-ground trunk, but nowhere near the proportions attained in the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge. During the “hardy palm” collector craze that ramped up in the ‘90’s and early 2000’s, more attention was directed to this enigmatic palm, which became occasionally available in horticulture. The long-standing thought was this was a natural hybrid between S. minor and S. mexicana, inheriting the trunk from the latter species. My first experience with it was when I started working at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville, FL in the early 2000’s. They had a group of potted young Brazoria palms in the nursery area, but I assumed these were from open-pollinated seed that occasionally was made available to collectors, and potentially hybridized. I had also once collected seed from a young, short-trunked plant growing in the scree garden at the J.C. Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, NC, testament to its cold hardiness.

In 2011, Douglas Goldman of Harvard University and collaborators published their genetic studies of this palm, and the DNA analysis yielded some unexpected results on the parentage. It turns out the tree did originate from an ancient hybrid, and S. minor was indeed one of the original parents. The most interesting part of the story, however, is that the trunking characteristic was inherited from Sabal palmetto, not the presumed S. mexicana. The closest naturally occurring Sabal palmetto (Cabbage Palm) is in western Florida, well over 600 miles to the east. It can be deduced that the range of Sabal palmetto extended further west into gulf coastal Texas perhaps thousands of years ago when habitats were different, and then its range shrunk eastward to its current distribution from FL to coastal NC. It was only the chance hybrid with S. minor that remained in the area leaving us a bold reminder that plants are far from static in their range.

Out of the blue, North Carolina palm enthusiast Jesse Perry called recently to see if we would be interested in being recipients of some wild-collected seed legally obtained from the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge, and he sent us seed lots from individual marked trunking trees. We happily accepted them in order to eventually plant on site to serve as a germplasm collection. In talking to Jesse, it turns out that the potted plants I encountered years earlier at Kanapaha Botanical Garden, now in the ground, were one of Jesse’s earlier distributions to botanical gardens for preservation, and he was happy to hear of their success.

  Thank you to our Volunteers

By Bethany Jordan

Monthly events at Peckerwood Garden continue to be a success thanks to our team of volunteers. We are seeking docents for those members, volunteers, or other interested people. There is a time commitment for training and for leading tours after but the work is rewarding and the classes are informative.

Open Day this past Saturday was a pleasant day for all with Deciduous Magnolias, Camellias, and more showing off. We are looking forward to the February Open Day and having some of our volunteer team back in town with us again.

Volunteers continue to maintain large areas of the property around the buildings and are working with Adam on new plantings and plans for this year. Harvey Newman and Brenda Wilson are consistently here for our 2 weekly volunteer workdays. Others join them for ongoing work or special projects and their work continues to bring the vision for this property to life.

Nursery work has been an ongoing project with Frank and Cherie Lee helping Adam re-pot many plants and organize the nurseries. Frank and Cherie have also been a huge asset to Open Days and each week always able to lend a hand where needed. A new volunteer joined us for Open Day in the nursery this past week and Pam Romig gave her an orientation to our volunteer work and an introduction to Peckerwood Garden.

Our Open Days and other increasing events are possible only because our volunteers are here to assist guests in every area from sign-in and parking to tours and nursery sales. Craig Jackson and I led tours for Open day and Harvey Newman has been here to assist with every tour this month from the Peckerwood Insider’s tour to the Open Day tours. We have had chilly but beautiful days with a lot to share with our guests.

Thank you, volunteers, for your time, support, hard work, and for sharing our needs with those you know.

Join us in remembering 2016 at Peckerwood Garden with this slideshow.
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Need transportation to Peckerwood from the Houston area?

By Adam Black

Do you want to visit Peckerwood Garden but refuse to fight with the hectic traffic? Are you planning to visit Houston and need a ride from the airport to the gardens and points beyond thereafter? Gardens supporter Albert Howell, an independent contract driver licensed by the city of Houston, has generously agreed to offer his driving services to Houston area residents and visitors to/from the gardens. Even more generous, Albert is offering discounts to our members as one of our newest partner businesses. His late model Chevy Equinox is very fuel-efficient and can seat up to four passengers. Albert is a very friendly plant enthusiast so there will surely be some great botanically-oriented conversation on the way! Please feel free to coordinate directly with Albert for a ride in advance of our open days or other events. His phone number is: (832) 206-1877 and you can also find his contact information on our website.


Monthly training classes continue with Winter Interest. The next session is February 11. Though geared toward training our docents, all active volunteers are invited to participate for free to learn more about refined topics pertaining to the garden. Members may join us for $15. Pre-registration required.

Sign up Now



From welcoming visitors to leading tours, working in the garden or in our office, there are many ways to lend your talents! Let us know how you would like to get involved. Sign up to assist at an event or to join a bi-weekly gardening session here.
Posted on

December 2016 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden
It’s Not the Borer’s Fault!

Social Media
Volunteer appreciation
Plant of the month
Slideshow of December photos

See a slideshow of 2016 memories

Adam’s notes from the garden

Lindera angustifolia in its full autumn glory.
The yellow fruits of Euonymus myrianthus burst open to reveal their red seeds.

Winter is setting in, and things are not following the same pattern as last year. Interestingly, things that displayed fall color in late January or February 2016 are currently at their peak. John Fairey’s collection of bigtooth maples (Acer grandidentatum) from the San Carlos Mountains in Tamaulipas is showing nice yellow colors here in late December. My photos verify the trees were a clean orange color in early February. The Taiwanese maple Acer oliverianum var. formosanum was also a nice consistent scarlet color in late January, but currently, has rather “dirty” red color as the leaves unfortunately, got blemished by superficial leaf spot pathogens originating from the moist late spring we had. Another Taiwanese native,

The temporary carpet of reddish Taxodium leaves helps make some specimens really stand out.

Liquidambar formosana, glowed a brilliant orangey-red in late January earlier this year but was rather weak and brief this past week. Acer discolor was the last to color up with sherbet orange last February, but it is on its way to peaking here the last week of December.

Sinojackia xylocarpa with surprising color.

On schedule are native eastern US natives Quercus shumardiiQ. michauxii as well as Acer barbatum. The Taxodium disticum along the creek colored up nicely with their rusty orange canopy that soon became deposited in a striking monotony on the ground below following a breezy frontal boundary.

In addition to winter flowers, Prunus mume can also have great fall foliage.

The blue-grays of the neighboring Serenoa repens, Yucca rostrata and Agaves really popped sharply against this rufous backdrop, moderated by the clean yellows of Tilia americana leaves and orange blush of Fagus grandifolia.

The blues of Aagaves, Yyuccas and palms really pop with the seasonal backdrop of color.

Bordering the cypresses, and appearing to stay on their mid-winter color transition schedule, are the Mexican sugar maples (Acer skutchii) which are still not quite feeling the chill and remain a dark green for now. A surprise to me were the two species of Sinojackia trees that had decent clean-yellow leaves retained for some time, longer than their related native Halesia grandifolia.

Asian spicebushes (Lindera sp.) always have fascinated me with their year-round interest as small understory trees. First to color up were Lindera cheinii and another unknown Lindera sp., both a pale, clean yellow color.

The orange of John Fairey’s courtyard fountain wall echoed in the white oak beyond the gallery.

Next were the several Lindera angustifolia and L. glauca that John has planted around the garden, the latter with a brief orange color, and the former with school bus yellow. Both soon transitioned to a coppery tan color, that when focused on out of context, simply looks like dead leaves. To more perceptive observers, who take the landscape in as a whole, the leaves, which are retained through the winter, catch the light that filters down through the woodland garden canopy just right, glowing with a translucent copper richness that blends so warmly with the adjacent evergreens and flowering camellias.

Acer barbatum takes center stage in the arboretum.
Prunus mume fall foliage mixing well with cycads and xeric plants.

Our first significant freeze killed back the foliage on a few hardy tropicals like the various gingers, Hamelia patensCalliandra species, and a number of random perennials. Still, the garden is quite unfazed by the cold, being mostly composed of hardy plants. Some of the early flowering Mexican Mahonia species are already in bloom, including M. chochoca as well as a new, soon-to-be-named species flowering for its second time in cultivation. Soon to follow are the Asian Mahonia species and hybrids, which are budded up nicely, along with the remaining Mexican species which will provide a succession of canary-yellow flower spikes through early March. Our first deciduous magnolia cultivar is flowering, but most of the others still have developing buds. I continue to be impressed by Scutellaria wrightii in the rockery near the offices, as there has not been a day since late spring when it didn’t bear at least some purple/blue flowers.

It’s Not the Borer’s Fault! The Fascinating, Inbred, Misunderstood Beetles That Didn’t Kill Your Trees

By Adam Black 

Sawdust generated by two species of beetles at the base of a Magnolia. Despite all this activity the crown of the tree still looks deceptively healthy.

As I was strolling the gardens a few weeks ago, I noticed sawdust accumulating around the base of a hardy cinnamon tree, Cinnamomum chekiangense, north of the creek. Having a background managing the forest entomology lab at the University of Florida, which is at the forefront of research dealing with ambrosia and bark beetles, I carved a few of these “borers” out, all smaller than a sesame seed. I found two species –  the abundant, pill-shaped granulated ambrosia beetle, Xylosandrus crassiusculus, and the more elongated pinhole borer, Euplatypus compositus. The latter is native, but the former was introduced from Asia and has been one of the most successful of insect invaders worldwide. Regardless of whether they are native or introduced, “borers” are often blamed for the decline and death of a prized ornamental tree based solely on their conspicuous presence, yet unjustly so. That’s right, the borers didn’t kill your tree, and in some cases, you wasted money fruitlessly treating with chemicals only to have the tree still die.

Xylosandrus crassiusculus tending to its fungal garden lining its gallery, with eggs on the right. Photo courtesy Jiri Hulcr.

How can this be? The tree was healthy, and all of a sudden there was clear borer activity on the trunk, extruding compacted spaghetti-like masses of sawdust from their boring activities as the tree quickly died. Of course, it must have been the borers’ fault. Wrong! Though your landscaper or arborist will happily take your money in order to drench the root zone with chemicals, administer trunk injections and other pricey witchery, treating for the beetles is pointless. By the time you notice the beetle activity, it is almost always too late. And again, it is not the beetle’s fault. Why? Because the beetles are attracted to the chemical cues given off by an already-stressed and dying tree. Yes, the tree looked fine before the borers colonized the trunk, but what you didn’t see what the fungal infection slowly rotting the interior of the tree. The beetles sensed it and came in to serve as the secondary, opportunistic undertakers.

On windier days, the extruded sawdust noodles break and accumulate below the gallery entrances.

It was a constant struggle at our lab to convince clients that borers weren’t the primary cause of death for their rare, or highly valued tree. Fungal infections can be slowly eating away at a tree internally for months before it displays any visual signs of distress. The beetles are able to sense the stressed tree and home in on it. In fact, when trapping these beetles for research, one of the best lures is ethanol, produced in a plant’s decomposition process. The beetles’ affinity for alcohol is also clear on some humid summer night when you are outside drinking beer…if you pay attention, that little hard thing you felt go down your throat quicker than you could spit it out was often a tipsy Xyleborinus saxesenii that ended up in your bottle! One larger introduced species, Cnestus mutilatus, so named as its blunt abdomen looks as if it was chopped off, is such a glutton for ethanol that it has been known to eat through plastic fuel containers that bear gasoline containing ethanol.

Ambrosia beetles come in all sorts of fascinating forms. Photo courtesy Jiri Hulcr.

Ambrosia beetles (boring into the wood) and bark beetles (living just under the bark) have evolved where they carry a little bit of fungus with them from tree to tree. Different species have their own types of fungus they specialize in, while others can carry several species, or are generalists. Some have special pockets inside their mouths that get stuffed with fungi, others carry it under their wing covers, in a pocket under the top of their back, and a few even have dense tufts of orange hairs on their head that bear the fungi. When they find a stressed tree, ambrosia beetles chew a tunnel, known as a gallery, deep within the tree, while bark beetles hollow out tunnels directly under the bark. The sawdust generated is pushed out the hole in a compacted tubular mass that can get quite long on a calm day. These are affectionately called sawdust “noodles” among bark beetle researchers and are usually the first visual sign of an infestation. Once the galleries are dug, the beetle will transfer the fungus it brought with it into the tunnels, where it soon grows on the gallery walls. The beetles tend to this crop, which they and their eventual larvae will consume. There is evidence preserved in fossil amber that beetles have been doing this for millions of years, since the time of the dinosaurs, and therefore may be one of the earliest farmers on earth.

The fungi they carry can serve various purposes. Some species are “saprophytes,” helping to decompose dead wood, while others can act as mild or even severe tree pathogens. Wait a minute, didn’t I just say that the beetles (or the fungi they carry) were not killing trees, only finishing them off?

Swamp bays in east Texas affected by laurel wilt disease, one of the very few instances where ambrosia beetles attack healthy trees.

There are a few rare, but significant instances where a certain species of beetle will colonize a perfectly healthy tree, introduce its fungus, which then kills the tree. There are very few species in this category, five or so species in the U.S. that when introduced into a new environment, shift from being attracted to stressed trees as they behave in their native range to making themselves at home in healthy, unstressed trees. One of the most noteworthy invasions following this pattern in recent years is the redbay ambrosia beetle, Xyleborus glabratus which arrived from Asia. A single beetle was introduced into the U.S. via Port Wentworth (Savannah, Ga.), likely hitchhiking among wood pallets or other untreated wood crating materials, back in 2002.

Cnestus mutilatus gets its name due to the appearance of its abdomen being chopped off. Photo courtesy Jiri Hulcr.

It is most fascinating that one tiny individual beetle and its fungal accomplice could initiate one of the most significant impacts on native U.S. tree species in recorded history known as laurel wilt disease. These beetles are among the most successful colonizers of new territory due to their unique modes of reproduction. One female was liberated from her foreign shipping materials at a sea port, easily found a redbay tree, Persea borbonia in the nearby maritime forest, dug her gallery and introduced the laurel wilt fungus she brought with her in specialized pockets inside her mouth. Possessing a unique reproductive strategy, she has the ability to lay fertile eggs without being fertilized by a male. The initial eggs all hatch as males, which mate back with their mother. Her second round of eggs will include females, sparking a new exotic introduction to the country and reproducing exponentially. Originating from one female, all the millions of current redbay ambrosia beetles that have spread from North Carolina south to the tip of Florida and west to east Texas are all one clone, bearing identical genetics. Furthermore, the fungus that is now killing back millions of trees in the southeast is also a single clone. Quite an interesting story.

The introduction of the redbay ambrosia beetle was highly unique in that this was a case where there was a significant shift from normally being attracted to stressed trees in Asian forests to attacking perfectly healthy, unstressed trees upon introduction into the US. Other southeastern US natives laurels are also fair game, including swamp bay, sassafras, spicebush, along with the cultivated avocados and bay leaf. This is one of the few cases where you can blame the beetle for a tree’s death, assuming the tree is a host plant for this particular beetle. Still, nearly all beetle infestations among cultivated trees take place in trees dying from other environmental or cultural stress.

Just under the bark, the galleries created by bark beetles can often be quite beautiful.

Though few people grow members of the laurel family as ornamentals (though they should), the south Florida avocado industry has been impacted. The outlook was grim for the native host plants, but after more than fourteen years with a foothold in the southeastern U.S., it is clear that trees do die back, but most resprout from the roots vigorously and will grow for several years and even produce fruit until they attain a trunk diameter attractive to the beetles again. Furthermore, Dr. Marc Hughes earned his PhD. in our Florida lab with a primary focus on identifying naturally resistant trees in the areas hardest hit by the disease. He found that some of these resistant trees developed disease but were able to shrug it off, while others simply had a genetic profile that didn’t give off the right chemical cues that attracted the beetles. That said, we don’t know if all members of the laurel family will show similar resistance, especially if the disease spreads into the Lauraceae-rich regions of Mexico, Central America and down into South America. It appears we have natural barriers in place in south Texas (consisting of a complete lack of native laurels south of Corpus Christi) to prevent a natural flow of the beetles into Mexico, but this can be circumvented if people move firewood from an infested area to a new area, like the Rio Grande Valley where avocados are grown on a small scale. It has been proven that other significant insect pests have been introduced to new regions through hitchhiking in firewood, so it is always critical to obtain wood close to where you plan to burn it.

So what can you do to combat borers? Plant only trees that are proven adaptable to the soil chemistry and climate of the region. If you are a collector and likely trialing odd species of trees, expect some to not be happy and eventually decline and serve as a home for ambrosia beetles. If you already have an infestation, just say your goodbyes to the tree, and make the best of it by enjoying your newfound appreciation for these complex organisms just trying to make a living. There’s no use treating with expensive chemicals.  Try to narrow down any stress-causing factors that lead to the tree’s susceptibility to borers and work towards making changes with remaining and future trees.

Compacted sawdust ‘noodles’ being extruded by ambrosia beetles.

The infested hardy cinnamon tree I mentioned was one of several established trees we have had that declined slowly over the summer through fall almost surely due to the flooding earlier this year. Several steps away from the dying cinnamon, I more recently spotted an infestation at the base of a large magnolia, also subjected to the flooded conditions. This tree had another species of exotic ambrosia beetle, Euwallacea interjectus that has become well-established in the southern U.S. DNA studies conducted by Dr. Anthony Cognato and collaborators have shown that the E. interjectus found from Louisiana eastward to Florida are a separate introduction from Asia than the few previously recorded from east Texas, meaning there were two separate invasions of the same species. The eastern beetles are more genetically similar to those that naturally occur in Japan, whereas the Texas introductions match Taiwanese native populations. We can surmise that those in Texas arrived via wood packing crates or pallets at one of the ports in Houston on a freighter from Taiwan. Coincidentally, I had collected this species in Taiwan over a year ago and Dr. Matt Kasson’s lab at West Virginia University found that they carry a distinct species of fungus related to, but quite distinct from the fungus the Japanese E. interjectus carry. I sent his lab some of our presumed Taiwanese-turned-Texan beetles from the magnolia to confirm they have the same fungus as those I collected from the Taiwanese mountains. I find it quite interesting that I have been coincidentally involved with the characterization of the fungal symbiont from the beetles’ Taiwanese range and its new range extension in the U.S.

After being exposed to the complex world of ambrosia and bark beetles with my previous job, I can not shake my appreciation for such amazing creatures that, love ’em or hate ’em, are forever intertwined with our love of gardening. I must continue to stress though, to not automatically feel you should waste money on chemicals thinking you are doing something helpful. Just accept losses in the garden as normal, all the while having a greater appreciation for the complexities of these hard-working invertebrates who are avid gardeners themselves!

December Slideshow

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Learn more about visiting Peckerwood Garden

Follow Peckerwood on Instagram or Facebook!

We maintain an active Instagram ““@peckerwoodgarden” and hope you will become one of our followers and join our hosts, Adam Black and Craig Jackson. On Facebook, “peckerwoodgarden” shares images of what the garden is like that week and what is happening soon, hosted by Bethany Jordan and Adam Black. “@PeckerwoodG” on Twitter also updates you on current happenings at Peckerwood Garden and is hosted by Bethany Jordan.


Plant of the month: Ilex x ‘Cherry Bomb’

By Adam Black 

In last month’s newsletter, I made note of the hybrid holly from the National Arboretum breeding program initially referred to as NA28255 but then renamed Ilex x ‘Cherry Bomb’. Within minutes after we released the newsletter David Creech at Stephen F. Austin University contacted me with the full story on the plant with some clarifications, credits and additional information on this plant. David wrote:

“This is a J.C. Raulston (North Carolina State University) distributed plant via National Arboretum . . . he wasn’t supposed to propagate or distribute but that wasn’t his style.  Margaret Pooler of the National Arboretum announced to the breeding program cooperators that since there was no interest in that particular plant at the time, it should be destroyed.  John Ruter of the University of Georgia told her that he thought Creech had the plant and had handed them out, and that Treesearch Farms in Houston was selling it. The nursery’s then-horticulturist Scott Reeves asked me if I liked the name Cherry Bomb . . . I did . . . so, Scott (now at Creekside Nursery) should get the credit for the name and SFA Arboretum should get credit for saving it from the trash heap. I called Margaret after I had visited with Ruter, got everything smoothed out . . .  and it was made as a joint release under that name.  It is a good plant. Alkalinity tolerant. Proof positive in my mind that plants need to be shared . . . sometimes a failure in one spot sets up a success in another.”
If this one hadn’t made the cut in National Arboretum’s trials, I’d be interested to see what did. I remember first seeing this dense tree loaded with fruit and already bearing the name ‘Cherry Bomb’ at Tony Avent’s Plant Delights Nursery/Juniper Level Botanical Garden years ago. He shared cuttings with me to root in north Florida. I shared with a few folks in Florida and was then surprised to find it in Peckerwood’s collection upon moving here. It soon became apparent it was in many collections out here with the Texas connection. Prior to David’s clarifications, after the newsletter was released, Scott visited Peckerwood and told me about his naming of the tree that had caught my eye years earlier. It’s always great when things come full circle – a good plant earns its well-deserved time in the spotlight through the combined efforts of several good plantsmen, all of whom I have come to know except, regrettably, J.C. Raulston, whose untimely death left a huge void in the horticultural world yet firmly instilled the philosophy of freely sharing good plants, a mission which lives on in so many to this day.

  Volunteers in 2016

By Bethany Jordan

Weeding and clearing land.
Developing Alpine Rock Gardens near the Parking area

This past year has been a time of great change and development for Peckerwood Garden. Our volunteers have been instrumental in aiding our transition into a public garden. Now with open days being held at least once a month, our reliable docents have increased their time with us by leading tours, helping volunteer groups, assisting with open days, helping in the nursery, and participating in monthly classes.


Craig Jackson leading a tour.

In the office, volunteers have transcribed interviews with John Fairey, prepared membership mailings, researched information, and much more. Working in the garden house, volunteers have cleaned seed, maintained the house for guests and events, prepared for lectures, assisted guests, and compiled large documents.




Volunteers have cleaned large areas of the property around the buildings and have worked with Adam on our mission to develop an aesthetically pleasing entry and reception area.



Collecting acorns

Volunteers helped reorganize and maintain the nursery and price the plants for sale. From tedious weeding, data entry, tour assistance, class participation and propagation our volunteers have been here with us every step of the way. When setbacks or needs arise, the volunteers are available and present through the whole process and are critical in the positive changes created.




Our Open Days and other increasing events are possible only because our volunteers are here to assist guests in every area from sign-in and parking to tours and nursery sales. Thank you to all of our volunteers for 2016! We look forward to working with you as we continue to advance our garden into a more publically accessible place of enjoyment.



Join us in remembering 2016 at Peckerwood Garden with this slideshow.
[rev_slider alias=”2016-remembered”]

Need transportation to Peckerwood from the Houston area?

By Adam Black

Do you want to visit Peckerwood Garden but refuse to fight with the hectic traffic? Are you planning to visit Houston and need a ride from the airport to the gardens and points beyond thereafter? Gardens supporter Albert Howell, an independent contract driver licensed by the city of Houston, has generously agreed to offer his driving services to Houston area residents and visitors to/from the gardens. Even more generous, Albert is offering discounts to our members as one of our newest partner businesses. His late model Chevy Equinox is very fuel-efficient and can seat up to four passengers. Albert is a very friendly plant enthusiast so there will surely be some great botanically-oriented conversation on the way! Please feel free to coordinate directly with Albert for a ride in advance of our open days or other events. His phone number is: (832) 206-1877 and you can also find his contact information on our website.


Monthly training classes continue with Winter Interest. The next session is January 14. Though geared toward training our docents, all active volunteers are invited to participate for free to learn more about refined topics pertaining to the garden. Members may join us for $15. Pre-registration required.

Sign up Now



From welcoming visitors to leading tours, working in the garden or in our office, there are many ways to lend your talents! Let us know how you would like to get involved. Sign up to assist at an event or to join a bi-weekly gardening session here.
Posted on

November 2016 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden
Collecting in Florida’s Sandhills

Social Media
Volunteer appreciation
Plant of the month


Adam’s notes from the garden

A soon-to-be-described species of Mexican Mahonia is among the first to flower this month.
The seasonal yellows of Lindera chienii filter the sun’s rays above Sabal tamaulipana.

After the initial cool weather in October, it was quite warm until our recent first light frost. The only indication of brief freezing temperatures are the dead tips of a few tender plants in active growth such as Hamelia patens. Though we are weeks away from some of the showier deciduous trees to develop fall color, we should be seeing more in our natives. (Meanwhile, there is a beautiful fiery red clump of foliage growing near the nursery belonging to…poison ivy!)
One tree near the nursery I had assumed to be the native tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) did produce a reasonable display of flaming orange. The foliage began dropping rather fast, but in the process revealed an abundance of attractive dark purple fruit that made me question my initial identification. With fruits held singly, occasionally double on long peduncles, it did not resemble any of our native species.I asked Wade Roitsch of Yucca Do Nursery, and he recalled some seeds of an Asian Nyssa species they received long ago and planted around their former nursery site at Peckerwood. I’m now guessing the tree is N. sinensis, and our seed, which appears viable, must be hybridized with the N. sylvatica John Fairey has planted near the creek since Nyssa are dioecious.

The gold-fruited form of Yaupon, Ilex vomitoria ‘Saratoga Gold’, attempts to mimic the autumn foliage of our Mexican hickory (Carya sp.) in the background.

Signs of winter include ripening fruits on various holly species. One that always begs for attention whether in fruit or not is Ilex x ‘Cherry Bomb’. The willowy, semi-succulent leaves lacking teeth and a dense, rounded form make it a standout as a free-standing specimen. Vastly underutilized and not available as often as it should be, this hybrid was created at the National Arboretum and originally circulated under the catchy name “NA28255,” but for some reason, Dr. David Creech at Stephen F. Austin University thought the name ‘Cherry Bomb’ would be more marketable.

On the north side of the garden house are two pendulous hollies growing side-by-side and exhibiting their abundance of red berries – a large Ilex vomitoria ‘Pendula’ and a gently weeping Ilex decidua ‘Pendula.’ The latter will eventually shed its leaves but retain the fruits into winter. We also have gold-fruited forms of both species, I. vomitoria ‘Saratoga Gold’ and I. decidua ‘Finch’s Golden.’

The warm colors of a low fall sun and turning leaves on an Asian spicebush, Lindera sp.
The fall-flowering Pitcher Sage, Lepechinia hastata is a salvia relative that has an interesting range that includes Mexico and Hawaii.
The fall-flowering Pitcher Sage, Lepechinia hastata is a salvia relative that has an interesting range that includes Mexico and Hawaii.

Competing for attention with the hollies is the “Butcher’s Broom” Ruscus aculeatus. Our lone plant is a self-fertile female variety and therefore produces a profusion of red fruits the size of small grapes. This unusual plant lacks true leaves and instead has stiff sharp-tipped structures called cladodes that are actually flattened stems. Though not a recognized harbinger of winter due to its unfamiliarity, a winter-fruiting tree I am especially fond of in our collection is a Chiococca species that John and Carl Schoenfeld collected in Mexico. This species will be discussed in more detail in our “Plant of the Month” section below.
Every time I stroll through the garden these days, I notice more shades of pink Camellia sasanqua cultivars coming into flower, along with some white selections. These will continue into December, and eventually Camellia japonica hybrids will continue the show into early spring.
Mahonia chochoca – both the curly and typical leaf forms – are full of buds, hinting toward .a profusion of golden flowers. Another slender leafed Mexican Mahonia species, that soon will be officially named, is flowering much earlier and more abundantly than it did last year.

A Mexican ash tree (Fraxinus sp.) from Hildago with subtle clouds of yellow flowers.

A late-flowering member of the mint family is the “false salvia” Lepechinia hastata, which is unusual in being native to both in Mexico and Hawaii. I almost missed the magenta flowers held in dense heads atop arching 6’ stems tucked behind a widening patch of bamboo muhly grass. Another less prominent flowering took place on our unknown species of Mexican ash tree (Fraxinus sp.) that resembles something between Fraxinus gregii and Fraxinus cuspidata and is evergreen like the former.

Polyspora axillaris clearly showing why it earned the name Fried Egg Tree.

Wade Roitsche of Yucca Do collected this ash from Hildago, where he said it was growing almost as a creeping groundcover due to being heavily goat-pruned. Now protected from marauding feral livestock, it has turned into a beautiful upright multi-trunked tree about 18’ tall. The flowers on this male plant were quite subtle, unfortunately, but nonetheless interesting and full of pollinators. On the other hand, it’s impossible to overlook the sea of yellow crowning the masses of the leopard plant Farfugium japonicum in the woodland garden understory. The real show is just beginning, as we keep reiterating how winter is the most wonderful time of the year in the garden in terms of flowers, especially mid-January through February.


Collecting Scrub Oaks and Other Xeric Plants from Florida’s Sandhills

By Adam Black 

The Running Oak, Quercus pumila, forms an attractive groundcover less than three feet high.

Oaks are one of Peckerwood’s key collections. John Fairey’s and Carl Schoenfeld’s collections from Mexico set our assemblage apart. We maintain detailed records of where the oaks were collected, making these specimens valuable for future research and conservation. These Mexican selections are complemented with species native to Europe, Africa, Asia and representatives of species native to the southern U.S. Lacking in our collection are the diverse oaks native to Florida and the surrounding states. Originally from the “Sunshine State.” I have long been fascinated by the xeric-growing species found in the hot, dry sandhill scrub in north and central Florida. Since I am still in the process of relocating from my previous home near Gainesville, I used my past few visits to collect acorns of many of these species for inclusion in Peckerwood’s holdings and to distribute to other botanical institutions.

Kalmia hirsuta, the Hairy Mountain Laurel.

Most of these scrub oaks are not well-represented in botanical gardens, yet many are quite restricted in their ranges and are otherwise threatened by habitat loss, making it important to back these up in cultivation. The “sandhill scrub” habitat is a high, dry environment situated on ice age sand dunes and therefore more suitable for development as opposed to the surrounding lowlands prone to flooding.

Turkey oaks (right) and sand live oaks (upper left) dominate the scrub with scrub rosemary and saw palmetto in the foreground.

Even where preserved, this fire-dependent land is often not managed as well as it should with regular prescribed burns. In the past, these open scrublands would often be subject to lightening-sparked fires which tend to cleanse out aggressive weeds and brush, maintaining an open mix of small trees, shrubs, saw palmettos and many herbaceous plants. With proper habitat now quite fragmented, and burns occurring far too infrequently, many fire-dependent plants get smothered.  Interestingly, the sand laurel oak (Quercus hemispherica) is one of these weedy species that can form thick stands in the sandhills when fire is lacking, shading out the smaller scrub oaks.

One of the many leaf forms of Quercus geminata.

With my focus on central and northern portions of the Florida peninsula, I aimed to collect all native species restricted to the scrub. Of particular interest to me are the various types of “live oaks,” especially the dwarf forms. There is a tremendous amount of variation in these species, that botanists tend to lump into either Quercus minima for the small species and Quercus geminata for the tall species. Those new to exploring the oaks of Florida’s xeric habitats initially are confused when they attempt to identify the numerous and highly variable intermediate forms. Eventually, one begins to see that they can categorize these into several seemingly stable forms that occur in non-contiguous sites. I believe that further research using modern molecular methods may yield new species among these nebulous forms.

The cupped leaves of Quercus geminata often are strikingly white to tan colored underneath.

Complicating identification further are the many random forms that deviate considerably in leaf and acorn form, and overall tree habit. Most of these surely represent hybrids.

The first site I had access to collect on was private land near my house in Levy County. This site doesn’t have any typical Q. minima, which normally should be under 3’ tall and spreading by underground rhizomes, making a low, dense patch.

The curled leaves of Quercus geminata create quite an interesting texture on a dense tree.

This site did have plenty of Q. geminata, variable in itself but generally distinguished from its close relative, the widespread southern live oak (Q. virginiana) by the curled leaf margins making a cupped form with a light underside. I was pleased to instantly find a great crop of acorns, being that previous years had yielded next to nothing. The convex leaf accumulations under the larger trees look curious and are quite fun to walk on as they crunch underfoot. I found some forms that had leaves that were nearly folded in half, others with nicer white undersides, some broad and glossy, others narrow and roughly textured.I made many collections of the different forms, but their progeny will be similarly variable and few, if any, will exactly resemble the parents.

The crunch of the dried cupped leaves of Quercus geminata underfoot is quite satisfying!

Though there were no Q. minima, there were a number of live oak types that don’t conform to Q. geminata.  One distinctive form makes a colony of 15-20 foot tall narrow columnar trees. Another could be perhaps interpreted as a giant form of Q. minima, attaining heights of 12’ to 15’ but not as vigorously suckering, usually consisting of six or eight trunks.

A very stable form of suckering, vertically oriented scrub oak to about 20′ found at many sites in north Florida but not recognized as a distinct species.

Acorns are not very diagnostic among any of these scrub live oaks, unfortunately.Mixed in with these consistent forms were unusual mid-size live oaks that defy categorization and are often unique enough to likely represent a mixture of these complex varieties situated between Q. minima and Q. geminata.

Quercus minima, the dwarf live oak.

In between attempts to make sense of the oaks, there are many distractions in acorn season.Several species of Liatris are abundant, with their long erect purple inflorescences garnering the most attention. With them are subtle pink Palafoxia, Eriogonum with tall scapes crowned with white flat heads, and purple flat tops of “deer tongue” (Carphephorus corymbosus). I found here possibly a northwestern range extension of Persea humilis, the scrub redbay, which is endemic to fire-maintained habitats of central Florida and being significantly impacted by laurel wilt disease.

Deer Tongue Carphephorus corymbosus, is one of the sandhill scrubs beautiful fall flowers.

It differs from the common southeastern native redbay in that it has smaller leaves, a more compact habit, and most notably, gold fuzzy undersides to the leaves that make it a showy, drought-tolerant evergreen plant for the landscape.

I had passed by many turkey oaks (Q. laevis) without acorns, but since found a few that were loaded. I collected a few since we don’t  have any in Peckerwood’s collection and hope to get some representatives from other parts of its range, which extends from eastern Louisiana to southern Virginia, though always restricted to sharply drained sandy hills.

Scrub Redbay, Persea humilis has rusty undersides like some Magnolias, but is much more drought tolerant.

Having a similar range but extending further west into east Texas is the bluejack oak, Q. incana. This species is rarely grown but can be very attractive in cultivation in the right situations. At this site, it was randomly interspersed among the turkey and sand live oaks but always conspicuous with the long leaves, slightly curved like a sickle, being chalky white underneath and blue-green above.

The graceful blue-green leaves of Quercus incana are a striking white underneath

This is another that I have rarely found acorns on in the past, but many trees were producing them in abundance this year.

While in search for more species and forms of oaks, I stumbled on a patch of white flowers atop clusters of stems bearing fine foliage that radiated out from a central point of growth. This was Dalea pinnata, a plant I have never seen cultivated, but I feel would make a great ornamental for the dry garden. Those familiar with the more commonly cultivated Texas natives D. fruticosa and D. greggii would not make the connection upon first glance of D. pinnata. Growing with them in the bright white sugar sand among patches of terrestrial lichens were the fern relative Selaginella arenicola, one of the “resurrection plants” that shrivel up during dry periods and unfurl into a green rosette with the next soaking rain.

A characteristic feature of healthy scrub in the coastal plain are dense, dome-shaped plants with needle-like foliage. This “Florida Rosemary” (Ceratiola ericoides) is not related to the culinary herb, but surprisingly is an uncharacteristic relative of blueberries and rhododendrons.

Healthy scrub provides not only habitat for several interesting oaks, but also the beautiful but hard to cultivate scrub rosemary, Ceratiola ericoides.

I wish it were easier to cultivate, but seedlings never survive transplanting. It would make an amazing textural plant in the xeric garden if only we could grow it. Growing out of one rosemary clump was a hybrid oak, clearly involving Q. incana and a lobed leaf oak, likely Q. laevis.


My next stop was a site in Lake County, on private land near the unique scrubland that is Ocala National Forest. In this region, sand pine (Pinus clausa) is the dominant tree with an understory of many interesting endemics. Among the dwarf oaks is an unusual xeric variant of American holly – Ilex opaca var. arenicola. It has a very upright shrubby habit and bears rich green leaves folded in half.

I’ve never been able to successfully propagate Osmanthus megacarpa, but Tony Avent has a beautiful one growing at Juniper Level Botanical Garden in Raleigh, N.C. that shows what a fabulous and adaptable ornamental it can make. It seems to have a denser habit than its close relative O. americanus. Most beautiful in my opinion is the “Florida Scrub Hickory” Carya floridana, a small shrubby species which has a most beautiful rusty color on the undersides of the small olive-green leaves.

A medium sized scrub oak with small leaves that is somewhere between Quercus geminata and Q. minima.

I’ve already brought seedlings of this  underutilized ornamental xeric plant to Peckerwood. Low evening light makes the foliage glow a warm cinnamon color.

Quercus chapmanii has light green leaves with slight lobing.

In addition to more Q. geminata and Q. laevis were typical low-growing Q. minima loaded with acorns. Mixed in at this site were two of my favorite scrub oaks – Q. myrtifolius and Q. chapmanii. The former tends to form low, naturally dense mounds with broad oval shaped leaves – quite beautiful and with great ornamental potential in a well-drained site. With a little more open habit but nonetheless interesting, Chapman’s oak has larger olive colored leaves with an irregularly scalloped margin held on ascending branches.

Dalea carnea is very different from our Texas natives but otherwise, makes a great xeric wildflower.

Below the oaks were a few interesting finds, including another species of Dalea on my list: the pink-flowered D. carnea. A sedge with bright green glossy foliage always draws attention, looking too lush in contrast to the stark white sands.Something I hadn’t noticed in this area before was a “Blue-eyed Grass” that must be Sisyrhynchium xerophyllum, unique in that it was growing in dry loose sand, unlike all the other native species that prefer moist areas. The dwarf blueberry Vaccinium myrsinites forms a very attractive groundcover with glossy leaves among the large bold leaves of the central Florida endemic palm Sabal etonia.

A red form of shiny blueberry (Vaccinium myrsinites).

My last stop before I headed back to Texas was another scrubby area in northern Levy County. Here there were more Q. geminata, Q. laevis, and Q. incana, combined with a tremendous variety of odds and ends in the intermediate dwarf live oak complex. One of particular interest was an 8’ shrub with three trunks, but it had extremely tiny leaves and acorns. No others could be found in the area, so it will be interesting to see if any of the seedlings carry on this trait. Several more distinctive forms of Q. geminata were collected.

A miniature mutant form of winged sumac, Rhus copallina, dwarf in all regards.

With a backpack full of acorns, I worked my way back to the truck around an open grassy area bordering a dry pond. There I noticed many red seed clusters protruding from the grass. Looking closer, I saw it was a dwarf sumac that was carpeting several acres, maxing out at a diminutive 12” high. Thinking I had discovered a new species, I looked closer and realized this must be an exceptionally dwarfed form of Winged Sumac (Rhus copallina.) Most impressive is that it is likely a single female clone vigorously spreading via rhizomes over such an expansive area. I could not find any males or additional disconnected patches of this miniature, and the few nearby R. copallina were the typical tall forms. I collected some out of personal interest, though I am sure this will never be the next great landscape plant. Perhaps it can be the next low-maintenance alternative lawn substitute.

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Bethany Jordan and Adam Black continue to share on Facebook with regular updates on what is happening and when you can visit the garden and pictures from each of them and from a few guests that share. Visit us at “peckerwoodgarden” Our recently created Instagram account “@peckerwoodgarden” continues to develop with Adam Black and Craig Jackson sharing their images and insights. Twitter also continues to develop at “@PeckerwoodG” join us for quick views of what is happening that day in the garden.


  Volunteers Appreciation Lunch A Success

By Adam Black 

img_5388 img_5406Earlier this month we held our volunteer appreciation lunch featuring delectable food prepared by Brenda Wilson, Ruth McDonald, Craig Jackson, and Zachariah Lambright.
Following the meal and camaraderie, we held a rare plant giveaway featuring unique treasures from Adam’s stash, donations from Yucca Do Nursery and a few other volunteer donations. img_5402Every volunteer got to choose two plants when his/her ticket was called, and Ruth provided additional bare-root aloe plants for everyone to take home.

We can never thank our volunteers enough for all they have been accomplishing, from helping with events, administrative duties and lots of weeding and gardening around the offices. Nothing would happen without their regular presence.

  Plant of the month: Mexican Snowberry Tree (Chiococca sp.)

By Adam Black 

img_7772 One plant I was surprised to see when I started here was a rather large tree with broad evergreen leaves and remarkable fruit clusters that were snowy white. Upon checking the tag, I was surprised to see it was labeled Chiococca alba, which I figured must be wrong. img_7782The C. alba I was very familiar with was a native of my home state of Florida, though that plant, which goes by the common name “snowberry,” can also be found throughout the Caribbean, south Texas and into Mexico. Throughout its range, it is found in quite warm lowland conditions, often on the coast, where it forms a small-leaved, low spreading shrub lacking structural integrity and often growing among other shrubs for support. Yet, here at Peckerwood, we have a freestanding tree bearing this name with a thick vertical trunk and huge round leaves. It has obviously been here through many zone 8b winters prior to my arrival, indicative of its cold-hardy genetics that lacks in the shrubby version of snowberry.

img_7783A little research revealed that Peckerwood’s plant, collected by John Fairey and Carl Schoenfeld in Mexico, was surely another species of Chiococca but definitely not C. alba. There are two options from northeastern Mexico that more closely resemble our tree, and we will need to make some more observations next time flowers are available. A member of the Madder family (Rubiaceae), this species is related to more familiar garden plants like gardenias, pentas and coffee trees. The large, glossy green leaves attain the size of an average human hand, and clusters of small, pale-yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers are held at the tips of each branch. These flowers turn into clusters of blueberry-sized drupes that are stark white. These fruits ripen in late fall and are retained on the tree at least into mid-winter. The attractive tree is densely branched and casts deep shade. The true C. alba serves as a larval host plant for a few species of butterflies and moths, and this species also may serve similar insects.

Visitors from Near and Far

By Adam Black

Wow, it’s been a busy month with visitors. First, I gave botanist Yalma Vargas from Universidad de Guadalajara a tour of Peckerwood. She stopped by before her lecture at Stephen F. Austin State University on her research of Mexican sugar maples to see our garden’s collections of Acer skutchii and Acer grandidentatum. I was amazed she recognized the provenance of our big-tooth maple from the San Carlos Mountains from quite some distance without reading the tags. She was happy to get foliage samples of this wild collection to bulk up her DNA studies. We also discussed the many other noteworthy, threatened flora she and her collaborators had been discovering in the mountains of Jalisco, including a new maple species she soon will be describing, and the unsuccessful attempts to convince the government to preserve these diverse habitats. She was thrilled to learn that we would be interested in backing up germaplasm from these sites before these environments disappear. I showed her plants I already had indirectly received from her collaborator, Antonio Vasquez via the lab I formerly managed at the University of Florida. These were two species of unusual poplars endemic to that area – Populus guzmanantlensis and P. simaroa which will now be housed at Peckerwood. We eagerly look forward to working with Yalma, Antonio, and others to preserve the unique flora in the mountains of Jalisco.

David Parks of Camellia Forest Nursery collecting cuttings off Mahonia chochoca.

A day later, we were visited by David Parks from Camellia Forest Nursery in Chapel Hill, N.C. His Open Day presentation, “Exciting Camellias You Can’t Have,” teased us with the many enticing hybrids being developed in China but currently can’t be legally imported into the U.S. David also provided examples of other desirable plants offered in China that we would all die to have. Following the talk, David and I raided the garden for cuttings with Darrin Duling and Jacob Martin, director and horticulturist respectively at Mercer Botanic Garden. It was good to have David give more information on our past purchases from his nursery to improve our records while stumping him with plants originating from him years ago that he had forgotten.
The following week, assistant director of Chicago Botanic Garden Andrew Bunting visited while in the area collecting plants. His talk, “Magnolias for the Garden,” was tailored to species and hybrids worth trialing in our area. Andrew was a tremendous resource for advising on the challenges we face as a growing public garden. We sent him back with a variety of plants from our nursery, which were loaded into his van already packed with garbage bags of gingers obtained from Mercer and ferns purchased from Darla Harris at Fern Plantation Nursery near Magnolia, Texas.
Scott Reeves and Jessica Lowery from Creekside Nursery spent time touring the garden and collecting propagation material to trial for potential future product lines. Peckerwood serves as a great source of new material for nurseries to promote for diversifying our landscapes, and it is nice to know we have these local plant geeks interested in expanding the palate of offerings. Scott and Jessica generously donated an eclectic mix of plants to incorporate into our developing rock garden plantings around our office.




Monthly training classes continue with Flowering Shrubs. The next session is November 19. Though geared toward training our docents, all active volunteers are invited to participate for free to learn more about refined topics pertaining to the garden. Members may join us for $15. Pre-registration required.

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From welcoming visitors to leading tours, working in the garden or in our office, there are many ways to lend your talents! Let us know how you would like to get involved. Sign up to assist at an event or to join a bi-weekly gardening session here.
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October 2016 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden
South to the Rio Grande
Social Media
Volunteer appreciation
Plant of the month
Noteworthy Visitors


Adam’s notes from the garden

November is upon us, and I’m finally finishing our October newsletter. The past weeks have been busy, but that is the case every month as we push forward with offering increasing opportunities for visitors while keeping the existing and developing gardens looking great.

Fall flowering grasses in the perennial border

Fall is setting in at Peckerwood, but in typical warm-temperate climate fashion, we don’t see the red, orange and yellow leaves that come to mind when one thinks of autumn – at least not yet. Our colorful display of changing leaves on the maples, hickories and other deciduous trees will happen, but months later. Until then, we enjoy our own unconventional late-season interest in the garden.

Muhlenbergia capillaris producing a puff of pink above fall aster Symphyotrichum oblongifolium

One signal of the coming winter is the flowering grasses. In the north perennial border, we have a nice display of Muhlenbergia x ‘Pink Flamingos’ that has transitioned from clouds of pink flowers to  straw colored seed heads, attractive regardless of the color. More on this popular grass, which originated as a chance hybrid at Peckerwood, in our “Plant of the Month” section. At the entrance to the woodland garden, Muhlenbergia capillaris also presents stunning pink flowers, a trait it contributed to ‘Pink Flamingos’ as one of the hybrid’s parents. Several other grasses add interest including the hanging tassels of Miscanthus sinensis that brush against visitors as they are lured into the western segment of the north perennial border for a closer inspection of the curious hot pepper-shaped fruits on our Diospyros rhombifolia.

Another sign of fall are the flowering Japanese Anemones

Of course descriptions of fall at Peckerwood must include the ripening of acorns on our vast collection of oaks. We have been collecting many of the rarer species and sharing them with other gardens and collectors around the world, who in return are sharing new species for us to try here. We had intended to make remaining acorns available for online retail sales, but with such a busy month, we regrettably realized that we would not be able to keep up with the anticipated demand. With acorns having a short shelf life after harvesting, we cannot store them for future distribution. It has been difficult enough to reimburse the many collaborators who have already generously shared rare and unusual species with us. In one sense we let a number of prospective customers down after promoting the acorn sale, but we also can look at it from the perspective that Peckerwood is rapidly moving forward with more tours, events and guest lectures, and we are fortunately being kept on our toes with such a great public response. There is so much we want to offer visitors and supporters as soon as possible, but then reality sets in and we need to prioritize what our small staff and valued volunteers can adequately handle.

Quercus skinneri germinating from wild collected seed from El Salvador

Some exciting acorns have been received from some unexpected places, and many more are on the way. We received the giant seeds of Quercus skinneri from my longtime friend in El Salvador. Surprisingly some of the higher elevation tropical oaks have a fair amount of latent cold hardiness, so more of these deserve to be trialed in our zone 8b climate. The Q. skinneri seeds have already germinated and are approaching a foot tall. Additional Central American oak acorns from the highlands of Guatemala and Panama are on the way as are those from other foreign collaborators. We look forward to acorns from Taiwan, where acorns generally mature later than many places, to provide many exciting species.  I think many of the species I collected from the dry sandhill scrub of my old stomping grounds of north Florida may do very well on our well-drained sunny berms. Noteworthy among these is the “running oak”, Q. pumila, which, surprising to some, is not a tree but a low growing groundcover oak, forming extensive multi-stemmed patches two feet tall. There are other dwarf and shrubby species I collected that have potential for smaller landscapes.

The giant seeds of the Vietnamese buckeye Aesculus wangii

We also received seeds of the Vietnamese buckeye, Aesculus wangii, a giant in all regards. One huge seed has germinated, and within a few years we hope to see the nearly yard-wide leaves. The gigantic seeds are three times the size of our native A. pavia seeds which are normally the size of ping pong balls. The few who have grown A. wangii all note the inconvenient habit of this plant breaking dormancy in late fall, growing in winter and having soft new growth frozen back. I’m interested to see if grafting it on the rootstock of another species such as A. pavia that behaves on the preferred schedule would reprogram the A. wangii crown to hold off growing until spring. If we can find out how to make it behave on our terms, this will be a standout plant in Peckerwood’s collection. Dr. David Creech at Stephen F. Austin University was the lucky recipient of another A. wangii before us, which is now over five feet tall, so we will compare notes on our experiences with this impressive species in Texas.

The berry-like cones of Taxus chinensis

Coning conifers are adding subtle interest to the fall garden, though many of these aren’t what most would recognize as cones. The scarlet color of the soft berry-like cones of Taxus chinensis makes them really stand out against the dark green foliage. Several of the “plum yews” in the genus Cephalotaxus have produced round cones that consist of a large seed inside a fleshy covering that turns purple when mature, resembling miniature plums. Torreya grandis also produced similar plum-like cones which have already been harvested. It will be interesting to see if seedlings are hybridized with the nearby male Torreya taxifolia.

The strange, edible fruit of Akebia quinata

It looks like we will have another good crop of seeds from Keteleeria davidiana and K. pubescens judging from the many developing cylindrical scaly cones. Podocarpus cones are unusual in that a blue-green seed is held at the end of a plump, colorful berry-like structure called an aril. Many do not realize that after the non-edible seed is removed, the aril is edible when it turns from red to purple and is quite tasty, somewhat like a sweet cherry with a slight hint of pine resin – better than it sounds! You surely will get some stares from passersrby when foraging off the next Podocarpus macrophyllus hedge you spot in Houston.

Peltophorum sp. flowering for the first time, thanks to the recent mild winters.

Some early flowering camellia cultivars are blooming in the woodland garden. A striking groundcover of fall aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) is blooming profusely in the perennial border. An interesting tropical tree flowering this month is a Peltophorum sp. In colder winters, this tree in the pea family freezes back and never attains flowering size. The past few mild winters have produced dieback only in the outer tips, allowing it to quickly rebound and grow significantly. At approximately 40 feet, every branch was tipped with bright yellow clusters of flowers, readily seen from some distance away.

South to the Rio Grande Valley by Adam Black

Salt crystals on a log in La Sal del Rey

When Steven Ramirez invited me to present at the fall symposium of the Rare Fruit Growers of the Rio Grande Valley, I jumped at the opportunity. I’d never ventured into the southern tip of the state, but I’d always been fascinated by the flora of the region, especially since some have proven quite cold hardy at Peckerwood. Steven, a long-time docent and volunteer at Peckerwood, lives in “the valley” when not attending school in Houston and had been telling me of all the great growers and enthusiasts in the area I need to meet.

On my drive south, I began to see the vegetation change to a fairly monotonous and rather floristically boring landscape as I progressed toward Corpus Christi. Then as I drove across a river, I noticed some trunked palms of the genus Sabal. I wondered if these were an outlier population of the mysterious “Brazoria palms, which were originally thought to be a natural hybrid between Sabal minor and Sabal mexicana often referred to as Sabal x texensis or Sabal x brazoriensis. Recent molecular studies show justification that it is a good, stable species and was given the official name Sabal brazoria. Later research showed that the trees I was seeing were instead the northernmost individuals of Sabal mexicana – my first wild observation of this species which I didn’t know ranged this far north.

Palafoxia hookeriana in the sandhills of the King Ranch area

As I got into the “King Ranch” area south of Kingsville, the vegetation became more interesting with the abrupt transition into a sandy scrub dominated by live oaks. Steven had texted coordinates to look for the beautiful Palafoxia hookeriana, but I had already noticed the bold pink daisy-like flowers on four foot high stalks readily visible from the road along with the silver paddle-shaped leaves of Croton coryi glistening in the evening light.

Manihot walkerae, an extremely rare native of south Texas, in Ken King’s collection

The next morning was the first day of the symposium held at the Valley Nature Center in Weslaco. It was great to meet all the growers of unusual fruit and experts in many other related fields from beekeeping to building economical “green” houses using natural materials. I was amazed to learn how warm it really is there in an average winter, similar to the growing region of south Florida where I grew up. That evening Steven took me to Tad Dyer’s nursery. He is one of the main growers of palms and other tropical specimens for the region’s landscapes. Most interesting to me at his nursery was a couple of out-of-place but otherwise happy cultivated burr oaks (Quercus macrocarpa) with their giant acorns among masses of tropical palms and cycads with seedlings volunteering among a patch of croton (Codiaeum) cultivars. After leaving Tad’s nursery, I spotted a remarkable weeping cottonwood, Populus deltoides, growing in front of a boarded-up house. The long branches hung over the sidewalk, and since nobody occupied the run-down property, I figured I was doing a service by trimming back the branches hanging in the way of pedestrians.

The tropical blue waterlily, Nymphaea elegans

The next stop was the home of Ken King, one of the valley’s main experts of the region’s flora, and co-author with Alfred Richardson of the excellent book “Plants of Deep South Texas”.  There is no missing Ken’s heavily planted property in the otherwise non-descript neighborhood. In front is a beautiful specimen of Esenbeckia berlandieri, a rare native in the citrus family that was a treat to see. Entering his backyard it became apparent that Ken’s botanical interests are, like mine, all over the place. Among rare natives are South American bromeliads, South African euphorbias, orchids, a collection of Boswellia species from which the treasured myrrh resin is obtained for incense, tubs of various water lilies and other obscurities. Ken generously shared a number of rare natives complete with locality data for Peckerwood’s collection.

Steven exploring the botanical riches along the brackish creek

If you are a true plant nerd, botanizing doesn’t end at dusk. After some great Mexican food Steven took me to an abandoned trailer park-turned locally maintained park that still contained a number of old avocado trees and other things planted long ago. With flashlights and headlamps, we checked each tree we came across for fruits. Steven found one tree that had a distinctive avocado with perfectly smooth glossy dark purple skin that was unlike any I had seen before. Here was my first experience with naturally occurring “Anacua” (Ehretia anacua), with their dense veil of tiny white flowers appearing as ghostly apparitions in the darkness. Though it grew happily for me in Florida, I had never seen profuse flowers until now, and it was clear it was quite an abundant weedy tree in the area. As we were heading back to the car, a surprisingly giant Ficus trigona adorned with aerial roots materialized from the blackness.

An immense jujube tree Steven found growing in the Brownsville area.

Before the night was over, Steven showed me other noteworthy trees he had found between Weslaco and McAllen. We saw a massive Montezuma cypress, Taxodium mucronatum, growing in town. The stout, gnarled trunk supported a low crown of broadly spreading branches that gave it tremendous character.  In front of a Mexican dessert shop – where I enjoyed an addictive cup of chilled jicama slices seasoned with cayenne pepper – there stood a massive old pine that Steven hoped I could identify. I was stumped, and there were no cones to help with identification. Monterey oaks (Quercus polymorpha) used as street trees show how wide-ranging this plant, long promoted by Peckerwood and other nurseries, has gotten around to all corners of the state.

A bluff of cacti and other fascinating xeric plants adjacent to a mangrove creek on the right

Sunday tours of several growers in the region began at Thad Magyar’s densely planted jungle of towering palms and a wide variety of mature ornamental and fruiting trees he and his wife had collected over the years. His wonderful tropical oasis made me feel like I was back in Miami and was complete with pet parrots and a cantina where we were treated to the refreshing juice of Costa Rican sour guava. Next was the home of Gus Gonzales and his extensive groves of mangoes, avocados and citrus, clearly showing what can be done here. The tours concluded with a visit to an exceptionally diverse collection of rare and unusual tropical fruit trees.

That afternoon, Steven and I went to the Sabal Palm Sanctuary to explore the natural stand of Sabal mexicana and accompanying native flora along the Rio Grande. While I didn’t see a speckled racer, a most beautiful snake that barely enters the U.S. in this area, I did spot many new-to-me species of native plants. Exotic birds such as chacalacas and green jays further made me feel like I wasn’t in Texas anymore.

Ferocactus hamatocactus, Mammilaria heyderi and Echinocereus sp growing overlooking a mangrove creek

Steven took me to see more noteworthy trees and plantings in the Brownsville area that he had found, including the largest and most beautiful jujube tree I have ever seen. Working our way toward the mainland shores of the Laguna Madre behind South Padre Island, we ended up at a coastal tract remaining relatively undisturbed despite being sandwiched between condominiums. I was instantly immersed in contrasting mix of xeric plants growing side-by-side with salt marsh plants. In some areas I could reach out with one hand and touch a mangrove growing along a brackish creek while impaling my other hand on a diverse array of cacti growing on the dry adjacent bluff. These included barrel cactus (Ferocactus hamatacanthus); an Echinocereus pentalophus with ropey creeping stems that looked like someone’s trimmed dredlocks tossed on the slope; and ground-hugging, disc-shaped Mammilaria heyderi which I was more familiar with from far west Texas.

Among the cacti were the succulent rubbery stems of Jatropha dioica, fat exposed caudeces of the succulent cucumber relative Ibervillea lindheimeri, the appropriately named allthorn (Koeberlinia spinosa) and silvery clumps of cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens).

A beautiful weeping Forestiera angustifolia at Laguna Madre National Wildlife Refuge

The fun continued the next day with a trip to Mike Heep‘s wonderful native plant nursery. Like Ken King, Mike is a highly respected authority on the native flora of the region. Our friends at Caldwell Nursery in Rosenberg make special trips to Mike’s in order to offer his unusual selections to collectors in the Houston area. I filled my truck with all sorts of things, some long on my wish list and others completely new to me. All are especially valuable to Peckerwood’s collections as Mike retains collection information with his plants.

Later I made a solo trip to South Padre Island to explore the dune vegetation. After crossing the causeway I traveled north until the road ended in a desolate area with nobody around.

Not knowing what to expect, I was surprised that there was a complete absence of woody plants in the natural areas of the island. In contrast, the barrier islands of the east coast of the southern states all have quite an assemblage of wind-sculpted trees and shrubs, but here there was not one to be found. The dunes were instead covered with an attractive mosaic of grasses and low-growing annuals and perennials. The closer I got to the water, the more my eyes began to sting and an uncontrollable cough developed.

I wasn’t sure what was going, but then I spotted many dead fish at the water’s edge – thousands of menhaden along with scattered black drum, redfish, seatrout and others. I concluded my respiratory discomfort was due to the red tide that also had killed the fish.

Purple foliage on Agalinis sp., South Padre Island

Retreating from the irritating emissions from the algae bloom, I hiked behind the first set of tall dunes, and breathing became more comfortable. Any remaining discomfort was soon forgotten as all sorts of plants new to me begged for closer inspection. Several metallic silver or gold croton species dominated the loose sands on the dunes and stood out sharply. Joining them were Conoclinium betonicifolium, Baptisia leucophaea, Solidago sempervirens, Liatris, Agalinis and other wildflowers.

Golden foliage of wax myrtle with sky blue flowers of Conoclinium betonicifolium on North Padre Island

After becoming familiar with most of the representative plants on South Padre Island, I decided to find another floristically interesting spot with fresher air.

Looking at Google maps, I zoomed into a green patch that usually indicates a natural area. It was the Laguna Madre National Wildlife Refuge. After negotiating a road that was more potholes than pavement for miles, the vegetation suddenly became interesting, as was an “ocelot crossing” sign and then the entrance to the park. Dry thornscrub was the dominant feature here, composed of mesquite, Texas ebony (Chloroleucon ebano), Parkinsonia, Condalia, Leucophyllum and others. The most interesting find was a young vine of Cissus incisa that had solid silver leaves.

The seed pods of screwbean mesquite (Prosopis reptans) growing on the shores of the Laguna Madre

The next morning, it was time to begin moving north. Steven had told me about some salt lakes nearby that sounded like they deserved to be explored. Finding an access, I was soon hiking among the open dry woodlands characteristic of the “Tamaulipan Thornscrub” ecological zone. Before getting far down the trail to the lake, a loud cry from the top of a large mesquite grabbed my attention. Homing in on two animals, I saw spots.

Vegetation of the Tamaulipan Thornscrub, La Sal del Rey National Wildlife Refuge

Thinking excitedly that I found an ocelot, I soon realized the lack of a long tail meant I was instead staring into the eyes of a bobcat that then became spooked by my presence. After it shot down the tree and disappeared in the tall grass, I focused on its intended quarry, still quivering at the tip of the branch. It was an orange domestic cat, way out in the middle of nowhere, which almost became a late breakfast for the wild relative. Clearly not tame, it also quickly descended the tree and shot off in the same direction the bobcat had retreated.

It was here that I got to see my first wild occurrence of Cordia boissieri, the Texas wild olive that is so commonly planted in the region and sparingly the further north in the state one travels. After enjoying the starkness of the sterile, snowy white salt flats surrounding the lake of brine, I headed back to make some progress north. Around the same place I had observed the cat scuffle, a Texas indigo snake shot across the trail and off into the bramble patch before I could get a closer look.

Two silvery white species of Croton decorate the dunes on North Padre Island

My final stop was North Padre Island just offshore of Corpus Christi. Here the flora was similar to that of South Padre Island, but this time with a few woody plants consisting of scattered stunted live oaks and wax myrtles. New perennials not seen on South Padre were flowering mounds of Phlox glabrifolia ssp. littoralis, the fuzzy silver mats of Stemodia lanata and several additional species of Croton. Liatris elegans was abundant in a mix of colors ranging from dark purple to pink to solid white, with their arching inflorescences glowing as the descending sun put an end to this fulfilling introduction to the southern Texas flora and the horticultural and botanical experts of the region.

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Follow Peckerwood on Instagram or Facebook!

Bethany Jordan and Adam Black continue to share on Facebook with regular updates on what is happening and when you can visit the garden and pictures from each of them and from a few guests that share. Visit us at “peckerwoodgarden” Our recently created Instagram account “@peckerwoodgarden” continues to develop with Adam Black and Craig Jackson sharing their images and insights. Twitter also continues to develop at “@PeckerwoodG” join us for quick views of what is happening that day in the garden.


  Volunteers Making a Difference

By Adam Black and Bethany Jordan

A colorful harvest of Quercus rysophylla acorns picked by Craig Jackson small

As things become busier in the garden, volunteers continue to step up and make miracles happen. Though we were unable to come through with retail acorn sales as hoped, we still wanted to satisfy some bulk orders from a few key species that we have in quantity. With time of the essence to collect the acorns before they drop, img_4970-smallPam Romig sprang into action and enlisted some of the Waller County Master Gardeners to strip our trees of their seeds. Thanks to Glovena Hambly, Harvey Newman, Craig Jackson, Brenda Wilson and Pam for collecting a ton of acorns in such a short period of time.

We had a return visit from the National Society of Black Engineers chapter out of Texas A&M Prairie View campus who volunteered a half a day clearing brush from around the garden house. img_4965An extraordinary amount of area was cleared, and we look forward to continuing our relationship with this hard-working group. That same day we had a tour scheduled, and Burton Knight once again made the three-hour drive to help our other regular volunteers with the day’s many activities. Suzzanne Chapman, Pam Romig, Craig Jackson, and Harvey Newman spent the day working with these teams and with the tour group.

Harvey Newman picking acorns from Quercus polymorpha

After all the clearing our regular volunteers have done around the offices, I look forward to planting some interesting specimens soon. Thanks as always to Craig, Brenda, Harvey, Pam, and for their help on Tuesdays and Fridays.

We will honor all our volunteers at an appreciation lunch at 11:30 a.m. November 15th in the garden house. We have made great strides over the past year and look forward to more advancements in the next, but without our valued volunteers, none of this would ever be possible.

Behind the scenes in the office and on the computer, Ruth, Craig, and Nancy Royal continue to be not only huge assets but a major force in moving things forward. Nancy is once again transcribing interviews with John Fairey about the history of Peckerwood Garden and his Collection trips. Ruth McDonald has been a key part of the developing volunteer program and her help and research has made both the upcoming and ongoing changes possible. img_4962-smallShe has also taken on coordination for our Volunteer Appreciation lunch and is working with Bethany and Adam to ensure the success of the event. Craig continues his remarkable work with the plant database and mapping software.

If you have joined us for one of the recent lectures, you have enjoyed the excellent refreshments and careful preparations of Ruth, Craig, and Brenda. Their care and excellent refreshments have ensured the evening was a success each time.

  Plant of the month: Pink Flamingo Grass (Muhlenbergia x ‘Pink Flamingos’)

Pink Flamingo Grass in the south perennial border
Pink Flamingo Grass in the south perennial border

If you have been following us on Instagram or Facebook, you will have noticed quite a few photographs recently of the billowy clouds of pink that lend such a soft yet strikingly bold presence in the perennial border. Prior to the introduction of Muhlenbergia x ‘Pink Flamingos’, the closest gardeners in the southern U.S. could get to such an effect was by using Muhlenbergia capillaris, a striking grass in itself which also has pink flowers but the inflorescences are not as tall or as puffy. It wasn’t until this species happened to cross with Muhlenbergia lindheimeri that ‘Pink Flamingos’ was born – and it all happened right here at Peckerwood Garden!

The hybrid Pink Flamingo grass (right) with one of its parents Muhlenbergia cappilaris (left)

Since then, Pink Flamingo Grass has become a staple among nurseries from the mid-Atlantic states through the southern U.S. Sometimes the cultivar is mistakenly listed as ‘Pink Flamingo’ (singular) in nursery catalogs but the plural form is correct. Fall flowering, it is still very attractive the rest of the year with its dense clump of narrow blue-green arching foliage.  When the pink flowers fade, the straw-colored seed spikes remain attractive through late fall.  Like both parents, this hybrid requires full sun and well-drained conditions. Older clumps losing their tidiness benefit from cutting back to the base during late winter before new leaves emerge. With time, a dead bare patch may appear in the center of the clump as the outer, younger leading edge expands outward. This is best remedied by dividing the clump into thirds or quarters, leaving one section in place and planting the others elsewhere, as you can never have too much of this distinctive ornamental grass.

 Recent and Upcoming Noteworthy Visitors

We have had a parade of important visitors over the past month, and more are on the way. We had a great day with Bob Lovett and Jim Carcano of Lovett Pinetum. So what’s a “pinetum”? It’s an arboretum focused on not just pines but all conifers. To take advantage of different climates, Bob’s pinetum is actually spread out in three states, with units in California, Missouri and one near Lufkin, Texas. Jim is in charge of the Lufkin (Angelina) unit, a wonderland of conifers that I was very impressed with during my spring visit. Though not generally open to the public, they are open by appointment, and not to be missed if you are a true conehead!

Kelly Dodson and Sue Milliken (foreground) from Far Reaches Farm with Patrick Kirwin and Scott Ogden small

Kelly Dodson and Sue Milliken of Far Reaches Farm were in the area after generously delivering specimen-sized plants to our friends at Mercer Botanic Gardens to be used for restoration efforts following their devastating flood. I had a memorable time when I visited their Port Townsend, Washington nursery, one of my all-time favorite rare plant sources. Kelly and Sue are such kind-hearted souls, so the pressure was on for me to reciprocate at Peckerwood. They brought with them a number of unusual plants for Peckerwood’s collections, including several new distinctive Asian species of Mahonia to add to our ever-increasing collection of this genus, plus one of the few fantastic Mexican species we didn’t have – Mahonia russellii. After an ambitious day collecting several garbage bags full of cuttings, they gave an enthralling presentation on their collecting adventures in China portraying so many lust-worthy plants and beautifully rugged scenery. Kelly and Sue are so famous that a number of well-respected figures in the horticultural world drove 2-3 hours just for the evening lecture and social. It was great to finally meet renowned garden designer and author Scott Ogden along with fellow landscape designer extraordinaire Patrick Kirwin (Kirwin Horticultural Services) who both came all the way from Austin for the night of botanical geekery. From the opposite direction, Rick and Veronica Lewandowski made the nearly three-hour drive from Orange, where Rick directs Shangri-La Gardens. Scott Reeves from Creekside Nursery and his wife, Ginny, added more plant enthusiasm to the room, and we thank them for their kind donation of some much needed wine glasses for future events. Many other local enthusiasts came out for what amounted to our most well-attended and enjoyable evening lecture so far.

We look forward to a similar attendance during our November 12th open day when we will have special guest David Parks from Camellia Forest Nursery giving a presentation at 11 a.m. on hybridization efforts of the rare and beautiful Camellia azalea in China. Rare in the U.S., this species is among the most beautiful and I’m curious to hear how hybridization may be making some exciting selections for the future. For our November 18th Evening at Peckerwood Lecture, we are proud to have Andrew Bunting, assistant director of Chicago Botanic Garden, to present “Magnolias for the Garden”.  Andrew is an expert on woody plants and especially magnolias, and recently published “The Plant Lover’s Guide to Magnolias”.  We have additional luminaries of the horticultural world planning to visit, and I’m twisting their arms into sharing their knowledge with our local supporters through lectures, so please keep your eye on our events calendar.


Monthly training classes continue with Flowering Shrubs. The next session is November 19. Though geared toward training our docents, all active volunteers are invited to participate for free to learn more about refined topics pertaining to the garden. Members may join us for $15. Pre-registration required.

Sign up Now


From welcoming visitors, to leading tours, to working in the garden or in our office, there are many ways to lend your talents! Let us know how you would like to get involved. Sign up to assist at an event or to join a bi-weekly gardening session here.
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September 2016 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden
Special Guest Lectures
Acorn Sale
Social Media
Volunteer appreciation
Plant of the month
Expedition to West Texas

Adam’s notes from the garden

Rhodophiala bifida

Though it is still quite hot out, the ripening acorns and sudden appearance of flowering oxblood lilies are signaling that fall is just around the corner. After a tumultuous year of weather extremes, mild conditions can’t come soon enough.

Mimosa dysocarpa

Signs that folks are planning to emerge from the air conditioning and resume interest in gardening are evident based on the rapid increase in garden club tour reservations. It’s shaping up to be a busy fall at Peckerwood with many visiting collaborators, increasing events, acorn sales, and more.

Schoenocaulon sp

New discoveries abound in the garden, and as is often the case, on a small scale among more permanent structural features.  As a tight patch of coppery yellow Habranthus tubispathus flowers were waning following the regular August rains, out from the gravel erupted tight clumps of purple flowers, soon followed by tripart leaves composed of three thin arch-shaped leaflets joined together at the apex. This summer-dormant Oxalis livida is one of the more distinctive members of this diverse genus. North of the creek, the evergreen clumps of an unknown Mexican species of Schoenocaulon have always lent a unique character in the dry gravel beds. This obscure bulb has grassy foliage cinched together tightly at the base by persistent dark brown sheaths. The long leaves on this plant are always folded down under their weight. If this was a grass it would be unsightly, but this plant can’t help it, so it is acceptable to find the beauty in its floppiness. Only recently inflorescences appeared, erect stalks with dense tapering heads of tiny intricate white flowers – much more refined than the charmingly disheveled vegetative parts it towers above.

Seeds ready for harvest from Cycas panzihuaensis
Lobelia siphilitica

Lobelia siphilitica is showing its beautiful true blue colors that never seem to capture properly in photos, appearing more on the purple side. This species, which gets its species name from its use among Native Americans to treat syphilis, is found more often in northern states, from the front range of the Colorado Rockies north to North Dakota and in every eastern state except Florida, though most abundant north of the Mason-Dixon line. Only a few records exist from extreme north Texas. Ours were shared by Yucca Do Nursery in Giddings, TX, where nursery manager Wade Roitsch is unsure where his stock plant came from, perhaps a surprise volunteer in the pot of something else. Though naturally found in moist areas, Wade has proven this selection to be quite adaptable to drier conditions as well. This is another good example of trialing plants from unexpected areas for adaptability. If you are interested in it, you should order soon while Yucca Do’s supplies last, and before they ultimately close.

North Perennial Border

I received some giant acorns of Quercus skinneri from a collaborator who collected them in the mountains of El Salvador, and days after receiving them they have already started germinating. We have exchanged material for years and surprisingly, many of the high elevation plants in this tropical country have proven quite frost hardy. There are many plants at the tops of the mountains that are southernmost range extensions for plants otherwise found in Mexico, as well as things found nowhere else. I am hoping to make a collecting expedition to this exciting area soon.

Oxalis livida

Finally, I had recently reported on some losses in the garden stemming back to the floods earlier this year, surely exacerbated by the two hot, rainless months that immediately followed. Stress-induced diseases can often take quite some time to produce visual signs of distress, and I was expecting more trees and shrubs to meet the fate of one of our larger, prominently located Quercus rysophylla, along with our original specimen of Casimiroa pringlei, and several other oaks and conifers. I’m happy to report that we haven’t seen any further mortality. Our two Quercus crassipes, a personal favorite, both appeared to have died, but on one recent evening stroll across the arboretum, a rosy glow caught my eye. I was happy to see one individual was covered in tender fuzzy white-backed pink foliage adorning the tips of every one of its previously bare limbs.

Two Special Guest Lectures in November not to be missed!

In November, we are honored to have two notable figures in horticulture presenting talks on their areas of expertise: David Parks, owner of Camellia Forest Nursery, will speak during our Saturday November 12th Open Day, and Andrew Bunting, assistant director of Chicago botanical gardens will be our guest lecturer for our Friday, November 18th “Evening at Peckerwood Lecture Series”. Please see below for the details for each talk.

Camellia azalea the beauty of which cannot accurately be captured in photos is the subject of David Parks November 12th lecture coinciding with our open day

David Parks, owner of Camellia Forest Nursery “Camellia azalea hybridization in China”

November 12, 11:00 am (concurrent with our Open Day)

Free with Open Day admission

If you collect rare and unusual woody plants, Camellia Forest Nursery needs no introduction. This Chapel Hill, NC nursery is the premier source of Camellia species and hybrids combined with a vast array of hard-to-find woody plants. Many collector trees and shrubs have been introduced through their own introductions, both from their international plant explorations and in-house nursery selections. Many Camellia Forest acquisitions figure prominently in Peckerwood’s landscapes. Owner David Parks will be visiting Peckerwood coinciding with our November 12th Open Day and we are excited to announce his willingness to present a lecture that day at 11:00 am, at no additional cost beyond our regular open day admission.

David will be presenting on “Camellia azalea hybridization in China”. If you aren’t familiar with Camellia azalea, the confusing name may lead you to believe that two different plants are being referenced, or taking the talk’s title into context, that two unrelated plants, azaleas (which are Rhododendrons) and Camellias are being somehow hybridized. Actually, Camellia azalea is a naturally-occurring species, and arguably one of the most stunningly beautiful. More often used in Southeast Asian landscapes, Camellia azalea is still quite unknown in the US, and when available, usually fetches a high price due to the demand among collectors. The intensely glowing red flowers are quite large and contrast sharply with the blackish green foliage, putting this species in a class of its own. From a distance, a specimen in flower does indeed look more like some type of Rhododendron you would expect to see thriving only in Oregon or Washington State, yet it is naturally from a quite warm subtropical climate. Though in itself a stand-alone winner, I was excited to hear of the hybridization efforts in China utilizing the wonderful traits of this species for incorporating into new and improved cultivars. As a hopeless plant geek, I am anxious to hear and see David’s elaboration on this topic. This talk should be of great interest to any true plant enthusiast, not to mention a great opportunity to meet the owner of one of the world’s premier collector nurseries.

Andrew Bunting from Chicago Botanical Garden “Magnolias for the Garden”

Evening at Peckerwood Lecture, November 18th, 7:00 pm

Magnolia tamaulipana

For our November 18th “Evening at Peckerwood” lecture, we are excited to have renowned botanist and horticulturalist Andrew Bunting presenting on “Magnolias for the Garden”. Andrew is both assistant director of Chicago Botanic Garden as well as director of their plant collections. Along with appearing on Martha Stewart Living television show, He has lectured at botanical institutions worldwide and has authored many articles in various well-known horticultural magazines and journals.

Andrew is an expert in woody plants, with particular interest in Magnolias. He is author of a new book entitled “The Plant Lover’s Guide to Magnolias” published earlier this year by Timber Press. He is past president of Magnolia Society International and he visited Peckerwood in August while travelling through the southeast collecting Magnolia pyramidata seed from representative populations throughout the species range for germplasm conservation. We are very grateful that he generously offered to give a presentation coinciding with his next visit to our area.

Regular visitors to Peckerwood likely know of the various Magnolias in our collection, including the special Magnolia tamaulipana John Fairey and Carl Schoenfeld collected in Mexico a number of years ago. Many species and hybrids are winter flowering and therefore have gone unnoticed being that our past open days only occurred in spring and fall. Now that we offer tours every month, and to more areas of the garden, visitors will be able to take in these various species and hybrids displaying their full glory through winter and early spring. Andrew’s talk will be an inspiring window into the diversity of ornamental features that Magnolias can offer to the landscape, and will serve as a timely preview for what to expect on our winter tours as well as an introduction to additional distinctive selections worthy of trialing in our area.


Learn more about visiting Peckerwood Garden

Acorn Sale Coming Soon!

Quercus laeta

We are having a good crop of acorns this year, and plan to get back to mail order sales of seeds of various species, including some rare Mexican ones. In upcoming weeks we will be listing our availability and prices on our website, along with ordering information. Acorns are perishable, so we will only be offering them as they ripen and then as long as they remain viable. Some species will be in very limited supply, and others mature much later than others, so it will be best to watch for updates. It should be noted that all seeds are open-pollinated, and being that hybridization readily occurs in oaks, especially in a collection as diverse as ours, it must be understood that not all seedlings will necessarily resemble the parent plant. We make no guarantees that seedlings will resemble the true wild-type species.  We make every attempt to ensure seeds are viable, free of visual evidence of pests and pass a “float test” (only sending “sinkers”), but none of these methods can guarantee 100% viability and germination. We will gladly provide resources for germination and care.

Quercus glauca

In addition to old favorites like Monterey oak (Quercus polymorpha and Loquat-leaf oak (Quercus rysophylla), we plan to have available seeds from several trees of the Quercus sartorii complex, Quercus aff. pringlei, Q. laeta, Q. canbyi, and several that are currently unidentified. Folks have already been calling to ask for seeds of the Japanese Blue Oak, Quercus glauca, which we will have plenty of. Though still maturing, it looks like we will have a good crop of the Asian oak relative Castanopsis cuspidata.

Though acorn sales should keep us busy, we hope to be able to add some other seeds from additional exciting plants beyond oaks. Please monitor our website or ensure you are on our mailing list to be kept appraised of the latest updates.

Follow Peckerwood on Instagram or Facebook!

Muhlenbergia x ‘Pink Flamingo

Though we have developed quite a following on Facebook for some time, we have recognized that many of our supporters prefer other social media outlets. We recently have branched out and created an Instagram account “@peckerwoodgarden” and hope you will become one of our followers. Adam Black along with volunteers Craig Jackson, Grace Pierce, and perhaps others are posting several photos a day from their own perspectives.


  Volunteers Making a Difference

Peckerwood Garden’s newest volunteer, Harvey Newman, taking a break from weeding.

We are hoping milder temperatures will bring new volunteers out of the woodwork. We have lots to do, and simply cannot progress without additional volunteer gardeners. We are restructuring and streamlining our volunteer signup and scheduling methods so if you have been put off by past confusion or inefficiencies please know we are working on correcting things.  In addition to beautifying the areas around the office and nursery, we want to make progress in other areas too. Please consider joining the team on Tuesday and Friday mornings in the garden. We have made great strides outfitting our volunteer “headquarters” with the purchase of new tools and systems to make the experience more efficient.

We thank our regulars who faithfully show up on Tuesdays and Fridays and make great strides combating weeds around the office area: Brenda Wilson, Craig Jackson, Harvey Newman, Sephie Friend, and Pat Piper. Ruth McDonald has made tremendous advancements in developing a professional volunteer coordination program. Prior to every “Evening at Peckerwood” lecture, Ruth and Brenda spend time preparing all the wonderful snacks and refreshments for the guests to enjoy. Harvey faithfully shows up early prior to every event and stays well afterwards eager to help wherever needed. Nancy Royal continues to be of valuable assistance to Bethany in the office every Tuesday.

img_4186Craig is putting his background in computer geekery to great use in that he has developed our own in-house mapping system to be integrated with our plant collections database. Craig developed his own prototype for mapping our plants literally within days following our initial discussions. Most botanical gardens spend lots of money for licenses to use proprietary mapping software, so this is quite a bargain. This will be present on our website and will allow anyone to search our collections and locate the plant on a map of the gardens in seconds. We continue to discuss other features I’d like to see and he just makes it happen. He’s amazing!

Last month’s open day wouldn’t have been possible were it not for Frank and Cherie Lee and Harvey, along with Craig and Pam Romig serving as docents. Thank you all!

 Plant of the month: Chinese Bishopwood (Bischofia polycarpa)

img_5973-smallWhen I give general tours in the garden, I usually lead visitors by the group of Magnolia tamaulipana and explain their story, and then continue around west and to the north toward the creek. This route skirts a giant dense tree that I never tend to point out for some reason, despite my great appreciation for it. Inevitably someone in the group will still ask about the green giant and I’ll gladly highlight the qualities of this tree, Bischofia polycarpa, also known as Chinese bishopwood.

img_5988-smallNative through much of southern China, most sources say it gets to about 45 feet tall, though Peckerwood’s specimen is well over 60 feet. The leaves of this tree are divided into three equal sized leaflets organized in a loose triangular pattern, but each leaflet is large enough to lend a tropical appearance. Though it tends to be ungainly when young, it grows quickly into a tree with a rounded dense crown. In spring racemes of small, insignificant flowers soon develop into hanging clusters of copper colored berries resembling bunches of miniature grapes. These fruits are held under the foliage and through the summer are only visible if you walk under the tree. Non-toxic but unpalatably astringent, the fruits are fermented in Asia for use in liquors. After this deciduous tree drops its leaves in fall, the pendulous fruits persist well into winter, and combined with a mature tree’s branching architecture and rich brown, rough-textured bark, creates a wonderful structural accent in the winter garden. Despite marauding cedar waxwings, Peckerwood’s huge tree holds so much fruit that it keeps the birds supplied with food well into early February.  Smaller trees may be stripped much sooner.

img_5986-smallGrowing up in south Florida, I remember beautiful dense trees on the grounds of my elementary school that were the only natural providers of deep shade during recess, with massive, low branching trunks good for tree-climbing. These were a tropical relative to B. polycarpa, simply called “Bishopwood” (Bischofia javanica). Planted regularly around Miami in the 1970’s – 80’s, it was soon found that they adapted to the warm climate a little too well and became quite a noxious weed.

img_5981-smallThe assumption can be made that the cold hardy Chinese Bishopwood might also become weedy, but fortunately the abundant fruits on this tree are infertile. There seems to be only one clone – a female – in cultivation of this particular species. Hopefully nobody will unnecessarily introduce a male tree to cultivation and ruin our ability to grow this beautiful tree with year around interest. Though it can grow to an imposing size, it can be cut to the ground if it gets too large, after which it will resprout and can be maintained as a multi-trunked small tree. Though it can’t be grown from seed, midsummer cuttings fortunately root fairly easily under intermittent mist. Whenever we get our water quality situation resolved, we hope to regularly offer this versatile species in our nursery. Until then, it is seldom available from collector nurseries.

 An Expedition to West Texas

Malaxis wendtii is a very rare orchid found in the US only in the Chisos Mountains

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to travel to west Texas with fellow oak nuts David Richardson, Vincent Debrock, and Adam Salcedo. David should be familiar by now due to his regular mention in our newsletters, usually in conjunction to one of the many interesting oaks he has generously donated to our collections. Vincent, an arborist who serves as president of the Texas chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture, and Adam, vice president of Native Plant Research Institute, both visited Peckerwood a few months ago and sufficiently proved their plant nerdiness at that time, so I knew we were going to have an enjoyable trip. Our mission was to gather acorns and other seeds in areas where we could legally collect, and where collecting was off-limits, observe and try to make sense of the variable complex of oaks in the Chisos and Davis Mountains.

White form of Liatris sp. western portion of Edwards Plateau

After a meeting up in Austin, we made a beeline for west Texas. Following considerable rains in the region, the desert was uncharacteristically lush and green with many plants flowering profusely. We made our first stop near Fort Stockton on a ridge dominated by one of the two native pinon pines, Pinus remota. I had visited this spot six years ago and found a witch’s broom in one of the pines and was eager to check for cones. Witch’s brooms are densely branched clumps of foliage, which is often dwarfed, that spontaneously develop in a small percentage of individuals within a population of conifers and occasionally other plants. Though some brooms can be the result of disease, most are actually harmless genetic “sports” and there is a sector of conifer enthusiasts that search forests for these mutations and create new dwarf conifer selections through grafting. If lucky enough to find a broom with seed, a percentage of the seedlings will display dwarf characteristics.

The beautiful dwarf Cenizo Leucophyllum minus

The dwarf loblolly pines at Peckerwood are examples of broom seedlings. I was very pleased to find that the broom I had discovered years earlier in the Pinus remota was now bearing cones with fresh seeds, so hopefully good things will come from it.

Tecoma stans var angustata has much narrower leaves than the commonly cultivated form

Among the pines were low, shrubby oaks with silvery leaves and coppery new growth. These are Mohr’s oaks, Quercus mohriana, which is wide-ranging through west Texas. Plenty of ripe acorns were available and gathered. Purple clumps of vigorously flowering

Dalea frutescens dotted the ground between the pines and oaks, along with the sulfur yellow flowers of Eriogonum sp.

The beautiful grey foliage of Quercus grisea Davis Mountains

David pointed out the presence of both the blackfoot daisy, Melampodium leucanthum and the nearly identical Desert Zinnia, Zinnia acerosa which could easily be mistaken for one another if not looking at the finer details. A flowering Golden Leadball Tree, Leucaena retusa, rounded out the mix. As we pondered other random wildflowers, copious rain suddenly fell and we decided to move on.

Bouvardia ternifolia among many other fascinating plants Big Bend National Park

We arrived in the town of Alpine, secured hotel rooms, and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the botanical highlights of the area while enjoying the refreshingly cool temperature. From towering deodar cedars (Cedrus deodara) to Texas madrones and native oaks, I was amazed at the variety of things present in the residential neighborhood. We stopped at the former home of the late renowned Sul Ross University botanist Barton Warnock, who contributed so much to our understanding of the west Texas flora. Many of his trees are still present on the property.

Beautiful exfoliating bark colors on an old Arizona cypress growing at Sul Ross university

While hovering around the property and looking at the intriguing specimens from afar, we soon made contact with the friendly current owner who generously allowed us free reign to explore the property and collect seeds. Senna wislizenii was loaded with both yellow flowers and seed pods which everyone eagerly helped themselves to. Several different forms of the variable Quercus grisea, with its silvery blue foliage, had varying amounts of acorns available.

An unusual variant of Salvia lycioides

A beautiful narrow-leaved form of Quercus canbyi had fewer seeds, but we managed to find a few. A prize Chisos Rosewood, Vauquelinia angustifolia grew next to a large bigtooth maple, Acer grandidentatum, both bearing seeds.

Next we visited Sul Ross University, which has several gardens scattered around campus featuring rare and unusual west Texas flora.

The desert fern Cheilanthes lindheimeri Davis Mountains

Most impressive to me were the gigantic Arizona cypress, Cupressus arizonica, displaying a patchwork of brilliant colors in the exfoliating bark not often seen in much younger cultivated specimens. Interestingly, I found a witch’s broom in one of the cholla cactus species, Cylindropunta kleiniae. Who wouldn’t want a dwarf compact “jumping cholla” stuck to their flesh!

Mandevilla macrosiphon cultivated at Sul Ross University

The next morning, we were off to Big Bend National Park for a hike thorough the Chisos Mountains. We were joined by David Cristiani, a landscape architect from New Mexico who is also afflicted with Quercitis. After many trips here over the years, I had never seen the Chisos and surrounding desert so green and floriferous. The mountains were dotted with flaming red clumps which were a mix of Bouvardia ternifolia and Salvia regla. In between was the electric blue of two additional Salvia species – usually S. lycioides but occasionally S. arizonica would present itself. All of the xeric ferns of the genera

A natural rock garden in the Chisos Mountains Big Bend National Park

Cheilanthes, Astrolepis and Pellaea were fully hydrated and unfurled, unlike most previous visits where they are always shriveled up. Mandevilla macrosiphon, which I was completely unfamiliar

with until I saw it cultivated the previous day at Sul Ross University, was all over the place with its conspicuous trumpet-shaped white flowers, never noticed in my previous visits in drier times.

Quercus rugosa Big Bend National Park

Being of interest to all, we observed the oaks along the way, noting the wide array of variation in leaf shape, color, growth form, and acorn features. Most prevalent was Quercus grisea which appeared as suckering dwarf patches to robust single-trunked trees. The two Davids taught the rest of us how to distinguish the somewhat similar Quercus arizonica, which led to more confusion as to where to draw the line among the many oaks displaying features of

both species. Quercus gravesii came in many leaf forms and acorn sizes. Once we reached Laguna Meadow we were wading among the low buns of Quercus intricata with its tiny, thick, curly and somewhat crumpled leaves, making it one of the most distinctive of oaks. David R. spotted a bear up in a Pinus cembroides happily crunching the abundant pinon nuts. We were soon back in open woodland and found a patch of oaks David R. thought may be the rare Quercus carmenensis.

The rare scarlet ladies tresses orchid dichromanthus cinnabarinus in Big Bend National Park

After enjoying the magnificent views of the Rio Grande valley and Mexico from the south rim of the Chisos, we began looping back toward one my favorite places, Boot Canyon. As the Arizona cypress and bigtooth maples became more abundant, we began seeing new oaks, including the more distinctive Quercus rugosa with its rough, paddle-shaped leaves. A few other strange oaks presented themselves and left us wondering what they could be, either the result of so much hybridization or new species complexes requiring more study. I had hoped to lead the group to the state champion Cupressus arizonica off the beaten path down Boot Canyon,

but the creek was flowing deeply making it impossible to access the big tree. It was getting late so we decided to step up the pace to make it back to the trailhead by dark.

A mottled rock rattlesnake adding excitement to the botanical foray in the Chisos Mountains

Following a small group of the rare terrestrial orchid Dichromanthus cinnabarinus and their showy orange inflorescences, Adam S. spotted a huge orange fungus on the slope above the trail, glowing beautifully in the low evening sun. I was going to ascend the slope to get a photo, but then remembered my manners and encouraged Adam to go first. He declined, and as I crouched down near ground level for some close up shots, I heard a loud buzzing next to my right ear and saw a jerky motion in my peripheral vision. Knowing exactly what it was, and otherwise being a snake lover, I was excited to see it wasn’t just any rattlesnake that nearly bit me, but a beautiful mottled rock rattlesnake – the only species I had yet to find among the species native to the Big Bend region. After a few photos and admiring the snake’s pink hues we continued down the mountain.

Silene lacinata Big Bend National Park

Though it was getting dark, we quickly observed the Chisos Hophornbeam, Ostrya chisosensis, found only in these mountains and nowhere else in the world.

One clearing in the trail offered a glimpse of the small population of aspens that persists on a talus slope below Emory Peak. Nearly dark and unable to focus anymore, we made it back shortly after dark.

Quercus hinckleyi

After a night near Terlingua, Adam S. and Vincent needed to part ways to head back to Austin, and David Cristiani had to move on as well. David R. and I took River Road west along the Rio Grande, enjoying the very different flora than seen in the Chisos. It was exciting to find many individuals of Buddleja globosa flowering among the beautiful scenery. Guaiacum angustifolium shrubs were red with seeds, but we could not collect along this stretch of road.

David Richardson inspecting a patch of Quercus hinckleyi

After lunch in the border town of Presidio, we headed north on our way to the Davis Mountains. First we had to stop at one of the few populations of one of the rarest and most distinctive of oaks in the country, Quercus hinckleyi. The late Texas native plantsman Benny Simpson had shown David this locality years ago, and now

Hedeoma sp. Chisos Mountains Big Bend

David was introducing me to this most unusual species with tiny holly-like leaves forming stoloniferous colonies on the limestone ridges. Unfortunately we were greeted with “No Trespassing” signs, with the colonies of oaks visible at the top of the nearby hill. Fortunately a presumed local resident who stopped to see what we were doing assured us it was fine to go look at the plants after learning of our intentions.

Buddleja globosa growing along the Rio Grande

The tiny, holly-like leaves on these dense clumps sprouting up from the caliche was a sight to behold, along with the disproportionately large acorn caps that remained on the plants. In the same area was a beautiful miniature Leucophyllum minus, much smaller and more refined than the common L. frutescens, the “Cenizo” or “Texas Sage” commonly used in central Texas landscapes.

Arriving at Fort Davis, we stopped at the courthouse which was surrounded with very old specimens of various trees of interest. A few massive Quercus gravesii anchored one corner of the property, and other sectors included the largest alligator junipers I had ever seen, Pinus strobiformis, aspen, and a beautiful madrone.

The team resting at south rim Chisos Mountains, Left to Right: David Richardson, Adam Salcedo, David Cristiani and Vincent Debrock

Many other native plants were used around the foundation of the courthouse.

Finally arriving in the Davis Mountains, we began seeing lots of Quercus emoryi mixed with Q. grisea. This was my first visit to this terrain, which was so different from the Chisos, reminding me more of the Colorado Rocky Mountain foothills. The open grasslands were marked with ghostly, silvery white Eryngium heterophyllum with powder blue flowers. David showed me an immense gnarled Quercus grisea that he had lead an International Oak Society tour to years ago, and I was excited to see the Texas population of Pinus ponderosa.

Eryngium heterophyllum Davis Mountains

The rain moved in as we descended the northwest flank of the range. One last surprise as the land became flat again and the sun began to set on our last day in the field was an especially attractive Mojave Rattlesnake about to cross the road, who kindly posed for some photos before continuing on his way. It was one of my most memorable trips to the Big Bend region with new introductions to grow for the gardens and new inspiration for Peckerwood’s future. Special thanks to David Richardson for coordinating the expedition and for sharing his knowledge of the area and its flora to the rest of the group, not to mention Vincent, Adam S, and David Cristiani for their specialized contributions to  everyone else’s’ understanding.


Monthly training classes continue with Flowering Shrubs. The next session is November 19. Though geared toward training our docents, all active volunteers are invited to participate for free to learn more about refined topics pertaining to the garden. Members may join us for $15. Pre-registration required.

Sign up Now


From welcoming visitors, to leading tours, to working in the garden or in our office, there are many ways to lend your talents! Let us know how you would like to get involved. Sign up to assist at an event or to join a bi-weekly gardening session here.
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August 2016 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden
Yucca-do Nursery
Monthly Events
Volunteer appreciation
Plant of the month
Nursery News
Explorations in Colorado

Peckerwood is celebrating its new role as a public garden by beefing up its events calendar and strengthening ties with horticultural groups and institutions across the county,  Peckerwood staff and volunteers invite you to discover what all the fuss is about by touring the garden and enjoying monthly evening lectures and monthly Open Days.

Adam’s notes from the garden

Several forms of the Zephyranthes La Bufa Rosa complex
Several forms of the Zephyranthes La Bufa Rosa complex

Just as the unirrigated lawn started to scorch following nearly two months of no rain, cloudless skies and heat index regularly above 105° F, we are now receiving almost daily thunderstorms. Fortunately, these are nothing like we saw several months ago that led to the historic flooding in our area. The hints of brown have been replaced by fresh new green foliage, further enhanced with the sudden appearance of pink, white and yellow rain lily (Zephyranthes and Habranthus spp.) flowers. The various strains of Peckerwood’s introduction of Zephyranthes ‘La Bufa Rosa’, which tend to flower en masse most reliably, are making a bold, bi-color pink and white statement throughout the garden.

The second flowering of Hymenocallis galvestonensis shoots up from the ground long after the foliage dies
The second flowering of Hymenocallis galvestonensis shoots up from the ground long after the foliage dies

Another lily that has fascinated visitors this month is a unique native spider lily that we have labeled Hymenocallis galvestonensis, rescued from highway construction site near Navasota, Texas. Many botanists refer to it as H. liriosme which some references consider a swamp dweller, but this collection was from a drier site. The outwardly indistinguishable complex of southeastern U.S. species in this genus are highly confused, and more work surely needs to be done to make sense of the many forms from different habitats. Whatever it is, this particular species exhibits a strange flowering behavior. The foliage emerges in spring, and it flowers like a typical spider lily, but then the leaves die back rather early in the summer. Suddenly in late summer a second inflorescence shoots up out of the ground, but this time devoid of any accompanying foliage, creating a rather interesting sight of bare flower stalks jutting out of the earth.

Hedychium gardnerianum
Hedychium gardnerianum

Another of our “barometer plants” that responds to impending shifts in atmospheric moisture began flowering profusely. Various selections of Texas sage (Leucophyllum sp.) were covered with pink to purple flowers in our dry gardens. Peckerwood introduction Leucophyllum zygophyllum ‘Desert Dazzler’ is truly a standout with its unusually dark purple-blue flowers contrasting with exceptionally light chalky foliage.  This selection has unfortunately been picked up by other nurseries and offered under alternate proprietary names. Though many selections are common in the landscape, they continue to be indispensable when grown in the right conditions.

The cute, tiny flowers of Boesenbergia rotunda are only visible if you peek under the foliage
The cute, tiny flowers of Boesenbergia rotunda are only visible if you peek under the foliage

Various gingers have been at peak flowering this month. Butterfly gingers in the genus Hedychium have been flowering atop their tall stalks with stepladder leaf arrangements. Closer to the ground, peacock gingers (Kaempferia spp.) continue to display ornamental foliage that lasts throughout the summer, topped daily with purple flowers. Sometimes you need to work to discover the subtle, tiny flowers lurking in your garden.  If you didn’t crouch down, lift up the paddle-shaped foliage of Boesenbergia rotunda and squint, you’d never appreciate the beauty of the miniature orchid-like flowers that have a charm of their own.

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

An unknown plant with intriguing palmate foliage in John Fairey’s raised trial beds was frustrating me until recently. Never remembering to simply ask John, I set an alarm on my phone to catch the short-lived flowers which were always withered and giving only a hint of yellow by mid-afternoon when I tend to make my rounds. Finally I caught the flower in its full glory, bigger and more beautiful than I expected. Still unrecognizable to me, I posted it on Facebook and as expected, one of my knowledgeable plant friends instantly recognized it as an Amoreuxia spp. John confirmed it is a south Texas native, A. wrightii, which can be found sporadically in the state, but seems more prevalent in Mexico, where he recalled seeing entire fields painted yellow with this species’ flowers.

Our developing acorn crop looks promising for this fall, but some species can’t wait that long. One particular Quercus laeta specimen starting dropping acorns this week, while the seed of other individuals are a long way from mature. We’ve already germinated some of this year’s Q. tarahumara harvest as mentioned in this issue’s “plant of the month” feature, and a highly desirable oak on top of that! One additional early ripening just occurred among a group of dwarf live oaks collected in Mexico, produced on branches only a few feet above the skirt of pink and yellow rain lily species flowering at their bases.

Being in Texas for a while has really opened my eyes to how critical water is on so many levels. I’ve learned how the climate here is indeed much more hostile than Florida, which means even xeric plants require at least some regular water during prolonged dry spells. Having previously lived with the luxury of good quality water, I have now been dealing with salty well water we are forced to use in the short term since the other “good” well that fed the nursery has dried up. I have lost quite a few sensitive, fairly irreplaceable plants I brought from Florida, and propagation attempts continue to produce less than reasonable results. We are actively seeking funds to improve our conditions but for now we will install a rainfall catchment system. Equally pressing priorities continue to delay the installation, and I hate not being able to capture a portion of our current streak of rain, knowing once installed the rain will conveniently cease.

Peckerwood Garden Creek
Peckerwood Garden Creek

One prioriy prolonging the installation of the rain harvesting system is another significant water issue on the north side of the garden. For years, we have drawn water as needed from Dry Creek (which runs through Peckerwood) to irrigate the woodland garden and portions of the plantings north of the creek. Despite the name, Dry Creek always remains quite wet. Following some water rights issues stemming from Dow Chemical’s long-standing agreement with the state to utilize a significant amount of the Brazos River’s water for the company’s factory, it recently came to our attention that we are now required to pay the state to utilize water from Dry Creek, which is part of the Brazos watershed. We have to install a meter on our intake pipe and get permission from the state every time we want to irrigate. Even with the permit, the state has the right to deny us permission based on its gauge levels, and we need to report pre and post irrigation gauge readings after every watering session. Now that the state knows we use “its” water, we have been ordered to stop watering from the creek until a permit is issued, which it admitted (with a chuckle) can take a long time. Our annual usage surely puts no measurable dent in the water allocated to Dow, and we, a non-profit organization that  demonstrates and promotes water-wise landscapes, is not offered any exceptions.

The Hallway between the Creek and the Woodland Gardens
The Hallway between the Creek and the Woodland Gardens

Not wanting to be under the state’s thumb during times when water is most critical in keeping Peckerwood’s valuable collections alive, we are now forced to install tanks to store water from a well that can be pumped to the areas that formerly received creek water. This well doesn’t have the best water quality, but at least it is better than the salty one in the nursery area. Rainfall harvesting is unfortunately not possible in this portion of the garden. Hopefully this well will be reliable for years to come. We are fortunate in this transition where we are not allowed to draw any further water that we are receiving so much rain. If we were ordered to stop watering in June it would have had a devastating impact on significant collections during the rainless two months.

Developing Alpine Rock Gardens near the Parking area
Developing Alpine Rock Gardens near the Parking area

On a much brighter note, our dedicated volunteers continue to make tremendous progress cleaning up the areas around the office. The existing berms will be developed into alpine-style rock gardens using plants from various regions of the world that are both suitable for this style of

Cleared Berm ready for planting
Cleared Berm ready for planting

planting and will hopefully prove adaptable to our climate. As mentioned in my Colorado travelogue, Denver Botanical Garden donated many unusual plants from their own collections that are worth trialing here. Their amazing rock garden covering many acres provided tremendous inspiration and I can’t wait another few months when conditions are more suitable for planting to begin.

Yucca-do Nursery closing soon

We are sad to report that legendary collector plant source Yucca Do Nursery recently had announced it was ramping down toward eventually closing over the upcoming months. Anyone who has been involved with Peckerwood for a number of years surely is familiar with this mail-order nursery. Many others only learned of Peckerwood’s existence due to Yucca Do serving as an outlet for John Fairey and Carl Schoenfeld’s Mexican collections, supplemented with Carl and Wade Roitsch’s own collections from South Africa, Brazil, Argentina and beyond. Originally formed 28 years ago as a partnership between John and Carl, the business along with nursery manager Wade at the helm was the exclusive source for unusual Mexican oaks, Agave, Yucca, and other woody lilies, rain lilies, bromeliads and a variety of unusual trees, shrubs and perennials.

I was a regular customer of Yucca Do over the years and was always upset when I would miss out on exciting one-time offers, beat to the punch by their extensive following of other ravenous plant collectors. Still I managed to amass a wealth of coveted Yucca Do offerings that continue to grow on my Florida property including various hardy Mexican Bauhinia spp., Mexican oaks, Callistemon spp., Agave and hardy Ficus species. Many species Yucca Do originally introduced to horticulture became industry standards. You can’t drive more than a few miles through most average Southeastern cities without spotting at least one Agave salmiana var. ferox ‘Green Goblet’ in someone’s yard. Last year while in Orlando, Fla. I was surprised to see not only the entrance to a development accentuated with a mass planting of Agave ‘Mr. Ripple,’ but  a well-done toll expressway median xeriscape featuring an even larger massing of ‘Mr. Ripple.’

Over time the nursery relocated to Giddings, Texas, and John is no longer involved. I visited Wade a few weeks ago, sharing with him some acorns off of Peckerwood’s Q. tarahumara specimen that he originally gifted to Peckerwood. I left with yet another grouping of treasures for my personal collection but noticed he still has a wealth of interesting plants available at including an increasing amount of things being placed on sale at great prices. If you plan to be in the Giddings area, or just dedicated enough to make a special trip from wherever you are, you should definitely arrange an appointment to visit Wade sooner rather than later. You never know if and when many of these plants will be available again, so I would encourage you to scan through the listings and take advantage of the opportunity before it is too late. Though we regret to see Yucca Do’s impact on horticulture coming to an end, Wade always will be involved in plant collecting and distributing material to some degree in a well-earned, enjoyable manner compared with the hectic nature of operating a mail-order nursery.

 Monthly Events: from Bethany Jordan 

Woodland Garden Path
Woodland Garden Path

We continue to develop Peckerwood monthly events and invite members to join us and use their membership benefits. All members have free entry to monthly Open Days and  half-price entry to the Evening at Peckerwood Lectures. Dual Memberships and above come with two free entries, and many have received guest passes to share with others. Members also may purchase tickets to the monthly education classes for docents.

Guests planning for the upcoming year have been pleased with the consistent calendar that allows them to schedule ahead so they may attend our events. Open Days will continue to be at 10 a.m. on the fourth Saturday each month. Watch the calendar for added days during fall and spring, and for special tours to pop up. October 8th Peckerwood Garden will be participating in the Texas Parks and Wildlife program: Texas Pollinator BioBlitz. Tours that day will focus on pollinators – from the plants they love to their impact on the garden.

The Evening at Peckerwood Lecture Series with wine and light refreshments are a perfect opportunity for members and guests to learn more about specific topics from staff and guest lecturers. All presenters currently are lecturing pro-bono, but we are seeking donations/sponsors to allow us to bring in renowned authorities from afar in the near future. September 16th will focus on “Plant Exploration for Conservation and a Diverse Landscape.”

Focused time with our director of horticulture Adam Black makes Peckerwood Insider’s Tours a favorite with members and new visitors alike. These extended tours of less-visited areas of the garden allow a close examination of some of Peckerwood’s best aspects. The accompanying handout adds depth to these tours.

Watch the calendar for additional tours. Tickets are available online for all events, and some require pre-registration.

Learn more about visiting Peckerwood Garden


  Volunteer contributions make a difference!

Entry to Peckerwood Nursery

Our dedicated and growing team of volunteers continues to be here Tuesdays and Fridays for weeding and garden work, monthly for training, and for special events and private tours. Our events would not be possible without our volunteers. Their amazing work allows us to move forward.

Our location has been a challenge in the development of our volunteer program and growing our team, and we appreciate our volunteers’ hard work to make this happen. Their consistency – working at the garden and sharing of our needs with others – provides a foundation for best practices in our development.

Now that we are ramping up with more events, year-round open days and evening lectures, reliable volunteers are more critical.

 Plant of the month: Quercus tarahumara

Quercus tarahumara
Quercus tarahumara

Peckerwood has long been known for its collection of oaks from Mexico and beyond. We are fortunate to have one species that is among collectors’ “holy grail” oaks due to its distinctive appearance. Quercus tarahumara is quite unusual with its huge, teardrop-shaped leaves that have the feel of cardboard. The olive-gray leaves are strongly cupped underneath, and this feature combined with the size (up to a foot long) has earned it the common name “hand basin oak.” This moniker is especially evident when the upside-down, fallen leaves collect rainwater. The new growth emerges a bright reddish-orange, glowing like jack-o-lanterns when backlit by the low evening sun.


Quercus tarahumara new growth
Quercus tarahumara new growth

I was aware of the plant from internet photos and knew a few were in cultivation before my first face-to-foliage meeting of a specimen during a visit to Juniper Level Botanical Gardens near Raleigh, N.C several years ago. Since it didn’t produce seed, nurseryman Tony Avent let me attempt to propagate his tree by grafting, but I never had any success, possibly due to even the thinnest twigs being quite thick. When I interviewed for my job at Peckerwood last November, I was happy to find, on my most memorable tour of the gardens with John Fairey, a specimen of Q. tarahumara among the many treasures. A few months after I was hired, acorns began to develop – the first I’m aware of in U.S. cultivation. These ripened unexpectedly early, detaching from their caps the last week of July. The two dozen seeds produced all look viable, and I was pleased to see that most have quickly germinated. Now we will need to see if they are hybridized with other oaks, or if the tree self-fertilized.


Quercus tarahumara acors
Quercus tarahumara acorns

Peckerwood’s tree originated from a seed batch obtained by Yucca-do Nursery, wild-collected by a client. Two additional trees grown from this collection are in a private garden in Dallas and at Stephen F. Austin University’s Mast Arboretum in Nacogdoches, Texas. A few other unrelated trees exist in the U.S., and hopefully we will see more of these trees starting to produce seed in the near future. Additional wild collections would be especially valuable.



Collaborator visits

Left to Right Greg Paige, John Fairey, Jared Barnes, and Andrew Bunting
Left to Right Greg Paige, John Fairey, Jared Barnes, and Andrew Bunting

A few weeks ago a great group of arborists from the Austin area visited Peckerwood to see our valuable oak collection. The tour was arranged by Vincent Debrock, president of the Texas chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture, who brought April Rose, board member of the ISA, and Andrew McNeill, arborist at Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center where he manages the developing arboretum of Texas native trees. They were joined by Adam Salcedo, vice president of the Native Plant Research Institute; Andreina Alexatos of TreeFolks, where she serves as coordinator of reforestation of the flood-devastated Blanco River; Austin tree enthusiast Angie Rodriquez , and David Richardson from Dallas. David, a tree enthusiast with a particular interest in oaks,  has long been a friend of Peckerwood with many important specimens in the garden originating from his donations.

We spent most of the morning no farther than the oak berm – true oak geeks!  After lunch we explored the rest of the oaks in the arboretum and throughout the other regions of the property where oaks are present, still not having enough time to thoroughly show them everything.
It was fortunate that during this visit that David noticed the acorns on our Quercus tarahumara (this issue’s plant of the month) were ripe, much earlier than many other oaks, and may have been lost if they dropped unexpectedly. We look forward to this being the beginning of future working relationships with all the organizations represented by this wonderful group of visitors.

L to R Greg Paige, John Fairey, Jared Barnes, and Andrew Bunting
L to R Greg Paige, John Fairey, Jared Barnes, and Andrew Bunting

My visit with the folks at Denver Botanic Gardens unfortunately coincided with the visit of several additional visitors I wish I could have spent time with at Peckerwood. Andrew Bunting, assistant director of Chicago Botanical Garden, and Greg Paige, director of Bartlett Research Arboretum in North Carolina (affiliated with the nationwide Bartlett Tree Experts) were hosted by well-respected Stephen F. Austin University horticulture professor Jared Barnes. Andrew and Greg have been leading an expedition throughout the Gulf Coast states collecting seeds of Magnolia pyramidata for backup of locality-specific germplasm in cultivation. After collecting in east Texas they wanted to see Peckerwood, and in my absence they got to spend valuable time talking with John Fairey before touring the garden. Assuming we can coordinate on both ends,  Andrew has generously offered to possibly give a presentation at Peckerwood when he returns to Houston in November – let’s hope we can make that work!



Explorations in Colorado –Buckweats to Buck Elk

A few weeks ago a great group of arborists from the Austin area visited Peckerwood to see our valuable oak collection. The tour was arranged by Vincent Debrock, president of the Texas chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture, who brought April Rose, board member of the ISA, and Andrew McNeill, arborist at Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center where he manages the developing arboretum of Texas native trees. They were joined by Adam Salcedo, vice president of the Native Plant Research Institute; Andreina Alexatos of TreeFolks, where she serves as coordinator of reforestation of the flood-devastated Blanco River; Austin tree enthusiast Angie Rodriquez , and David Richardson from Dallas. David, a tree enthusiast with a particular interest in oaks,  has long been a friend of Peckerwood with many important specimens in the garden originating from his donations.

Oak Berm
Oak Berm

We spent most of the morning no farther than the oak berm – true oak geeks!  After lunch we explored the rest of the oaks in the arboretum and throughout the other regions of the property where oaks are present, still not having enough time to thoroughly show them everything. It was fortunate that during this visit that David noticed the acorns on our Quercus tarahumara (this issue’s plant of the month) were ripe, much earlier than many other oaks, and may have been lost if they dropped unexpectedly. We look forward to this being the beginning of future working relationships with all the organizations represented by this wonderful group of visitors.

Denver Botanic Garden's xeric garden is alive with color
Denver Botanic Garden’s xeric garden is alive with color

My visit with the folks at Denver Botanic Gardens unfortunately coincided with the visit of several additional visitors I wish I could have spent time with at Peckerwood. Andrew Bunting, assistant director of Chicago Botanical Garden, and Greg Paige, director of Bartlett Research Arboretum in North Carolina (affiliated with the nationwide Bartlett Tree Experts) were hosted by well-respected Stephen F. Austin University horticulture professor Jared Barnes. Andrew and Greg have been leading an expedition throughout the Gulf Coast states collecting seeds of Magnolia pyramidata for backup of locality-specific germplasm in cultivation. After collecting in east Texas they wanted to see Peckerwood, and in my absence they got to spend valuable time talking with John Fairey before touring the garden. Assuming we can coordinate on both ends,  Andrew has generously offered to possibly give a presentation at Peckerwood when he returns to Houston in November – let’s hope we can make that work!

Even with a dream job curating an amazing botanical collection, something had to give considering my self-imposed seven-day-a-week, workaholic schedule in attempt to progress the gardens as much as possible. I needed to get away for a bit, and considering my options, the cool alpine ruggedness of the Rocky Mountains beckoned. Only a day’s drive away to southeastern Colorado, things fell together quickly and I was off. I planned to focus on the plant communities of northwestern Texas, northeastern New Mexico and lower elevations of Colorado to and from an alpine backcountry hiking trip, and fit in a visit with friends at Denver Botanic Garden.

Bush morning glory (Ipomoea leptophylla) northwest of Amarillo, TX
Bush morning glory (Ipomoea leptophylla) northwest of Amarillo, TX

After I began my drive in the dark early morning hours, the plants and geological features grew interesting as the sun rose in the Texas panhandle. Northwest of Amarillo, the first conspicuous plants were the low, dome-shaped mounds of bush morning glory, Ipomoea leptophylla, which were all covered with showy dark-pink flowers. They seemed to be distributed at regular intervals every 200 feet or so along the roadside in an almost predictable manner as if someone planted them, but that surely wasn’t the case.  I found a safe place to pull over to make my first wild observation – a very tidy plant with its dense thin leaves looking like bright green sea urchins dotting the otherwise monotonous prairie. I figured I’d collect seed or cuttings on the way home.

A flowering buckweat (Eriogonum sp)
A flowering buckweat (Eriogonum sp)

At a road cut at the top of a bluff, I could see from the car the upper slope was covered with masses of white flowers of Eriogonum spp., one of the many species of what are collectively known as “wild buckwheats,” somewhat related to, but not the same as the edible buckwheat, Fagopyrum esculentum. This genus has been of personal interest due to the many beautiful species used mostly in the western U.S. for their ornamental qualities which lend themselves well to alpine-style rock gardens. Years ago, my eyes were opened to the diversity in this genus of attractive plants at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Many of the more attractive species form a dense mat of rosettes with narrow, paddle-shaped leaves, often with silver undersides, and display compact masses of flower heads commonly white or yellow but a few species have striking pink or orange flowers. The showy seed heads make for a long season of interest. I took note of the location to revisit on the way home, but before moving on I noticed a 5-foot-tall inflorescence with bright yellow flowers belonging to another Eriogonum, which seems to best match E. alata, a monocarpic (dies after flowering) species, though this one appeared to be persisting considering the presence of old dried inflorescence remnants. Buckwheats weren’t originally on my mind going into this trip, but now they were a primary target. On my way to the alpine hiking getaway I would explore the plains and foothills of the Rockies for species that might be worth trialing at Peckerwood, among other distractions.

Eager to make it to the mountains to find a place to camp by evening, I made a beeline for Raton, New Mexico where I picked up I-25 north. Previous trips through this area had fueled one of my other interests – paleontology, and the abundant coal seams in the road cuts are usually a good indicator of plant fossils. Finding a feeder road where I could safely explore the strata, the first thing I noticed were more Eriogonom species – a white flowering type, which presented itself in striking contrast with the black coal-based sediments.  Not seeing much of interest paleontologically, other than some fossil wood chunks, and eager to make some progress into the mountains, I was back on the road and eventually found a campsite overlooking the intermountain basin above Great Sand Dunes National Park as the sun was setting.

Alpine plants at Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, Vail, CO
Alpine plants at Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, Vail, CO

The next few days were spent backcountry hiking in the solitude of the seldom-visited Gore Range north of Vail. The wildflowers at the highest elevations were absolutely spectacular, some still just emerging from persistent patches of melting snow. These were all out of the realm of anything we could ever grow in Texas.

Upon returning to civilization, I got a hotel in Vail for a soft bed and to get cleaned up in preparation for visiting the folks at Denver Botanic Gardens the next day. When I called Panayoti Kelaidis, esteemed senior curator and director of outreach at the gardens, to let him know my expected arrival time, he told me I needed to first stay in Vail a little longer as there was a must-see botanical garden a few blocks away. I had heard of the Betty Ford Alpine Garden before, but it didn’t dawn on me to visit until Panayoti mentioned it. Off I went to “the highest botanical garden in the world,” situated at an 8,200-foot elevation that allows the staff to grow many alpines that other gardens can’t. The design and collections were amazing, consisting of rock gardens which best show off the high-elevation specimens that often assume the form of dense cushions, hemispherical buns, or flat creeping crusts on rocks. It was a pleasure to meet senior horticulturist Nick Courtens and hear of the challenges and joys of gardening at such a high elevation, surrounded by a busy group of dedicated volunteers ensuring the garden remains flawless.

A tiny portion of the extensive rock garden at Denver Botanic Gardens
A tiny portion of the extensive rock garden at Denver Botanic Gardens

Wanting to analyze every tiny specimen in the garden, I had to pull myself away and head east to meet up with Panayoti at Denver Botanic Gardens. Panayoti has long been a key figure in the world of rock gardening, collecting around the world and introducing many wonderful plants that proved themselves in Denver’s harsh climate. DBG’s rock garden spans several acres and is packed with a dizzying array of miniature plants of diverse colors and textures. Additional signature gardens there include the variety of themed xeric gardens, replicating geographical plant assemblages from around the world and sensitive habitats from various regions of the west.

Texas hill country endemic Salvia penstemonoides overwintering surprisingly fine at Denver Botanic Gardens
Texas hill country endemic Salvia penstemonoides overwintering surprisingly fine at Denver Botanic Gardens

Although in USDA Zone 5, I was shocked to find a number of plants native to significantly warmer climates vigorously thriving and overwintering without issue here, including several natives to the Texas Hill Country and even south Texas. I saw a beautiful specimen of the bush morning glory I saw a few days earlier in Texas, and an abundantly blooming Salvia penstemonoides endemic to the Hill Country. I had agonized over what plants we had in the Peckerwood collection to share with DBG that would stand a chance at surviving even a mild Denver winter, but now I felt more confident that the specimens I brought might actually succeed. The success of these plants in such unexpected places exemplify the fact that we can’t make assumptions of a plant’s adaptability based solely on its current native conditions. With a climate that has changed constantly over time, and long before man’s influence on the environment, plants advanced and receded north and south and some therefore are quite plastic in their tolerances. Others are indeed more refined in their requirements, but we will never know unless we push the limits by trialing in the garden. Beyond broadening the diversity of plants we can use in our gardens, it is good information to have in making projections on how the world’s flora will be affected as the climate changes, be it by human, natural causes or both. Regardless of the stance of human involvement with climate change, the one fact all sides might agree on is that human alteration of the landscape now prevents free movement of plants north and south in latitude as well as vertically in elevation, preventing natural dispersal to find hospitable areas should the current, greatly reduced habitat become unsuitable for various reasons.

The Shale Barrens Buckwheat from West Virginia growing at Panayoti Kelaidis' house in Denver
The Shale Barrens Buckwheat from West Virginia growing at Panayoti Kelaidis’ house in Denver

Panayoti generously let me stay at his home surrounded by more impressive rock and dry gardens. I told him how DBG’s Eriogonum collection had led to a personal interest in the genus and asked for recommendations of species to trial at Peckerwood. He pointed out the window to a glowing, sulfur-yellow patch readily visible at the far edge of the property, explaining how this beauty, E. allenii, was one of the few eastern U.S. native species while also being among the showiest. It hails from the shale barrens of West Virginia, where it grows among the baking hot shale while enduring more humidity than many of the western species. In Florida I had already proven that another plant from the West Virginia shale barrens – a Plant Delights Nursery introduction Dicentra eximia ‘Dolly Sods’ (bleeding heart) that sure enough, thrived in full sun in a rock garden setting, unlike the typical selections of bleeding heart which quickly expire in the deep south. He told me that, coincidentally, he had invited some of Denver’s horticultural elite to join us for dinner and among them would be the founder of the Eriogonum Society, Hugh MacMillan. Additional Eriogonum enthusiasts would join us, including Marcia and Randy Tatroe, Bob and Rebecca Day Skowron, owners of the former Rocky Mountain Rare Plants Nursery, and Dan Johnson, curator of native plants and associate horticulture director at DBG. Who would have known there are so many buckwheat enthusiasts around to justify a society? Among all the lively conversations around an excellent dinner I learned that The Eriogonum Society is having its meeting next month in the Mojave Desert – perhaps another road trip is in order!

After securing cuttings from Panayoti’s E. allenii the next morning, we returned to DBG where he and Dan loaded me down with flats of rock garden plants they thought were worth trialing in Texas. I then bought more great plants from DBG’s sale area and started down the eastern front of the Rockies, gradually working my way home over the next two days while exploring suitable and legal locations in the foothills for collecting plants. I also planned to load the back of my truck with rocks of various colors and forms to utilize in Peckerwood’s developing rock gardens.

Delicate silver rosettes of Antennaria sp. growing on gravel slopes in NE New Mexico
Delicate silver rosettes of Antennaria sp. growing on gravel slopes in NE New Mexico

My first stop of the day was at a road cut composed of a steep slope of a crumbling red metamorphic rock. Clumps of a silver-leaved locoweed (Astragalus spp.) were scattered in the otherwise barren gravel along with a Liatris species and a distinctively attractive Heterotheca species, all conveniently bearing seeds. The several species of Heterotheca, often highly variable and taxonomically confused, are usually ungainly plants with sparse flowers, but there are a few floriferous selections with good form and this low, dense plant covered in golden aster-like flowers was definitely a winner. Though the air was comfortably cool, I could feel the extreme heat radiating off the sunbaked gravel banks. The plants growing in this environment are obviously adapted to dealing with extreme temperatures, a similar environment to the West Virginia shale barrens, so this means they might stand a chance with Texas summers.

I found similar geological exposures at the next road but, but the scree slopes were dotted with spherical green meatballs under 4 feet tall that at first glance looked like willows, but then I realized to be the related narrow-leaf poplar, Populus angustifolia. This species normally forms a small tree along southwestern streams, but these seemingly dwarfed clumps were growing in very dry, well-drained inclines. Worth a try, especially if they proved to be genetically rather than environmentally dwarfed, so I collected cuttings.  I also saw was a clumping bellflower (Campanula spp.) covered with electric blue flowers held on numerous erect wiry stems. I have longed for a blue-flowered bellflower that will take the heat and humidity, so hopefully the seeds collected from this hot site will yield at least some individuals that will adapt to southeast Texas. I also collected seed from tidy clumps of spreading Juniperus communis that dotted the slopes.

After passing through areas of National Forest land where collecting is not permitted, I found a road cut that yielded more things of interest, including another plant I’ve always been fond of: Antennaria spp., which forms mats of tiny silver rosettes perfect for the well-drained rock garden. Also present was a seemingly highly dwarfed form of smooth sumac, Rhus glabra, which was clearly established on the scree slope, but each stem would max out at about 15 inches high with the presence of fruit indicating maturity. Initially there was a conspicuous lack of Eriogonum species, but soon I reached a long stretch of road with at least three species being quite common. As the sun set behind a mountain range, it illuminated a thunderhead to the east with haunting orange and green tones. After many photos, the storm began pelleting me with quarter-sized hail as darkness settled into the valley. In the monotony of darkness on a desolate country road, I was dumping the last crumbs out of a bag of chips into my mouth when I caught the glimpse of a bull elk standing in the middle of the road with an elk-in-headlights look on its face! I slammed on the brakes just in time, and the animal it trotted off into the blackness.

Fossil relative of Norfolk Pine (Araucaria sp)
Fossil relative of Norfolk Pine (Araucaria sp)

The next morning began back in the coal-rich roadcuts south of Trinidad, Co, wanting to spend more time exploring for both fossil and extant plants. The accordion-texture on the underside of a projecting sandstone ledge high up the slope proved to be the impression of a palm leaf Sabalites, similar to our modern genus Sabal. Cuttings of the Eriogonum seen on the first day were collected along with another species of Liatris. As I was leaving, I found a delicately beautiful fossil branch impression of a Cretaceous age Araucaria, relative to the modern Norfolk Pine. As Peckerwood progresses I’d eventually like to have my paleobotanical collections on display as an additional facet to our educational mission, and this would be a worthy display piece considering we have an excellent collection of modern hardy and tropical Araucaria species showing how this living fossil has remained unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs.

Blue Flax (Linium lewisii) in NE New Mexico, with a range extending into west Texas
Blue Flax (Linium lewisii) in NE New Mexico, with a range extending into west Texas

One of the final areas to explore on the way home was a back road in northeastern New Mexico. The area was a scenic mix of open prairie with occasional lava fields from past volcanoes plus forested areas of pines and gambel’s oaks, Quercus gambelii. The grassland was dotted with sky-blue flowers of Blue Flax (Linium lewisii). The road cuts in the area yielded some fascinating things. One slope bore a wild rose that reaches only 6” high and obviously flowering at that size due to the presence of “hips” An unidentified Penstemon spp. was full of seed, more Eriogonum spp., and another patch of a silvery Antennaria spp. was found, different from the specimen collected from in Colorado.

A distinctive species of Standing Cypress (Ipomopsis sp)
A distinctive species of Standing Cypress (Ipomopsis sp)

The last significant stop was a road cut through a relatively recent lava flow that was nearly jet black in color. Again, contrasting with the dark background were more white-flowering Eriogonum spp. by the hundreds. I collected hunks of black lava rock in order to replicate this white-on-black effect in our rock garden. On the lower slope was a distinctive “standing cypress” Ipomopsis spp. with flowers ranging from white to light lavender. Aside from color, the flowers on this yet-to-be-determined species are much longer than the familiar red-flowering eastern species I. rubra that is naturalized in the dry gardens at Peckerwood. Hopefully seeds collected from this species will prosper. Acorns were collected from Q. gambelii from one of the lower elevation populations, but I don’t have high hopes for it in east Texas based on others’ experiences.

Back within the boundary of northwest Texas, I made one final stop just before sunset for the bush morning glory cuttings and the few Eriogonum spp. spotted on the first day. Then I was off on anon-stop seven hour beeline back home across the great expanse that is Texas, loaded down with all sorts of botanical wonders from many beautiful places and many kind people. Though a number will unlikely be long-term survivors in Texas even if sited in the best, well-drained conditions, we will never know of a plants adaptability if we don’t trial them. Just like the Texas natives I observed prospering in Denver, Colorado plants may similarly thrive in more hot, humid conditions of east Texas.

An art display in the ground cover of Peckerwood Garden
Monthly training classes continue with Flowering Shrubs. The next session is September 10 at 9 am. All active volunteers are invited to participate for free. Members may join us for $15. Pre-registration required.

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