Posted on

An Exciting and Productive Seed Collecting Expedition in Central Texas

Bill, Boyce and Tess collecting seed, herbarium specimens, and associated collecting data.

Less than a week after our oak collecting trip through the Trans-Pecos region (see last newsletter), I barely settled in before I was off with a new group of collaborators for a two week journey from the southern “Hill Country” northward to the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Organized by Boyce Tankersley from Chicago Botanic Garden through the “Plant Collecting Collaborative” (PCC), other participants were Bill McLaughlin from the United States Botanic Garden in Washington D.C. and Tess Kuracina from Chanticleer.

Peckerwood and Chanticleer have a great history working together, and this was a wonderful resumption of our collaborations. Through segments of the trip, two of the state’s great botanists would join us – George Yatskievych, director of the herbarium at University of Texas at Austin, and Bob O’Kennon from Botanical Research Institute of Texas in Fort Worth. Our mission was to collect seeds of plants of horticultural and conservation significance for distribution to other participating gardens of the PCC. After the team arrived in Houston, the requisite visit to Peckerwood was in order, and that afternoon we set off for our first site in the southern Edward’s Plateau west of San Antonio. We didn’t get far because Boyce wanted seeds from Texas bluebells ( Eustoma grandiflora), and so off we went to a location near Brenham where I recently saw plants. Fruits were questionably too early for harvest, but our first collection of the trip would hopefully continue maturation in the cooler and be dried later.

George joined us in San Antonio for a quick dinner before continuing on our track for the Gesundheit Ranch, a 1,000-acre piece of botanic and geologic heaven between Sabinal and Concan along the southern edge of the Hill Country. Owned by Peckerwood supporter Caroline Schreiber and family, this remote, well-maintained ranch never fails to surprise me as to its tremendous diversity of plant life. I had never been this time of year and was looking forward to collecting seeds of some things I had seen in flower during earlier visits.

Matalea reticulata in the southern Hill Country near Leakey, TX.

We were treated to a wonderful sunset between the rugged limestone hills as we drove through several ranches to get to the Schreibers’ ranch. Everyone was up early after a night’s sleep in the bunkhouse, and with our coffee in hand the collections began in the immediate vicinity of the dwellings. Though common to many Texans, the group from points beyond was excited to find its first Texas mountain laurel, and seeds were collected. Though common in cultivation, these were of value to botanic gardens that prefer seeds from known wild source, accompanied by GPS coordinates, site conditions, associated plants and additional details making these collections scientifically valuable. We also pressed specimens for drying to deposit in two or more herbaria. I had to laugh when they collected seeds of ball moss ( Tillandsia recurvata), but again, these are of interest to those who come from places where they are not weeds.

 

Styrax platanifolius at Fort Hood.

Breakfast was supplemented with sampling of Texas persimmon ( Diospyros texana), which seemed to be a hit among the group despite staining their mouths black. We left the ranch headquarters to see a site I remembered from previous visits along a crystal clear stream lined with a variety of moisture-loving plants. Unfortunately the lack of summer rain had reduced the stream to a few stagnant puddles in the lowest areas. The lush ferns I had remembered were mostly shriveled and dormant, but several fronds were collected for their spores. A diminutive yet striking plant drew attention along the stream’s shores. Galphimia angustifolia is composed of a dense cluster of wiry upright stems topped with flowers in various shades of yellow, orange and red depending on their age, particularly captivating when back lit by the sun. Tess already was considering where she wanted to plant this at Chanticleer, and I agreed it should be investigated further for use in smaller gardens.

Festive lighting for nocturnal herbarium specimen pressing at High Hope Ranch near Glen Rose.

My 5-month old truck earned plenty of new battle scars barging through jagged rocky paths overgrown with thorny shrubbery. Eventually we couldn’t go any farther and hiked the rest of the way to a more wooded spot I remember having a nice mix of the powder blue colored Lacey oak ( Quercus laceyi) and the coveted yellow-flowered variant of the red buckeye ( Aesculus pavia var. flavescens). Q. laceyi had plenty of acorns as did Texas red oak ( Q. buckleyi). The buckeyes already had defoliated but still were bearing the large pendulous fruits on nearly every branch tip. We found some Eve’s Necklace ( Styphnolobium affine – formerly Sophora affinis) which appears to be a new record for Uvalde County and perhaps the southernmost record. We drove north to Leakey to have dinner and then visited a stretch of road to the west where we happily collected seed from the abundant cones of Pinus remota. Here they seemed to have had some recent rain, and the roadside was alive with wildflowers, including the beautiful, rather localized Asclepias texana. Another stretch was red with Salvia roemeriana, and one small roadside meadow contained a wonderful mix of S. farinacea, two Solanum species, and Mexican Hats ( Ratibida columnifera) in a variety of colors and forms.

 

Collecting seeds of a Polanisia sp . in the dry riverbed of the Frio River, Kneuper Ranch.

Along the treeline, Bill found the reticulated climbing milkweed ( Matalea reticulata) bearing its delicately pattered flowers. With dusk approaching, we made a beeline back south as Caroline had put us in touch with Bill Cofer at the nearby Annandale Ranch, home of the famous Frio Bat Cave. Bill had generously granted us access to view the bats emerging from the cave entrance. This is the second largest colony of Mexican free-tailed bats in the world, with an estimated population in the tens of millions.

The very localized Yucca necopina at High Hope Ranch near Glen Rose, TX.

An undulating ribbon of bats flowed from the entrance for what seemed like an eternity, with hawks periodically diving into the mass for dinner. I’ve seen thousands of bats emerge from other caves, but witnessing millions was quite an amazing experience for everyone. The next day was devoted to exploring the rest of Annandale Ranch, but first we stopped at the neighboring Kneuper Ranch, also owned by Caroline’s family members. A dry stretch of the Frio River passed through here, and highlights collected were Anisacanthus wrightii – abundantly grown in Texas yet surprisingly uncommon in the wild. We found a species of Lycium growing in the shade, a new county record for the genus.

 

Eryngium leavenworthii at Fort Hood.

In contrast to the Kneuper Ranch, the stretch of the Frio River that passed through the Annandale Ranch had beautifully clear flowing water and was lined with some impressive bald cypress. Though books and some DNA studies claim these are simply a westernmost population of Taxodium distichum, the lack of “knees” (distinctive growth habit) and other characteristics more closely resemble those of the Montezuma cypress, Taxodium mucronatum. Along the shores also grew the beautiful Juglans microcarpa, a native walnut that makes an attractive small tree, and a mysterious willow that doesn’t seem to readily match any of the known species of Salix in this region.

John Roberson’s amazing ranch offered terrific plants adapted to the local sandstone and granite in addition to the panoramic views.

We parted ways with George and spent one last night at the Gesundheit Ranch before some more roadside collecting en route to the Fredricksburg region. There we visited two properties, both owned by acquaintances of Boyce. Being rather dry, we saw lots of interesting things but they lacked seed, so little was collected, but we got a diversity of S. farinacea seeds and plenty of acorns from Bigelow oak ( Q. sinuata var. breviloba). We were all looking forward to our next site, a ranch owned by former Peckerwood board member John Roberson in the Llano Uplift region of central Texas. This geologic feature is an “island” of granite and sandstone among the surrounding sea of limestone that makes up the Hill Country. With a more acidic soil, this is an oasis of plants that tend to prefer less alkaline conditions, and several interesting endemics occur isolated here. On the drive to his ranch, we spotted one of our trip’s targets, Lindheimer’s ironweed ( Vernonia lindheimeri) with its silvery foliage topped with plenty of seed heads that were formerly electric purple flowers.

 

A sea of Salvia azurea in Cedar Hill State Park.

John and his dog led us around the various habitats on his spectacular ranch. Though mostly shriveled and dormant, the fern and Selaginella diversity was high. Bill was happy to finally find Parthenocissus heptaphylla in fruit, which unlike its abundant relative, Virginia creeper, which bears five leaflets, this species is larger statured and holds seven leaflets which are abruptly jagged toward the tip. Another vine we were pleased to see was Passiflora affinis, but unfortunately without fruits.

 

John led us into a riparian area with unexpected westernmost populations of more easterly trees like Q. shumardii. The non-Texans in the group preferred the mustang grapes ( Vitis mustangensis) over the semi-ripe fruits of Prunus mexicana and were collecting everyone’s spit-out grape seeds.

A nice Pinus remota with pendulous tips.

Our sights were set on collecting some interesting things known to occur in the natural areas on the Fort Hood property near Killeen. We slammed on brakes when we found our first Eryngium leavenworthii in flower along a back road. It appeared as if someone spray painted the foliage of a thistle royal purple, the intense colors captivated us until we finally collected some seed. Further down the road we found a nice colony of the baby blue Yucca pallida loaded with seeds.

 

The following morning we went through background checks for security clearance to enter Fort Hood.

A cypress-lined stretch of the Frio River on the Annandale Ranch that held water.

George reconvened with us, and soon we were met by Carla Picinich, a biologist for the military property, who we had learned had been working nights doing deer counts in preparation for the fall hunt quotas. We felt bad that she was going to spend the next two days with us, meaning 48 hours with little to no sleep just to help us access our target species. On the eastern edge of the Hill Country near Waco, the Fort Hood property has several unusual plants we were seeking. One was the easternmost and highly disjunct population of of bigtooth maples ( Acer grandidentatum), second was the sycamor-leaved silverbell, Styrax platanifolius, and another was Croton alabamensis var. texensis. The latter species has leaf undersides colored a metallic silver and has a very strange distribution in a few restricted spots in Alabama and a few sites in Texas.

The maples and Styrax were abundant in the right micro-climates in the Owl Creek Mountains (really hills), but seed was eluding us. Finally we found one specimen of each species with an acceptable amount of seed. A bonus was finding the red-flowered Clematis texensis loaded with seed. The site with the croton was very parched, the wilted plants showing no signs of fruiting this year, but it was exciting to finally see the Texas form in the wild.

Tess, George and Boyce walking among giant bald cypresses near the Frio River, Annandale Ranch.

We bid farewell to George, and aimed toward our next base of operations at High Hope Ranch near Glen Rose, which offers some wonderful guest houses and caters to visiting nature lovers. When owner Sandy Skrei learned of our plans, she invited the local master naturalists and other key folks out to botanize with us and even organized a wonderful dinner with additional enthusiasts from the region. Highlights collected here included the Glen Rose yucca ( Yucca necopina) which is only found in a handful of counties in this region. Near the ranch, we were taken to a significant, and likely northernmost population of Styrax platanifolius that was loaded with seed. It was fascinating to comb through the dozens of individuals displaying a wide diversity of leaf shapes.

 

The largest Quercus sinuata var. breviloba I have ever seen, with Bill McLaughlin for scale, at Dogwood Canyon Preserve.

Reaching the northerly limits of our expedition, we arrived in the southern outskirts of the Dallas region at Dogwood Canyon Preserve operated by the Audubon Society. Here we met up with Bob O’Kennon from Botanical Research Institute of Texas who had been doing a floristic inventory of this diverse spot. Located in the “cross timbers” region where eastern and western trees mix, the preserve is named after the presence of one of the westernmost populations of flowering dogwood, Cornus florida. We collected abundant seeds of the northerly populations of Mexican buckeye, ( Ungnadia speciosa) in hopes they might be adaptable to other colder locations.

 

Later in the day we headed to Cedar Hill State Park, where we joined by Sam Kieschnick, urban wildlife biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. He took us to a prairie restoration project that was full of fascinating plants, most noticeably a sea of 6-foot tall Salvia azurea in full bloom. Rosa foliolosa was flaunting its red hips, and a large species of penstemon was begging us to take its seeds. Another site that included a wetland restoration project was carpeted by halberd-leaf rosemallow ( Hibiscus laevis). Generally white with red centers, there was considerable variability with some light red to dark purple centers, snowy white to pink blushed petals, and even one with unusual pink “brush strokes.” Seeds were collected to capture the diversity, and I collected cuttings to preserve the more distinctive forms.

Bob O’Kennon gave the group a tour of BRIT, and afterwards we strolled through Fort Worth Botanical Garden with director Bob Byers and explored its significant collection of begonia species and hybrids with Don Miller who oversees the collection. On the way back to Houston, we stopped for some roadside collecting. Boyce, who enjoys bulbs, was happy when I found a stretch of roadside loaded with Habranthus tubispathus, and later Zephyranthes peduncularis. Near Navasota we collected Echinacea atrorubens from a prairie remnant and some Baptisia nuttalliana and B. bracteata seeds to embellish Chicago Botanic Garden’s large collection of this genus. Rounding out the final collections of the trip were some easy access Q. falcata and Q. incana.

Back in Houston, the seeds and herbarium presses were shipped to Chicago for processing and distribution to PCC participants. We stayed up past midnight organizing our field notes for a detailed narrative of the trip before Boyce, Tess and Bill each flew home. A lot of ground was covered interacting with a lot of wonderful people, all resulting in a lot of important collections that will be prominently featured in the collections of a number of U.S. botanic gardens.

— Adam Black

Posted on

Garden Etiquette

All guests should proceed directly to the office upon arrival.

One of our smiling staff members will have you sign in, offer you water, offer facilities and direct you to the tour start location.

May I bring my stroller, wheelchair, walker or vehicle into the garden?

We apologize that neither paths nor bathrooms are ADA accessible. The paths contain numerous steps and roots and thus unable to accommodate walkers, wheel chairs and strollers. Cars are not allowed.

May I take pictures?

Of course! Take all the pictures you like.

May I smoke?

We are a non-smoking facility.

Where do I park?

Park in the parking area between the soil bins and the highway.

Where are the restrooms?

Three single person restrooms are available: One behind the red door outside the office, one in the office and one in the house behind the office. There are no facilities in the garden.

Water

You will be offered bottled water prior to the start of tour. You may bring your own water. No water will be provided along the tour, though you may carry water on the tour. We do ask that you hold on to the container for the tour duration.

Food

Private groups may consume food in designated areas only.

Touching plants

You are encouraged to experience all the sensory aspects of the garden, such as smelling flowers, feeling leaves and touching bark; however, we ask that you not break a leaf, snap a stem or pick a seed.

Posted on

Zamia integrifolia – Coontie

In my home state of Florida, the native cycad is a staple landscape plant in parking lot islands, foundation plantings…anywhere. These cycads are planted as individual textural specimens or massed in clumps or rows. Aside from their attractiveness, their popularity also is due to their propensity for being a durable, drought-tolerant and frost-hardy option for a tough spot in sun or shade. Peckerwood founder John Fairey has utilized this species for its various attributes in many areas of the garden, yet I was surprised upon moving here that the plant is still rather unknown in Texas horticulture. It is not difficult to find in the nurseries, but it should be just as popular here as it is in Florida.

Confusingly known by a few scientific names, most commonly Zamia floridana, most researchers consider Z. integrifolia to be the most current name. At least two forms exist, the “southeast” form ranging from southernmost Georgia to the tip of the peninsula which bears broad leaflets and compact form, and tends to be the most common selection in cultivation. Another form localized in the sandhills of the northwest portion of the Florida peninsula has thin leaflets that stand upright in a V arrangement on the fronds. A giant form from northeast Florida called the ‘Palatka Giant’ can be found in collector circles, and a mature clump can reach heights of at 5 feet. On the opposite end of the spectrum, John has a dwarf mutant in his personal collection that was a surprise among numerous seedlings derived from our garden’s plants.

When I guided members of The Cycad Society around Peckerwood, cycad biologist and Zamia specialist Michael Calonje from Miami’s Montgomery Botanical Center noted how our mature female clumps of Z. integrifolia were scattering their shocking red seeds from their crumbling cones throughout the garden. A common sight in Florida, I never thought about what is pollinating these cones in Texas until Michael asked if we had one or both of their specific beetle pollinators here. Though it is entirely possible that the pollinators hitchhiked from Florida in nursery stock and became established here, nobody has documented them in the state. We have since learned that fertile seeds are produced in other Texas counties from Houston to Austin without human intervention. We will have to pay attention next year to see if we can catch the culprit in the act and officially document its presence in the state.

Adam Black

Posted on

Prunus mume – Flowering Apricot

Prunus mume ‘Josephine’ bending well with woody lilies at the edge of the south dry garden
One of the stars among Peckerwood’s many winter-interest plants is Prunus mume, also known as the flowering apricot. For quite some time, as evidenced by some large trees on the property, John Fairey has been amassing various cultivars for trial here in Texas. Though originally native to southern China, it has been popular as an ornamental cultivated throughout Asia for a few thousand years, especially in Japan, where many selections have been perpetuated. Flowers range from white to deep red, with all shades of pink in between from pale to deep rose. Beyond color selections, there are forms with double flowers, large flowers as well as those with weeping and contorted branches. Like many plums, apricots and cherries in the genus Prunus, these deciduous trees flower profusely in winter before they leaf out. At Peckerwood, it seems that flowering time varies depending on the cultivar, and careful selection of specimens can result in a succession of flowering through winter and early spring. Though best known for their flowers, the trees also have wonderful bark and even produce reasonable fall color, especially striking with a backdrop of other evergreen plants. These ornamental selections produce inferior fruit to those intentionally selected or bred for palatability.
Camellia Forest Nursery in Chapel Hill, N.C. has been the primary source for these plants in the U.S. introducing many cultivars from Asia along with their own selections. Some nurseries graft the cultivars on other species of Prunus, some of which might not be as adaptable in our region, so it is best to investigate this with your source. Camellia Forest offers plants grown from rooted cuttings, which is the best option.
Prunus mume ‘Contorta’ is interesting even when defoliated
The winter flowers of Prunus mume show up most strikingly when grown among evergreen neighbors.
As we saw this past winter, one drawback in our gulf coast climate is that we don’t always receive the required amount of chilling this plant needs every winter. I’ve only witnessed the 2016 and 2017 flowering, and both years were quite floriferous. However, earlier this year, with our minimal cumulative chilling hours last winter, we saw erratic behavior when leafing out following flowering. Some cultivars leafed out fully, others sparsely, with some almost devoid of foliage all year. Though the trees are still alive, I doubt they will flower at all this winter, and it will be interesting to see if they have enough stored energy to leaf out this spring. It also will be of interest to see how those that did leaf out will flower this winter. This will be valuable data to continue to monitor in upcoming years in finding cultivars to recommend as reliable performers in our region.
So how much chilling do flowering apricots need on average? First we have to note that there are different methods of measuring chill requirements over a particular region’s winter, including chill hours, chill units and chill portions, all of which take into account several variables. In a study “Evaluation of Chilling and Heat Requirements in Japanese Apricot with Three Models” by Zhihong Gao, Weibing Zhuang, et al., they determined that the “dynamic model” which is displayed as chill portions (calculated differently from chill hours) was the most accurate way of determining chill requirements for this species. Their research showed the optimum required units for flowering apricot ranging from 26.3 to 75.7 chill portions depending on the clone. As a frame of reference, the chill portions for us here in Hempstead the past three years were 53, 36 and most recently, 22. We are currently at 15 chill portions here in late December, so hopefully in the remaining winter months we can double that and be back on schedule.
Though often not considered for its fall color, Prunus mume can indeed put on a show
Posted on

Platanus rzedowskii (formerly P. mexicana) – Mexican Sycamore

Taken in late October, the green foliage of Populus rzedowskii contrasts against the browned leaves of surrounding native P. occidentalis.
I recently learned that likely every Mexican sycamore in cultivation, widely known under the Latin name Platanus mexicana is actually a different species altogether – Platanus rzedowskii. I am now doubtful if the “true” P. mexicana is actually cultivated in the U.S. This incorrect naming is not due to a mistake, but to past taxonomic confusion among the Mexican sycamore species prior to more recent clarification.
This started a year ago when plantsman and landscape designer Scott Ogden was telling me about the champion Mexican sycamore in San Antonio at Trinity University, which he referred to as P. rzedowskii. I knew there were other species of sycamores in Mexico, and Scott’s comment piqued my interest about “another” Mexican species in cultivation. That conversation diverted to another subject and I didn’t get a chance to discuss in more detail with him. Flash forward a year, and I was talking with landscape designer Patrick Kirwin about a named cultivar of Mexican sycamore I had seen incorporated in one of his Austin area landscapes. He told me it was called ‘Alamo’, introduced by California’s Orange County Nursery as a selection from one of Scott Ogden’s wild seed collections from Mexico. Patrick relayed some additional information from Scott indicating that these, and everything in cultivation, were all P. rzedowskii.
The US national championPlatanus rzedowskii
Single fruits are an easy way to discern Platanus rzedowskii
While researching to determine what features separate the two species, I found the clear answers in Kevin Nixon and Jackie Poole’s 2003 paper titled “Revision of the Mexican and Guatemalan species of Platanus ( Platanaceae).” Nixon and Poole note that sycamores in Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, although previously referred to in horticulture as P. mexicana, were quite different from those matching the original description of the species, which is found farther south from Hildago and Veracruz all the way down to Guatemala. Therefore, they gave the name P. rzedowskii to this form from northeast Mexico in honor of prominent Mexican botanist Jerzy Rzedowski. True P. mexicana has the round fruits held in clusters of 3 or more and trilobed leaves with untoothed margins, while P. rzedowskii has solitary fruits like our native P. occidentalis, and the leaves are 5-lobed with jagged marginal teeth. All material in cultivation seems to originate from Nuevo Leon or Tamaulipas, and otherwise matches perfectly the description of P. rzedowskii.
Regardless of the name, this sycamore is an example of a tree superior to our Texas counterpart. While our native P. occidentalisnaturally thrives here, it looks quite ugly by late summer with patchy or browned leaves due to a number of diseases and insects. In stark contrast, the Mexican sycamore remains a clean dark green well into fall. Adding to the appeal is the startling contrast of the silvery white undersides of the leaves. Unfortunately, many nurseries propagate this plant from open-pollinated seed from cultivated trees, which almost always yields hybrids with P. occidentalis that tend to be quite inferior in appearance and disease resistance, which Patrick referred to as “Tex-Mex sycamores”. Mid-summer cuttings root very easily and therefore more nurseries could only offer pure P. rzedowskii propagated from superior trees.
Bark detail of Populus rzedowskii
Posted on

Trillium species – Toadshades and Wakerobins

Trillium texanum , a pedicillate wakerobin, in our conservation collection.
In many cooler parts of the country, trilliums are the heralds of spring in the woodland garden, with their beautifully patterned leaves and striking flowers serving as a cheerful farewell to winter.  Many gardeners are surprised to find that we are able to grow various Trillium species in our climate. Even more surprising to them is the fact that there are several species that are native to the woodlands of east Texas. There are, in fact, quite a few other species perfectly adapted to the Gulf Coast climate with native ranges from the coastal plain of Louisiana through northern Florida. These southern species are still deemed difficult to impossible by savvy local gardeners who have tried them. However, If specific requirements are taken into consideration, they are not too difficult and can even naturalize in the woodland gardens in our region.
Often referred to as “wakerobins” and “toadshades,” the latter common name usually refers to the mostly northern types that have flowers held on a noticeable stalk (pedicile), which in some species arches downward below the leaves, and in others holds the flowers proudly upright. Their leaves are solid green. These wakerobins are more technically known as “pedicilate” flowered species. Most of the southern species we can grow in our region are the “sessile” flowered toadshades which have a stalkless flower fixed in the center of the three leaves, with the petals held erect. Unlike the wakerobins, toadshades’ leaves are in most cases decorated with ornate mottling of various purple, silver and green tones, ornamental to the point that the foliage rivals their flowers.
Trillium gracile , an east Texas native, growing happily here at Peckerwood
Nearly all of the options found from Texas to Florida have the same general requirements that have been learned through my own trial and error, experiences of others, and by observations made in their natural habitat. In the wild, most southern species, with a few exceptions, are always growing on moist but well-drained ravine slopes in soil that tends to be neutral to alkaline. In the garden, planting in a level garden bed, even if well-drained, usually results in the plants being unhappy, returning every year smaller and smaller and eventually disappearing. Simply building a small berm of good quality soil even 18” – 24” high can drastically improve results. Planted in the pockets of soil among a shady rock garden also can work. Though southern trilliums can handle acidic soil, they seem to do even better with annual additions of horticultural lime. I would mix this into the soil when planting, and every year I would scatter a liberal amount on the surface to be washed in.
Though generally thought of as spring ephemerals, southern trillium species can emerge late fall or in the dead of winter. This can be as early as Thanksgiving in the north Florida species to February among the remainder of the species found along the Gulf Coast. Their emergence coincides with the increased light reaching the forest floor after the deciduous trees have dropped their leaves. In our region, they can only tolerate a few hours of direct sun in the morning, with dappled shade the remainder of the day.
A solid purple selection of Trillium maculatum
Trillum lancifolium ‘Ballerina’, a Plant Delights selection with pewter foliage.
By early summer, trilliums are getting ready to die back for the season. Their foliage can look quite disheveled by May or June, but, as with most geophytes, resist the temptation to cut it back before it dries entirely to encourage a more vigorous plant the following season. As long as any green remains on the tattered foliage, it is supplying more energy to be stored in its underground rhizome. Even after the foliage disappears, occasional watering of the soil during extended dry spells is necessary. Trilliums aren’t like other geophytes (bulbs, corms, rhizomes, tubers) in that their rhizomes don’t actually go dormant. Instead, their rhizomes are growing and branching underground during the summer when no leaves are present. If the soil dries considerably during the summer, it can result in a stunted plant the following season, or a complete loss.
Though formerly rare in mail-order nurseries, a few businesses are delving into the southern species. Tony Avent and staff at Plant Delights Nursery have been leading the way and are an excellent source for a variety of species and selections. The prices may seem steep, but when you consider that a trillium from seed takes 5-7 years in even the best nursery conditions to attain a reasonable salable, flowering size, it makes better sense. Tony has been collecting a variety of unusual variants of the species ranging from pure silver leaf forms, atypical patterning or growth habit, and unusual flower colors. It is best to stick with reputable nurseries and avoid wild-collected plants that can sometimes be found at low prices online, as these are often unethically collected from sensitive environments.
Trilliums can be very tricky in pots long-term. If you need to keep them containerized, it is recommended to use a very open, freely draining mix, and repot in new soil annually. If not regularly repotted, the soil can break down creating a thick muddy layer around the bottom of the pots that can result in a rotting rhizome. Even in pots, they never are as vigorous as they are in a proper garden setting.
What can be accomplished over a few decades – a huge patch ofTrillium maculatum at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville FL.
If you are ready to be the envy of your gardening friends and try your luck with trilliums, I would recommend the following species for beginners: T. gracile (Texas native), T. underwoodii,T. maculatum, T. decipiens, T. lancifolia, T. ludovicianum, T. foetidissimum and T. oostingii. These are all the sessile-flowered toadshade types. There are few pedicillate-flowered wakerobin types suitable for our region. A couple of more northerly species reach their southern extent in the coastal plain, but plants collected specifically from these isolated, southernmost populations would be needed to succeed, and aren’t present in cultivation yet. T. texanum, a rare bog-growing species known from only a few sites in east central Texas, is a pedicillate species we are trying to conserve at Peckerwood that is not available from nurseries. Peckerwood will be offering limited numbers of several species of trilliums this spring, including T. maculatum from Florida, T. gracile from Texas, and T. foetidissimum.