Posted on

July 2017 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden

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

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


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Adam’s notes from the garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The weeping Himalayan cypress Cupressus funebris

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

The edible fruits of Casimiroa pringlei are ripening

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


The Natural Side of Peckerwood

By Adam Black 

Our resident snapping turtle. Photo by Dev Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In fall, goldenrod dominates the fields

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ebony jewelwing damselflies are frequently seen fluttering around the creek bed

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

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

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

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


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 Calendar


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

By Adam Black 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


 

 

Posted on

June 2017 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden

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

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


Adam’s notes from the garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tetrameris sp. is a shrimp plant relative collected in Mexico

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

Calathea burle-marxii ‘Ice Blue’

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

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

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

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

The variegated form of the Taiwanese Acer caudatifolium

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

 

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

 

 


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

Yucca Do Nursery’s Final Days

By Adam Black 

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

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

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

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


 

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 Calendar


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

By Adam Black 

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

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

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


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


 

 

Posted on

May 2017 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden

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

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


Adam’s notes from the garden

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

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

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

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

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

John Fairey interviewed in the garden for Garden Dialogues

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

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

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

The primeval mountain-top vegetation in New Caledonia

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

One of the beautiful New Caledonian flowering plants, Xanthostemon aurantiacus

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

The wind-contorted New Caledonian conifer Neocallitropsis pancheri 

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

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

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


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

On the trail of the blue horsetail

By Adam Black 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


May Slideshow

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

By Adam Black 

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

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

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

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


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

By Pam Romig

Brie Arthur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

Posted on

April 2017 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden

In Search of a few East Texas rarities
Calendar
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
Calendar
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 volunteer1@peckerwoodgarden.org


 

 

Posted on

February 2017 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden

Preserving a Stunning Golden Live Oak
Calendar
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 Gardenweb.com 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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 “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.


 Calendar


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 volunteer1@peckerwoodgarden.org


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.

 

Posted on

January 2017 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden

Visiting exciting plant collections through the Carolinas
Calendar
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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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.


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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.
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December 2016 Newsletter

Table of Contents

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

Calendar
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.


 Calendar


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.

 

 

Classes

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.

 

 

Events

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.
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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 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.
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November 2016 Newsletter

Table of Contents

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

Calendar
Social Media
Volunteer appreciation
Plant of the month
Visitors

Slideshow


Adam’s notes from the garden

a-soon-to-be-described-species-of-mexican-mahonia-is-among-the-first-to-flower-this-month
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-suns-rays-above-sabal-tamaulipana
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
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 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
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
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.
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.


 Calendar


  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.
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  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
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.

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.