Nannorrhops ritchiana – The Mazari Palm

A true oddity, Nannorrhops adds color, texture and interest to any garden.

With a native range extending from Yemen to Pakistan, Nannorrhops ritchiana inhabits among the most hostile environments of any palm. Summer brings temperatures above 100F while winters can dip well below freezing. Rainfall is seasonal leaving the palm well adapted to extended drought.

Despite these harsh origins, the Mazari palm is a hardy, adaptable species growing successfully in South Texas, California and Florida. Its deeply split palmate leaves range in color from gray-green to pale blue with a virtually unarmed petiole making it safe for planting along paths and walkways. It will sucker from the base and each stem is covered with a thick rust colored tomentum.
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Rare for palms, Nannorrhops exhibits above ground (dichotomous) branching, growing multiple heads from the main stem. Once a stem flowers, it will die back to the main stem, which continues to grow and branch further.

In Peckerwood Garden you can see the Nannorrhops in the South Dry Garden above the “Tall Drifter” sculpture by Peter Reginato.

Zone: 8 and higher
Soil: Adaptable to most soils given good drainage and is salt and limestone tolerant
Exposure: Part to full sun
Tolerates extreme drought but grows faster with regular irrigation and fertilizer
10ft or higher but trunks often recline with age

Cephalotaxus harringtoniana ‘Korean Gold’

On the subject of winter interest, one unusual conifer demands attention this time of year. During warmer months, the upright Japanese plum yew selection Cephalotaxus harringtoniana ‘Korean Gold’ leaves observers wondering why a dark green plant has such a name. Only after a few late fall cold snaps will the show really start, when the outer foliage is gilded with bright yellow highlights and contrasts sharply with the dark green inner needles. This winter coloration is produced through an interesting process called “photoinhibition”. During winter when the plants are dormant and physiological functions are slowed down, they undergo a temporary change that allows them to deal with excessive sunlight that would normally be utilized for photosynthesis during the warmer months of the year. This change of color is not to be confused with fall color on deciduous trees, as these colored needles will not fall off.  On the subject of winter interest, one unusual conifer demands attention this time of year. During warmer months, the upright Japanese plum yew selection Cephalotaxus harringtoniana ‘Korean Gold’ leaves observers wondering why a dark green plant has such a name. Korean-GoldOnly after a few late fall cold snaps will the show really start, when the outer foliage is gilded with bright yellow highlights and contrasts sharply with the dark green inner needles. This winter coloration is produced through an interesting process called “photoinhibition”. During winter when the plants are dormant and physiological functions are slowed down, they undergo a temporary change that allows them to deal with excessive sunlight that would normally be utilized for photosynthesis during the warmer months of the year. This change of color is not to be confused with fall color on deciduous trees, as these colored needles will not fall off.

Many conifers will show photoinhibition to a slight degree if conditions are consistently cold, appearing in winter as light green to slightly golden, or in some specie bronze, brown or reddish purple. Even loblolly pines will have a slight, barely noticeable light green to gold hue after some cold weather. However, certain rare individuals will display photoinhibition to an excessive degree, visually appearing a bright shocking gold, and these notable examples become popular winter garden subjects. Korean-Gold-(2)There are several cultivars of pines, hemlocks, firs and spruces that are as yellow as a school bus in winter, then revert back to normal green in summer.

Unfortunately there are few of these selections that are adaptable to southeast Texas, or they will thrive but simply don’t receive enough chilling to attain the coloration in USDA zones 8-9. Cephalotaxus harringtoniana ‘Korean Gold’ is one of the few that will develop color in winter in this area, most prominently in the inland sections away from the warming influence of the gulf. Though plum yews are most often utilized in shady garden settings, most will also happily take nearly full sun but might require a little more irrigation. In order for ‘Korean Gold’ to attain the best winter color it will require this sort of open exposed conditions. In sheltered areas it will remain plain green, no different than the regular form of upright (fastigiate) C. harringtoniana.

 

-Adam Black

Senecio aschenbornianus

Senecio aschenborneanus

Senecio aschenbornianus was a new one for me upon starting here last month. I had grown many other members of this genus from North American natives, South African succulent species, as well as Asian representatives too. I was quite drawn to the color and shape of the blue/gray foliage which somewhat resembled a shrunken oak leaf hydrangea. The multi-stemmed shrub held this beautiful evergreen foliage in a naturally dense manner. Though it looks very tender, the plant is remarkably hardy in our area, without any blemished leaves through the several freezes we’ve had. Normally walking around with my head to the ground looking at every plant I am passing, I was stopped in my tracks yesterday by a sudden sweet fragrance that I couldn’t immediately place. Prying my eyes up to survey the surroundings for the source resulted in an instant visual impact of school-bus yellow mounds of Johns grouping of three plants. The buds that had been on the plant since January had all suddenly opened seemingly overnight. During one of my always-enlightening walks in the garden with John, I had remarked on my great appreciation for this plant based on foliage alone, figuring the flowers would be simply an added bonus. He mentioned not collecting it for years as it was “everywhere” in Mexico, and being so abundant it was just seemingly less of a priority while out searching for the few-and-far-between treasures. Fortunately he did finally collect it and now I can’t wait to propagate it for others to enjoy as much as I have. John has grown it in the dappled sunlight of a high overhead tree canopy and has endured zone 8b winters like a champ. It is being grown in a well-drained setting with supplemental irrigation only when necessary and seems pretty ironclad once established. Check in later this year for this plant’s availability in our nursery.

— Adam Black

Garden Documentation Project Underway

A page from John Fairey's plant journal

A page from John Fairey’s plant journal.

Peckerwood Garden founder John Fairey kept meticulous records of his numerous collecting expeditions to Mexico. He recorded the date, time, and weather at each stop along winding mountain roads where he found specimens of the hundreds of plants he brought back to grow at Peckerwood Garden.

Each plant in the garden sports a metal tag referencing these coordinates; and the date of its planting in the garden. For many years, these tags have been the only reference point for identifying plants in the garden and their place of origin.

That is changing now, thanks to a generous gift from Laura Fain in honor of plantsman Will Fleming. The gift is providing seed money for an ambitious initiative to capture our plant records in a new and dynamic database tied to a GIS (Global Information System). This sophisticated mapping program will allow staff and researchers to not only learn the history of any plant, but also locate it growing in the garden today.

With more than 3000 species of plants, Peckerwood Garden is a cornucopia of botanical riches, with origins in diverse climatic zones and conditions, most grown from seed. The array of trees, shrubs, perennials, and bulbs is representative of growing areas from Louisiana to the mountains of northern Mexico. The range of cacti and succulents, for which Peckerwood is perhaps best known, come from desert areas stretching from Texas into southern Mexico.

These plants have been tested for garden-worthiness for nearly 30 years and the information gathered about their horticultural values is as important as the botanical data represented in John’s records.

Leading our plant collections initiative is Sue Howard, a horticulturist based in Vermont who has taken up residence in the nursery house at Peckerwood Garden for the winter months. She is working closely with garden consultant Bill Noble, former preservation director at the Garden Conservancy, who has tapped into the Alliance for Public Gardens to enroll Peckerwood Garden in a pilot project using the ESRI GIS software. This program is making it possible for a select group of public gardens to use this sophisticated software at virtually no cost.

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Documenting the Mexican Oaks at Peckerwood Garden

Sue is spending her days walking the garden with John, transcribing stories of the individual plants and their history, then poring over the collection journals and stacks of note cards to pull together the data behind each plant in the garden. Her first efforts have been focused on the Mexican oaks, which were documented and mapped in 2007. It was no surprise to learn that a dozen additional species had found their way into the garden since then!

Each tree is measured to determine the current caliper size, and its specific location identified for the new site map. Botanical photos of leaf, bark, flower, and seed will also be part of the database record, all shareable with botanical institutions and, one day, with the general public.

We will be updating you on this complex effort as it goes along, and hope you will join us for a presentation about the project by Sue Howard at the garden on Saturday, March 28th, in conjunction with our Open Day.

Documenting Peckerwood Garden’s plant collections through participation in ArcGIS for public gardens is an essential first step towards participating in national plant conservation programs. This step will also lead us towards making Peckerwood’s plants available for research and horticultural purposes. Documenting and sharing Peckerwood’s outstanding resources with researchers and other public gardens is an essential part of our vision for the future of the Garden.

— Bill Noble

I have been here at Peckerwood since early January and am thrilled to be part of such an interesting project in such a splendid and notable garden. Working alongside John is a pleasure, he is a wealth of information, interjected with stories of travels and beams with the pure joy of doing what he loves.

We have been updating the previously catalogued oaks, adding additions, taking leaf samples, measuring caliper, photographing each individual tree and cross referencing each with the coinciding collection trips to Mexico. The oaks are interspersed throughout the garden so every venture brings with it glimpses of spring unfolding – the Prunus mume in full bloom, Magnolias just starting and the sweet scent of Mahonia chochoca wafting through the air.

Our ArcGIS software has arrived and once up and running we begin mapping. There is a great team of people here both staff and dedicated volunteers who love this garden, I am honored to be a part of that mix.

— Sue Howard

Docent Training led by Peckerwood Garden Founder John Fairey

Please join us and train as a tour guide/docent for Peckerwood Garden Conservation Foundation. The three-session program will be held February 21, February 28, and March 7: training begins at 11 am.

These training sessions will be 1.5 to 2 hours each, covering a section of the garden each day. Focused training is available if you have special garden areas you are interested in. John Fairey will be your instructor for all three classes. Documents will be provided for review and questions are welcomed.

RSVP to Bethany Jordan or by phone at 979-826-3232. Please provide details on your particular garden/plant interests as well as availability for tours after training. If heavy rain is forecast, training will be moved out one week later from the original scheduled date.

Limited space available, additional sessions will be scheduled at a later date if filled.

Active Volunteers receive a 20% discount on plant purchases.