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Hemiphylacus hintoniorum

By Adam Black
Here’s an obscure one that we finally have identified. The silvery-blue clumps of erect rubbery leaves could be interpreted as belonging to an agave or yucca, but the identity of this plant has continued to intrigue me. John has a planting in the north dry garden by the blue wall as well as another colony in the south dry garden just above the fountain pool. The tag indicated he had collected it in Mexico on the “road to Camarones,” so I had been light-heartedly referring to it as the “shrimp road lily.” I had assumed it must be some strange member of the Agavaceae family, bearing a combination of features otherwise found in Beschorneria, Manfreda and Polianthes. It flowered last year, with a 3-foot tall branched inflorescence lined with dangling tubular white flowers with a violet blush, but these only created more of a mystery rather than shed light on this plant’s identity.
Hemiphylacus hintoniorumflowers.
Hemiphylacus hintonioruminflorescences
The plants are currently flowering again, this time even more vigorously, and I decided to post some photos on Facebook to see if anyone else had any ideas. Various suggestions we had already exhausted flowed in, but then Aaron Floden, a botanical taxonomist at Missouri Botanical Garden, confidently chimed in with “Hemiphylacus.” Since I had never heard of this genus, I looked it up and sure enough found a few photos in habitat of a plant that resembled ours spot-on, named Hemiphylacus hintoniorum.
Researching further, the current genetic studies show the genusHemiphylacus is a direct relative of Asparagus – yes, the edible vegetable. The two genera are the only ones recognized in Asparagaceae subfamily Asparagoideae. Though they look completely different, one similarity they both share are thick, fleshy nodular roots, as anyone who has grown “asparagus fern” (Asparagus aethiopicus) likely knows. Hemiphylacus dies back to this mass of roots in winter, but erupts out of the ground in spring with a refreshed rosette of clean silvery blue.
Last year we had a variegated offset appear from the clump by the blue wall that looked quite consistent and stable, but this year it returned from dormancy with only a few streaks, dashing our hopes of already having a cultivar of this plant that is currently rather unknown in cultivation. We produce a limited amount of offsets each year and hope to first back our plants up with other botanical gardens, but perhaps we will be successful in producing seeds with this current flowering and can offer offspring in the near future
Hemiphylacus hintoniorum
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Yucca desmetiana

By Adam Black
Another highlight in our nursery inventory and our plant of the month, is a regularly asked- about specimen on our Peckerwood Garden tours. This distinctive and mysterious yucca is unlike any other, with a lot of conflicting information surrounding its true identity.
Originally described in 1870 from a cultivated plant, more recently folks have suggested it could be a hybrid of natural or garden origin, but it may be a naturally occurring species – I don’t know if anyone really knows for sure.
They can be seen growing staked for vertical growth near the Pool Plaza.
Yucca desmetiana may want to creep along the ground when the stems get too long_ or they can be staked up.
Yucca desmetiana  may want to creep along the ground when the stems get too long, or they can be staked up.
Adding to the confusion are a variety of names it has been offered under in cultivation, including Yucca x desmetiana (reflecting the hybrid theory), Yucca aloifolia ‘Purpurea,’ Y ucca samuelii, and cultivar names including ‘Blue Boy’ and ‘Spellbound,’ all appearing to be the same plant. Though there are reports of it flowering in cultivation, I can’t find any photos, and to my knowledge it has never flowered here. Its chalky blue-green foliage displays purple blush on the new foliage, which intensifies after some winter chilling. Unlike many other species, this yucca has soft rubbery leaves that won’t result in loss of blood. A smaller-statured species, it starts with an erect stem that will produce a cluster of additional stems from the base, but with poor structural integrity it will eventually start leaning under its own weight and soon be scrambling in a twisting manner along the ground, which can create an interesting effect spilling over rocks, especially when it produces multiple stems. John made an interesting grouping of them near the pool plaza where they are staked up, but when they get too tall and lanky for his liking they get cut back to allow new stems to take their place. It is also great for containers, and maybe even a large hanging basket when it starts creeping around.
Its main requirements is sun to partial shade in well-draining soil. It easily tolerates our region’s extremes of heat and cold without any issues. Come purchase one from our nursery while they last.
The chill-intensified purple blush that fades somewhat when the temperatures warm.
The chill-intensified purple blush that fades somewhat when the temperatures warm.
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Our Partners and Professional Ambassadors


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The Garden Conservancy Open Day Tours

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

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

Purchase tickets here: 

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

Greentree Woods – Learn More

Habitat House – Learn More

Natalie’s Prospect – Learn More

Briarwood Court – Learn More

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

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

Greentree Woods
Briarwood Court
Natalie’s Prospect
Habitat House
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Volunteering at Peckerwood Garden

We strongly value our volunteers who make significant contribution to the beautification and function of Peckerwood Garden. Their tireless efforts truly make a huge difference!

Volunteer Functions

  • Weed the area around the office.
  • Water the greenhouses.
  • Plant around the office.
  • Lead or assist on tours (requires training).
  • Prepare snacks for events.
  • Assist the office manager with clerical tasks.
  • Clear undeveloped property.
  • Perform basic carpentry.


Volunteers work Tuesday and sometimes Friday, but days are flexible.

How to Become Involved

Volunteer Form


To inquire about volunteering call 979.826.3232 or email

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Quercus glauca

This beautiful evergreen Asian oak tends to form multiple trunks bearing a dense crown of glossy green leaves with chalky blue undersides.

Peckerwood is known for its extensive oak collection, especially those from John’s Mexican collections, but we do have a variety of Asian oaks as well. A few decades ago, John imported seeds of Quercus glauca, also known as the Japanese Blue Oak or Ring-Cupped Oak. They germinated well and were offered through Yucca-do Nursery locally and via mail order, but according to John none sold, presumably due to being just too unfamiliar to collectors at that time. After sitting around for a while, they were eventually planted around the Peckerwood and Yucca-do properties. As they attained significant size, people finally began to notice what attractive evergreen trees they had become, with spreading branching structure, multiple trunks and smooth polychrome bark in shades of silver, white, light green and grey. Many did not immediately recognized these trees as oaks, being the thick, stiff glossy leaves with dark green tops and chalky blue undersides didn’t look remotely like any familiar North American oak. The spreading branching structure was especially appealing, combined with the naturally dense crown. These trees began producing seed –recognizable as a standard oak acorn, but with concentric rings encircling the cap, hence one of the common names (Ring-Cupped Oak). With mature trees to behold in the garden, and now offspring, there were now customers lined up for the opportunity to finally grow this tree that had to earn its admiration over time in the Peckerwood landscape.

Quercus Glauca

Quercus Glauca

20160421_151443I have been fortunate to see Q. glauca in Taiwan where it is native. It occurs in low elevation tropical forests that are rather dry, yet when grown in colder areas it is quite tolerant of hard freezes it would not otherwise see naturally. It does get some damage in zone 7 but excels in zone 8 to 10. It seems adaptable to any location with well-drained soil and full sun to light shade. I think the best specimens are attained in full exposure, starting out as a compact tree with a fairly upright habit, and eventually producing additional trunks that spread gracefully outward. If grown in shadier conditions, it will grow more vertical, less spreading, as it reaches for the light. Examples of both forms growing in these different conditions can be observed at Peckerwood, and both have their merits.

In March, the new growth emerges a purple-bronze color that is quite attractive, and when the tree is a little older this growth will be accompanied by hanging catkins of flowers.  Of particular note are the trees on the west side of the nursery property, as they did not receive any supplemental water in the most recent prolonged drought, yet they really never missed a beat. Taiwan was in a severe drought when I visited in early 2015, and many adjacent natives were clearly wilted and suffering while Q. glauca looked flawless.

We are sometimes offer small seedlings of this species propagated off Peckerwood’s magnificent trees– the perfect size for planting.

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Dyschoriste linearis – Snake Herb

Dyschoriste linearis


Dyschoriste linearis

Some might expect a “plant of the month” to be some exceptionally rare and boldly attractive plant. This month I wanted to focus on a groundcover that at first glance may seem quite humble in many ways, but is in fact incredibly versatile and has a unique charm of its own. I always liked Dyschoriste after growing a Florida native species prior to my move, but assumed others would never see its attractive qualities over the more flashy options. Shortly after starting at Peckerwood, I was surprised to find that one of our most reliable volunteers, Craig Jackson, shared my appreciation of the patch of Dyschoriste linearis that John has growing along the perennial border near the south entrance to the woodland garden. I then began to see that nurseries here in Texas actually carry this plant, and soon found that, when offered in our nursery, others were attracted to it and bought it, shattering my assumptions!

Snake Herb is an evergreen Texas native that is drought tolerant, cold hardy and low maintenance, with dense, weed-suppressing foliage that looks attractive year around. Dyschoriste linearis is a highly variable plant, with leaves that can be either thin and needle-like, or slightly more


Dyschoriste linearis

broad and elliptical. John’s plant is the broad-leaf form, but the linear-leaved form seems to be more common in the nursery trade. Both are equally attractive and create a low, dense mat of 8” to 12” tall evergreen stems that gradually form a tight, tidy clump. Throughout the warmer months, purple flowers resembling smaller versions of the related Ruellia are readily visible.

Naturally growing in dry, sunny spots in sandy or gravelly open areas, this plant is amazingly tolerant of neglect following establishment, after which water should only be necessary following long dry spells. The dense mat it forms tends to be compact and tight, but occasionally an errant runner will result in a random patch or two forming a short distance away from the main plant. Some may prefer to remove any satellite clumps if you are keeping a more formal, organized landscape, but for naturalizing it is simply a matter of preference. It is in no way an aggressive spreader, so it will not become something you regret planting and removal of undesired shoots easy.

South entrance to the Woodland Garden

In addition to its xeric qualities, snake herb will also grow in fertile garden soil with regular irrigation,


Quercus oblongifolia

provided there is excellent drainage and at least a fair portion of the day in full sun. Design ideas utilizing this plant include planting around bold foliage, like around the base of thick, succulent Agave leaves, or as a foreground layer in front of or in-between taller specimen perennials or low shrubs. I think its color and texture goes well with silver colored foliage. Gravel mulch around the plant really helps make the clump stand out compared with wood mulch or bare earth.

Don’t be put off by the common name “Snake Herb”, it does not attract snakes any better than other ground covers. In fact, I can’t readily find out why it has that common name. Other species elsewhere in the world, some of which form taller shrubs, have many cultural medicinal uses, and perhaps somewhere it has been used to treat snakebite. Quite possibly it is instead named for its long snakelike rhizomes which results in its ability to form a colony. Either way it is a valuable addition to any well-drained sunny landscape.

We currently have the needle-leaf form available in our nursery, but we are also rooting divisions of John’s elliptical-leaved form. Adam will be bringing a Florida collection of Dyschoriste oblongifolia to trial in Texas, and there are several other species native to the southern US to seek out in an attempt to broaden the palette of snake herb varieties that can be utilized for all their desirable qualities.

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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.

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

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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

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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