Table of Contents
Adam’s notes from the garden
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.
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.’
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 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.
Wade Roitsche of Yucca Do collected this ash from Hildago, where he said it was growing almost as a creeping groundcover due to being heavily goat-pruned. Now protected from marauding feral livestock, it has turned into a beautiful upright multi-trunked tree about 18’ tall. The flowers on this male plant were quite subtle, unfortunately, but nonetheless interesting and full of pollinators. On the other hand, it’s impossible to overlook the sea of yellow crowning the masses of the leopard plant Farfugium japonicum in the woodland garden understory. The real show is just beginning, as we keep reiterating how winter is the most wonderful time of the year in the garden in terms of flowers, especially mid-January through February.
Collecting Scrub Oaks and Other Xeric Plants from Florida’s Sandhills
By Adam Black
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve already brought seedlings of this underutilized ornamental xeric plant to Peckerwood. Low evening light makes the foliage glow a warm cinnamon color.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Sat, Dec 3, 2016, Peckerwood Insider’s Tour, 10 am
- Sat, Dec 10, 2016, Monthly Training, 9 am
- Sat, Dec 24, 2016, Open Day, 10 am – 3 pm
- Sat, Jan 7, 2017, Peckerwood Insider’s Tour, 10 am
- Fri, Jan 20, 2017, Evening at Peckerwood Garden Lecture, 7 pm
- Sat, Jan 14, 2017, Monthly Training, 9 am,
- Sat, Jan 28, 2017, Open Day, 10 am – 3 pm
Volunteers Appreciation Lunch A Success
By Adam Black
Earlier 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. Every volunteer got to choose two plants when his/her ticket was called, and Ruth provided additional bare-root aloe plants for everyone to take home.
We can never thank our volunteers enough for all they have been accomplishing, from helping with events, administrative duties and lots of weeding and gardening around the offices. Nothing would happen without their regular presence.
Plant of the month: Mexican Snowberry Tree (Chiococca sp.)
By Adam Black
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. The 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.
A 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.
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.