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Though it is still quite hot out, the ripening acorns and sudden appearance of flowering oxblood lilies are signaling that fall is just around the corner. After a tumultuous year of weather extremes, mild conditions can’t come soon enough.
Signs that folks are planning to emerge from the air conditioning and resume interest in gardening are evident based on the rapid increase in garden club tour reservations. It’s shaping up to be a busy fall at Peckerwood with many visiting collaborators, increasing events, acorn sales, and more.
New discoveries abound in the garden, and as is often the case, on a small scale among more permanent structural features. As a tight patch of coppery yellow Habranthus tubispathus flowers were waning following the regular August rains, out from the gravel erupted tight clumps of purple flowers, soon followed by tripart leaves composed of three thin arch-shaped leaflets joined together at the apex. This summer-dormant Oxalis livida is one of the more distinctive members of this diverse genus. North of the creek, the evergreen clumps of an unknown Mexican species of Schoenocaulon have always lent a unique character in the dry gravel beds. This obscure bulb has grassy foliage cinched together tightly at the base by persistent dark brown sheaths. The long leaves on this plant are always folded down under their weight. If this was a grass it would be unsightly, but this plant can’t help it, so it is acceptable to find the beauty in its floppiness. Only recently inflorescences appeared, erect stalks with dense tapering heads of tiny intricate white flowers – much more refined than the charmingly disheveled vegetative parts it towers above.
Lobelia siphilitica is showing its beautiful true blue colors that never seem to capture properly in photos, appearing more on the purple side. This species, which gets its species name from its use among Native Americans to treat syphilis, is found more often in northern states, from the front range of the Colorado Rockies north to North Dakota and in every eastern state except Florida, though most abundant north of the Mason-Dixon line. Only a few records exist from extreme north Texas. Ours were shared by Yucca Do Nursery in Giddings, TX, where nursery manager Wade Roitsch is unsure where his stock plant came from, perhaps a surprise volunteer in the pot of something else. Though naturally found in moist areas, Wade has proven this selection to be quite adaptable to drier conditions as well. This is another good example of trialing plants from unexpected areas for adaptability. If you are interested in it, you should order soon while Yucca Do’s supplies last, and before they ultimately close.
I received some giant acorns of Quercus skinneri from a collaborator who collected them in the mountains of El Salvador, and days after receiving them they have already started germinating. We have exchanged material for years and surprisingly, many of the high elevation plants in this tropical country have proven quite frost hardy. There are many plants at the tops of the mountains that are southernmost range extensions for plants otherwise found in Mexico, as well as things found nowhere else. I am hoping to make a collecting expedition to this exciting area soon.
Finally, I had recently reported on some losses in the garden stemming back to the floods earlier this year, surely exacerbated by the two hot, rainless months that immediately followed. Stress-induced diseases can often take quite some time to produce visual signs of distress, and I was expecting more trees and shrubs to meet the fate of one of our larger, prominently located Quercus rysophylla, along with our original specimen of Casimiroa pringlei, and several other oaks and conifers. I’m happy to report that we haven’t seen any further mortality. Our two Quercus crassipes, a personal favorite, both appeared to have died, but on one recent evening stroll across the arboretum, a rosy glow caught my eye. I was happy to see one individual was covered in tender fuzzy white-backed pink foliage adorning the tips of every one of its previously bare limbs.
In November, we are honored to have two notable figures in horticulture presenting talks on their areas of expertise: David Parks, owner of Camellia Forest Nursery, will speak during our Saturday November 12th Open Day, and Andrew Bunting, assistant director of Chicago botanical gardens will be our guest lecturer for our Friday, November 18th “Evening at Peckerwood Lecture Series”. Please see below for the details for each talk.
David Parks, owner of Camellia Forest Nursery “Camellia azalea hybridization in China”
November 12, 11:00 am (concurrent with our Open Day)
Free with Open Day admission
If you collect rare and unusual woody plants, Camellia Forest Nursery needs no introduction. This Chapel Hill, NC nursery is the premier source of Camellia species and hybrids combined with a vast array of hard-to-find woody plants. Many collector trees and shrubs have been introduced through their own introductions, both from their international plant explorations and in-house nursery selections. Many Camellia Forest acquisitions figure prominently in Peckerwood’s landscapes. Owner David Parks will be visiting Peckerwood coinciding with our November 12th Open Day and we are excited to announce his willingness to present a lecture that day at 11:00 am, at no additional cost beyond our regular open day admission.
David will be presenting on “Camellia azalea hybridization in China”. If you aren’t familiar with Camellia azalea, the confusing name may lead you to believe that two different plants are being referenced, or taking the talk’s title into context, that two unrelated plants, azaleas (which are Rhododendrons) and Camellias are being somehow hybridized. Actually, Camellia azalea is a naturally-occurring species, and arguably one of the most stunningly beautiful. More often used in Southeast Asian landscapes, Camellia azalea is still quite unknown in the US, and when available, usually fetches a high price due to the demand among collectors. The intensely glowing red flowers are quite large and contrast sharply with the blackish green foliage, putting this species in a class of its own. From a distance, a specimen in flower does indeed look more like some type of Rhododendron you would expect to see thriving only in Oregon or Washington State, yet it is naturally from a quite warm subtropical climate. Though in itself a stand-alone winner, I was excited to hear of the hybridization efforts in China utilizing the wonderful traits of this species for incorporating into new and improved cultivars. As a hopeless plant geek, I am anxious to hear and see David’s elaboration on this topic. This talk should be of great interest to any true plant enthusiast, not to mention a great opportunity to meet the owner of one of the world’s premier collector nurseries.
Andrew Bunting from Chicago Botanical Garden “Magnolias for the Garden”
Evening at Peckerwood Lecture, November 18th, 7:00 pm
For our November 18th “Evening at Peckerwood” lecture, we are excited to have renowned botanist and horticulturalist Andrew Bunting presenting on “Magnolias for the Garden”. Andrew is both assistant director of Chicago Botanic Garden as well as director of their plant collections. Along with appearing on Martha Stewart Living television show, He has lectured at botanical institutions worldwide and has authored many articles in various well-known horticultural magazines and journals.
Andrew is an expert in woody plants, with particular interest in Magnolias. He is author of a new book entitled “The Plant Lover’s Guide to Magnolias” published earlier this year by Timber Press. He is past president of Magnolia Society International and he visited Peckerwood in August while travelling through the southeast collecting Magnolia pyramidata seed from representative populations throughout the species range for germplasm conservation. We are very grateful that he generously offered to give a presentation coinciding with his next visit to our area.
Regular visitors to Peckerwood likely know of the various Magnolias in our collection, including the special Magnolia tamaulipana John Fairey and Carl Schoenfeld collected in Mexico a number of years ago. Many species and hybrids are winter flowering and therefore have gone unnoticed being that our past open days only occurred in spring and fall. Now that we offer tours every month, and to more areas of the garden, visitors will be able to take in these various species and hybrids displaying their full glory through winter and early spring. Andrew’s talk will be an inspiring window into the diversity of ornamental features that Magnolias can offer to the landscape, and will serve as a timely preview for what to expect on our winter tours as well as an introduction to additional distinctive selections worthy of trialing in our area.
We are having a good crop of acorns this year, and plan to get back to mail order sales of seeds of various species, including some rare Mexican ones. In upcoming weeks we will be listing our availability and prices on our website, along with ordering information. Acorns are perishable, so we will only be offering them as they ripen and then as long as they remain viable. Some species will be in very limited supply, and others mature much later than others, so it will be best to watch for updates. It should be noted that all seeds are open-pollinated, and being that hybridization readily occurs in oaks, especially in a collection as diverse as ours, it must be understood that not all seedlings will necessarily resemble the parent plant. We make no guarantees that seedlings will resemble the true wild-type species. We make every attempt to ensure seeds are viable, free of visual evidence of pests and pass a “float test” (only sending “sinkers”), but none of these methods can guarantee 100% viability and germination. We will gladly provide resources for germination and care.
In addition to old favorites like Monterey oak (Quercus polymorpha and Loquat-leaf oak (Quercus rysophylla), we plan to have available seeds from several trees of the Quercus sartorii complex, Quercus aff. pringlei, Q. laeta, Q. canbyi, and several that are currently unidentified. Folks have already been calling to ask for seeds of the Japanese Blue Oak, Quercus glauca, which we will have plenty of. Though still maturing, it looks like we will have a good crop of the Asian oak relative Castanopsis cuspidata.
Though acorn sales should keep us busy, we hope to be able to add some other seeds from additional exciting plants beyond oaks. Please monitor our website or ensure you are on our mailing list to be kept appraised of the latest updates.
Though we have developed quite a following on Facebook for some time, we have recognized that many of our supporters prefer other social media outlets. We recently have branched out and created an Instagram account “@peckerwoodgarden” and hope you will become one of our followers. Adam Black along with volunteers Craig Jackson, Grace Pierce, and perhaps others are posting several photos a day from their own perspectives.
- Sat Oct 1, 2016 10 am Peckerwood Insiders’ Tour, 10 am
- Sat Oct 8, 2016 Open Day, 10 am – 3 pm
- Sat Oct 20, 2016 9 am Taking Root Luncheon
- Fri Oct 21, 2016 Evening at Peckerwood Garden Lecture, 7 pm
- Sat Oct 22, 2016 Open Day, 10 am – 3 pm
- Sat Nov 5, 2016 Peckerwood Insider’s Tour, 10 am
- Sat Nov 12, 2016 Open Day, 10 am – 3 pm; David Parks Guest Lecture 11 am
- Fri, Nov 18, 2016 Evening at Peckerwood Garden Lecture, 7 pm, Andrew Bunting Guest lecturer
- Sat, Nov 19, 2016 Monthly Training, 9 am
- Sat, Nov 26, 2016 Open Day, 10 am – 3 pm
We are hoping milder temperatures will bring new volunteers out of the woodwork. We have lots to do, and simply cannot progress without additional volunteer gardeners. We are restructuring and streamlining our volunteer signup and scheduling methods so if you have been put off by past confusion or inefficiencies please know we are working on correcting things. In addition to beautifying the areas around the office and nursery, we want to make progress in other areas too. Please consider joining the team on Tuesday and Friday mornings in the garden. We have made great strides outfitting our volunteer “headquarters” with the purchase of new tools and systems to make the experience more efficient.
We thank our regulars who faithfully show up on Tuesdays and Fridays and make great strides combating weeds around the office area: Brenda Wilson, Craig Jackson, Harvey Newman, Sephie Friend, and Pat Piper. Ruth McDonald has made tremendous advancements in developing a professional volunteer coordination program. Prior to every “Evening at Peckerwood” lecture, Ruth and Brenda spend time preparing all the wonderful snacks and refreshments for the guests to enjoy. Harvey faithfully shows up early prior to every event and stays well afterwards eager to help wherever needed. Nancy Royal continues to be of valuable assistance to Bethany in the office every Tuesday.
Craig is putting his background in computer geekery to great use in that he has developed our own in-house mapping system to be integrated with our plant collections database. Craig developed his own prototype for mapping our plants literally within days following our initial discussions. Most botanical gardens spend lots of money for licenses to use proprietary mapping software, so this is quite a bargain. This will be present on our website and will allow anyone to search our collections and locate the plant on a map of the gardens in seconds. We continue to discuss other features I’d like to see and he just makes it happen. He’s amazing!
Last month’s open day wouldn’t have been possible were it not for Frank and Cherie Lee and Harvey, along with Craig and Pam Romig serving as docents. Thank you all!
When I give general tours in the garden, I usually lead visitors by the group of Magnolia tamaulipana and explain their story, and then continue around west and to the north toward the creek. This route skirts a giant dense tree that I never tend to point out for some reason, despite my great appreciation for it. Inevitably someone in the group will still ask about the green giant and I’ll gladly highlight the qualities of this tree, Bischofia polycarpa, also known as Chinese bishopwood.
Native through much of southern China, most sources say it gets to about 45 feet tall, though Peckerwood’s specimen is well over 60 feet. The leaves of this tree are divided into three equal sized leaflets organized in a loose triangular pattern, but each leaflet is large enough to lend a tropical appearance. Though it tends to be ungainly when young, it grows quickly into a tree with a rounded dense crown. In spring racemes of small, insignificant flowers soon develop into hanging clusters of copper colored berries resembling bunches of miniature grapes. These fruits are held under the foliage and through the summer are only visible if you walk under the tree. Non-toxic but unpalatably astringent, the fruits are fermented in Asia for use in liquors. After this deciduous tree drops its leaves in fall, the pendulous fruits persist well into winter, and combined with a mature tree’s branching architecture and rich brown, rough-textured bark, creates a wonderful structural accent in the winter garden. Despite marauding cedar waxwings, Peckerwood’s huge tree holds so much fruit that it keeps the birds supplied with food well into early February. Smaller trees may be stripped much sooner.
Growing up in south Florida, I remember beautiful dense trees on the grounds of my elementary school that were the only natural providers of deep shade during recess, with massive, low branching trunks good for tree-climbing. These were a tropical relative to B. polycarpa, simply called “Bishopwood” (Bischofia javanica). Planted regularly around Miami in the 1970’s – 80’s, it was soon found that they adapted to the warm climate a little too well and became quite a noxious weed.
The assumption can be made that the cold hardy Chinese Bishopwood might also become weedy, but fortunately the abundant fruits on this tree are infertile. There seems to be only one clone – a female – in cultivation of this particular species. Hopefully nobody will unnecessarily introduce a male tree to cultivation and ruin our ability to grow this beautiful tree with year around interest. Though it can grow to an imposing size, it can be cut to the ground if it gets too large, after which it will resprout and can be maintained as a multi-trunked small tree. Though it can’t be grown from seed, midsummer cuttings fortunately root fairly easily under intermittent mist. Whenever we get our water quality situation resolved, we hope to regularly offer this versatile species in our nursery. Until then, it is seldom available from collector nurseries.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to travel to west Texas with fellow oak nuts David Richardson, Vincent Debrock, and Adam Salcedo. David should be familiar by now due to his regular mention in our newsletters, usually in conjunction to one of the many interesting oaks he has generously donated to our collections. Vincent, an arborist who serves as president of the Texas chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture, and Adam, vice president of Native Plant Research Institute, both visited Peckerwood a few months ago and sufficiently proved their plant nerdiness at that time, so I knew we were going to have an enjoyable trip. Our mission was to gather acorns and other seeds in areas where we could legally collect, and where collecting was off-limits, observe and try to make sense of the variable complex of oaks in the Chisos and Davis Mountains.
After a meeting up in Austin, we made a beeline for west Texas. Following considerable rains in the region, the desert was uncharacteristically lush and green with many plants flowering profusely. We made our first stop near Fort Stockton on a ridge dominated by one of the two native pinon pines, Pinus remota. I had visited this spot six years ago and found a witch’s broom in one of the pines and was eager to check for cones. Witch’s brooms are densely branched clumps of foliage, which is often dwarfed, that spontaneously develop in a small percentage of individuals within a population of conifers and occasionally other plants. Though some brooms can be the result of disease, most are actually harmless genetic “sports” and there is a sector of conifer enthusiasts that search forests for these mutations and create new dwarf conifer selections through grafting. If lucky enough to find a broom with seed, a percentage of the seedlings will display dwarf characteristics.
The dwarf loblolly pines at Peckerwood are examples of broom seedlings. I was very pleased to find that the broom I had discovered years earlier in the Pinus remota was now bearing cones with fresh seeds, so hopefully good things will come from it.
Among the pines were low, shrubby oaks with silvery leaves and coppery new growth. These are Mohr’s oaks, Quercus mohriana, which is wide-ranging through west Texas. Plenty of ripe acorns were available and gathered. Purple clumps of vigorously flowering
Dalea frutescens dotted the ground between the pines and oaks, along with the sulfur yellow flowers of Eriogonum sp.
David pointed out the presence of both the blackfoot daisy, Melampodium leucanthum and the nearly identical Desert Zinnia, Zinnia acerosa which could easily be mistaken for one another if not looking at the finer details. A flowering Golden Leadball Tree, Leucaena retusa, rounded out the mix. As we pondered other random wildflowers, copious rain suddenly fell and we decided to move on.
We arrived in the town of Alpine, secured hotel rooms, and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the botanical highlights of the area while enjoying the refreshingly cool temperature. From towering deodar cedars (Cedrus deodara) to Texas madrones and native oaks, I was amazed at the variety of things present in the residential neighborhood. We stopped at the former home of the late renowned Sul Ross University botanist Barton Warnock, who contributed so much to our understanding of the west Texas flora. Many of his trees are still present on the property.
While hovering around the property and looking at the intriguing specimens from afar, we soon made contact with the friendly current owner who generously allowed us free reign to explore the property and collect seeds. Senna wislizenii was loaded with both yellow flowers and seed pods which everyone eagerly helped themselves to. Several different forms of the variable Quercus grisea, with its silvery blue foliage, had varying amounts of acorns available.
A beautiful narrow-leaved form of Quercus canbyi had fewer seeds, but we managed to find a few. A prize Chisos Rosewood, Vauquelinia angustifolia grew next to a large bigtooth maple, Acer grandidentatum, both bearing seeds.
Next we visited Sul Ross University, which has several gardens scattered around campus featuring rare and unusual west Texas flora.
Most impressive to me were the gigantic Arizona cypress, Cupressus arizonica, displaying a patchwork of brilliant colors in the exfoliating bark not often seen in much younger cultivated specimens. Interestingly, I found a witch’s broom in one of the cholla cactus species, Cylindropunta kleiniae. Who wouldn’t want a dwarf compact “jumping cholla” stuck to their flesh!
The next morning, we were off to Big Bend National Park for a hike thorough the Chisos Mountains. We were joined by David Cristiani, a landscape architect from New Mexico who is also afflicted with Quercitis. After many trips here over the years, I had never seen the Chisos and surrounding desert so green and floriferous. The mountains were dotted with flaming red clumps which were a mix of Bouvardia ternifolia and Salvia regla. In between was the electric blue of two additional Salvia species – usually S. lycioides but occasionally S. arizonica would present itself. All of the xeric ferns of the genera
Cheilanthes, Astrolepis and Pellaea were fully hydrated and unfurled, unlike most previous visits where they are always shriveled up. Mandevilla macrosiphon, which I was completely unfamiliar
with until I saw it cultivated the previous day at Sul Ross University, was all over the place with its conspicuous trumpet-shaped white flowers, never noticed in my previous visits in drier times.
Being of interest to all, we observed the oaks along the way, noting the wide array of variation in leaf shape, color, growth form, and acorn features. Most prevalent was Quercus grisea which appeared as suckering dwarf patches to robust single-trunked trees. The two Davids taught the rest of us how to distinguish the somewhat similar Quercus arizonica, which led to more confusion as to where to draw the line among the many oaks displaying features of
both species. Quercus gravesii came in many leaf forms and acorn sizes. Once we reached Laguna Meadow we were wading among the low buns of Quercus intricata with its tiny, thick, curly and somewhat crumpled leaves, making it one of the most distinctive of oaks. David R. spotted a bear up in a Pinus cembroides happily crunching the abundant pinon nuts. We were soon back in open woodland and found a patch of oaks David R. thought may be the rare Quercus carmenensis.
After enjoying the magnificent views of the Rio Grande valley and Mexico from the south rim of the Chisos, we began looping back toward one my favorite places, Boot Canyon. As the Arizona cypress and bigtooth maples became more abundant, we began seeing new oaks, including the more distinctive Quercus rugosa with its rough, paddle-shaped leaves. A few other strange oaks presented themselves and left us wondering what they could be, either the result of so much hybridization or new species complexes requiring more study. I had hoped to lead the group to the state champion Cupressus arizonica off the beaten path down Boot Canyon,
but the creek was flowing deeply making it impossible to access the big tree. It was getting late so we decided to step up the pace to make it back to the trailhead by dark.
Following a small group of the rare terrestrial orchid Dichromanthus cinnabarinus and their showy orange inflorescences, Adam S. spotted a huge orange fungus on the slope above the trail, glowing beautifully in the low evening sun. I was going to ascend the slope to get a photo, but then remembered my manners and encouraged Adam to go first. He declined, and as I crouched down near ground level for some close up shots, I heard a loud buzzing next to my right ear and saw a jerky motion in my peripheral vision. Knowing exactly what it was, and otherwise being a snake lover, I was excited to see it wasn’t just any rattlesnake that nearly bit me, but a beautiful mottled rock rattlesnake – the only species I had yet to find among the species native to the Big Bend region. After a few photos and admiring the snake’s pink hues we continued down the mountain.
Though it was getting dark, we quickly observed the Chisos Hophornbeam, Ostrya chisosensis, found only in these mountains and nowhere else in the world.
One clearing in the trail offered a glimpse of the small population of aspens that persists on a talus slope below Emory Peak. Nearly dark and unable to focus anymore, we made it back shortly after dark.
After a night near Terlingua, Adam S. and Vincent needed to part ways to head back to Austin, and David Cristiani had to move on as well. David R. and I took River Road west along the Rio Grande, enjoying the very different flora than seen in the Chisos. It was exciting to find many individuals of Buddleja globosa flowering among the beautiful scenery. Guaiacum angustifolium shrubs were red with seeds, but we could not collect along this stretch of road.
After lunch in the border town of Presidio, we headed north on our way to the Davis Mountains. First we had to stop at one of the few populations of one of the rarest and most distinctive of oaks in the country, Quercus hinckleyi. The late Texas native plantsman Benny Simpson had shown David this locality years ago, and now
David was introducing me to this most unusual species with tiny holly-like leaves forming stoloniferous colonies on the limestone ridges. Unfortunately we were greeted with “No Trespassing” signs, with the colonies of oaks visible at the top of the nearby hill. Fortunately a presumed local resident who stopped to see what we were doing assured us it was fine to go look at the plants after learning of our intentions.
The tiny, holly-like leaves on these dense clumps sprouting up from the caliche was a sight to behold, along with the disproportionately large acorn caps that remained on the plants. In the same area was a beautiful miniature Leucophyllum minus, much smaller and more refined than the common L. frutescens, the “Cenizo” or “Texas Sage” commonly used in central Texas landscapes.
Arriving at Fort Davis, we stopped at the courthouse which was surrounded with very old specimens of various trees of interest. A few massive Quercus gravesii anchored one corner of the property, and other sectors included the largest alligator junipers I had ever seen, Pinus strobiformis, aspen, and a beautiful madrone.
Many other native plants were used around the foundation of the courthouse.
Finally arriving in the Davis Mountains, we began seeing lots of Quercus emoryi mixed with Q. grisea. This was my first visit to this terrain, which was so different from the Chisos, reminding me more of the Colorado Rocky Mountain foothills. The open grasslands were marked with ghostly, silvery white Eryngium heterophyllum with powder blue flowers. David showed me an immense gnarled Quercus grisea that he had lead an International Oak Society tour to years ago, and I was excited to see the Texas population of Pinus ponderosa.
The rain moved in as we descended the northwest flank of the range. One last surprise as the land became flat again and the sun began to set on our last day in the field was an especially attractive Mojave Rattlesnake about to cross the road, who kindly posed for some photos before continuing on his way. It was one of my most memorable trips to the Big Bend region with new introductions to grow for the gardens and new inspiration for Peckerwood’s future. Special thanks to David Richardson for coordinating the expedition and for sharing his knowledge of the area and its flora to the rest of the group, not to mention Vincent, Adam S, and David Cristiani for their specialized contributions to everyone else’s’ understanding.