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August 2016 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden
Yucca-do Nursery
Monthly Events
Calendar
Collaborations
Volunteer appreciation
Plant of the month
Nursery News
Explorations in Colorado

Peckerwood is celebrating its new role as a public garden by beefing up its events calendar and strengthening ties with horticultural groups and institutions across the county,  Peckerwood staff and volunteers invite you to discover what all the fuss is about by touring the garden and enjoying monthly evening lectures and monthly Open Days.

Adam’s notes from the garden

Several forms of the Zephyranthes La Bufa Rosa complex
Several forms of the Zephyranthes La Bufa Rosa complex

Just as the unirrigated lawn started to scorch following nearly two months of no rain, cloudless skies and heat index regularly above 105° F, we are now receiving almost daily thunderstorms. Fortunately, these are nothing like we saw several months ago that led to the historic flooding in our area. The hints of brown have been replaced by fresh new green foliage, further enhanced with the sudden appearance of pink, white and yellow rain lily (Zephyranthes and Habranthus spp.) flowers. The various strains of Peckerwood’s introduction of Zephyranthes ‘La Bufa Rosa’, which tend to flower en masse most reliably, are making a bold, bi-color pink and white statement throughout the garden.

The second flowering of Hymenocallis galvestonensis shoots up from the ground long after the foliage dies
The second flowering of Hymenocallis galvestonensis shoots up from the ground long after the foliage dies

Another lily that has fascinated visitors this month is a unique native spider lily that we have labeled Hymenocallis galvestonensis, rescued from highway construction site near Navasota, Texas. Many botanists refer to it as H. liriosme which some references consider a swamp dweller, but this collection was from a drier site. The outwardly indistinguishable complex of southeastern U.S. species in this genus are highly confused, and more work surely needs to be done to make sense of the many forms from different habitats. Whatever it is, this particular species exhibits a strange flowering behavior. The foliage emerges in spring, and it flowers like a typical spider lily, but then the leaves die back rather early in the summer. Suddenly in late summer a second inflorescence shoots up out of the ground, but this time devoid of any accompanying foliage, creating a rather interesting sight of bare flower stalks jutting out of the earth.

Hedychium gardnerianum
Hedychium gardnerianum

Another of our “barometer plants” that responds to impending shifts in atmospheric moisture began flowering profusely. Various selections of Texas sage (Leucophyllum sp.) were covered with pink to purple flowers in our dry gardens. Peckerwood introduction Leucophyllum zygophyllum ‘Desert Dazzler’ is truly a standout with its unusually dark purple-blue flowers contrasting with exceptionally light chalky foliage.  This selection has unfortunately been picked up by other nurseries and offered under alternate proprietary names. Though many selections are common in the landscape, they continue to be indispensable when grown in the right conditions.

The cute, tiny flowers of Boesenbergia rotunda are only visible if you peek under the foliage
The cute, tiny flowers of Boesenbergia rotunda are only visible if you peek under the foliage

Various gingers have been at peak flowering this month. Butterfly gingers in the genus Hedychium have been flowering atop their tall stalks with stepladder leaf arrangements. Closer to the ground, peacock gingers (Kaempferia spp.) continue to display ornamental foliage that lasts throughout the summer, topped daily with purple flowers. Sometimes you need to work to discover the subtle, tiny flowers lurking in your garden.  If you didn’t crouch down, lift up the paddle-shaped foliage of Boesenbergia rotunda and squint, you’d never appreciate the beauty of the miniature orchid-like flowers that have a charm of their own.

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

An unknown plant with intriguing palmate foliage in John Fairey’s raised trial beds was frustrating me until recently. Never remembering to simply ask John, I set an alarm on my phone to catch the short-lived flowers which were always withered and giving only a hint of yellow by mid-afternoon when I tend to make my rounds. Finally I caught the flower in its full glory, bigger and more beautiful than I expected. Still unrecognizable to me, I posted it on Facebook and as expected, one of my knowledgeable plant friends instantly recognized it as an Amoreuxia spp. John confirmed it is a south Texas native, A. wrightii, which can be found sporadically in the state, but seems more prevalent in Mexico, where he recalled seeing entire fields painted yellow with this species’ flowers.

Our developing acorn crop looks promising for this fall, but some species can’t wait that long. One particular Quercus laeta specimen starting dropping acorns this week, while the seed of other individuals are a long way from mature. We’ve already germinated some of this year’s Q. tarahumara harvest as mentioned in this issue’s “plant of the month” feature, and a highly desirable oak on top of that! One additional early ripening just occurred among a group of dwarf live oaks collected in Mexico, produced on branches only a few feet above the skirt of pink and yellow rain lily species flowering at their bases.

Being in Texas for a while has really opened my eyes to how critical water is on so many levels. I’ve learned how the climate here is indeed much more hostile than Florida, which means even xeric plants require at least some regular water during prolonged dry spells. Having previously lived with the luxury of good quality water, I have now been dealing with salty well water we are forced to use in the short term since the other “good” well that fed the nursery has dried up. I have lost quite a few sensitive, fairly irreplaceable plants I brought from Florida, and propagation attempts continue to produce less than reasonable results. We are actively seeking funds to improve our conditions but for now we will install a rainfall catchment system. Equally pressing priorities continue to delay the installation, and I hate not being able to capture a portion of our current streak of rain, knowing once installed the rain will conveniently cease.

Peckerwood Garden Creek
Peckerwood Garden Creek

One prioriy prolonging the installation of the rain harvesting system is another significant water issue on the north side of the garden. For years, we have drawn water as needed from Dry Creek (which runs through Peckerwood) to irrigate the woodland garden and portions of the plantings north of the creek. Despite the name, Dry Creek always remains quite wet. Following some water rights issues stemming from Dow Chemical’s long-standing agreement with the state to utilize a significant amount of the Brazos River’s water for the company’s factory, it recently came to our attention that we are now required to pay the state to utilize water from Dry Creek, which is part of the Brazos watershed. We have to install a meter on our intake pipe and get permission from the state every time we want to irrigate. Even with the permit, the state has the right to deny us permission based on its gauge levels, and we need to report pre and post irrigation gauge readings after every watering session. Now that the state knows we use “its” water, we have been ordered to stop watering from the creek until a permit is issued, which it admitted (with a chuckle) can take a long time. Our annual usage surely puts no measurable dent in the water allocated to Dow, and we, a non-profit organization that  demonstrates and promotes water-wise landscapes, is not offered any exceptions.

The Hallway between the Creek and the Woodland Gardens
The Hallway between the Creek and the Woodland Gardens

Not wanting to be under the state’s thumb during times when water is most critical in keeping Peckerwood’s valuable collections alive, we are now forced to install tanks to store water from a well that can be pumped to the areas that formerly received creek water. This well doesn’t have the best water quality, but at least it is better than the salty one in the nursery area. Rainfall harvesting is unfortunately not possible in this portion of the garden. Hopefully this well will be reliable for years to come. We are fortunate in this transition where we are not allowed to draw any further water that we are receiving so much rain. If we were ordered to stop watering in June it would have had a devastating impact on significant collections during the rainless two months.

Developing Alpine Rock Gardens near the Parking area
Developing Alpine Rock Gardens near the Parking area

On a much brighter note, our dedicated volunteers continue to make tremendous progress cleaning up the areas around the office. The existing berms will be developed into alpine-style rock gardens using plants from various regions of the world that are both suitable for this style of

Cleared Berm ready for planting
Cleared Berm ready for planting

planting and will hopefully prove adaptable to our climate. As mentioned in my Colorado travelogue, Denver Botanical Garden donated many unusual plants from their own collections that are worth trialing here. Their amazing rock garden covering many acres provided tremendous inspiration and I can’t wait another few months when conditions are more suitable for planting to begin.


Yucca-do Nursery closing soon

We are sad to report that legendary collector plant source Yucca Do Nursery recently had announced it was ramping down toward eventually closing over the upcoming months. Anyone who has been involved with Peckerwood for a number of years surely is familiar with this mail-order nursery. Many others only learned of Peckerwood’s existence due to Yucca Do serving as an outlet for John Fairey and Carl Schoenfeld’s Mexican collections, supplemented with Carl and Wade Roitsch’s own collections from South Africa, Brazil, Argentina and beyond. Originally formed 28 years ago as a partnership between John and Carl, the business along with nursery manager Wade at the helm was the exclusive source for unusual Mexican oaks, Agave, Yucca, and other woody lilies, rain lilies, bromeliads and a variety of unusual trees, shrubs and perennials.

I was a regular customer of Yucca Do over the years and was always upset when I would miss out on exciting one-time offers, beat to the punch by their extensive following of other ravenous plant collectors. Still I managed to amass a wealth of coveted Yucca Do offerings that continue to grow on my Florida property including various hardy Mexican Bauhinia spp., Mexican oaks, Callistemon spp., Agave and hardy Ficus species. Many species Yucca Do originally introduced to horticulture became industry standards. You can’t drive more than a few miles through most average Southeastern cities without spotting at least one Agave salmiana var. ferox ‘Green Goblet’ in someone’s yard. Last year while in Orlando, Fla. I was surprised to see not only the entrance to a development accentuated with a mass planting of Agave ‘Mr. Ripple,’ but  a well-done toll expressway median xeriscape featuring an even larger massing of ‘Mr. Ripple.’

Over time the nursery relocated to Giddings, Texas, and John is no longer involved. I visited Wade a few weeks ago, sharing with him some acorns off of Peckerwood’s Q. tarahumara specimen that he originally gifted to Peckerwood. I left with yet another grouping of treasures for my personal collection but noticed he still has a wealth of interesting plants available at www.yuccado.com including an increasing amount of things being placed on sale at great prices. If you plan to be in the Giddings area, or just dedicated enough to make a special trip from wherever you are, you should definitely arrange an appointment to visit Wade sooner rather than later. You never know if and when many of these plants will be available again, so I would encourage you to scan through the listings and take advantage of the opportunity before it is too late. Though we regret to see Yucca Do’s impact on horticulture coming to an end, Wade always will be involved in plant collecting and distributing material to some degree in a well-earned, enjoyable manner compared with the hectic nature of operating a mail-order nursery.


 Monthly Events: from Bethany Jordan 

Woodland Garden Path
Woodland Garden Path

We continue to develop Peckerwood monthly events and invite members to join us and use their membership benefits. All members have free entry to monthly Open Days and  half-price entry to the Evening at Peckerwood Lectures. Dual Memberships and above come with two free entries, and many have received guest passes to share with others. Members also may purchase tickets to the monthly education classes for docents.

Guests planning for the upcoming year have been pleased with the consistent calendar that allows them to schedule ahead so they may attend our events. Open Days will continue to be at 10 a.m. on the fourth Saturday each month. Watch the calendar for added days during fall and spring, and for special tours to pop up. October 8th Peckerwood Garden will be participating in the Texas Parks and Wildlife program: Texas Pollinator BioBlitz. Tours that day will focus on pollinators – from the plants they love to their impact on the garden.

The Evening at Peckerwood Lecture Series with wine and light refreshments are a perfect opportunity for members and guests to learn more about specific topics from staff and guest lecturers. All presenters currently are lecturing pro-bono, but we are seeking donations/sponsors to allow us to bring in renowned authorities from afar in the near future. September 16th will focus on “Plant Exploration for Conservation and a Diverse Landscape.”

Focused time with our director of horticulture Adam Black makes Peckerwood Insider’s Tours a favorite with members and new visitors alike. These extended tours of less-visited areas of the garden allow a close examination of some of Peckerwood’s best aspects. The accompanying handout adds depth to these tours.

Watch the calendar for additional tours. Tickets are available online for all events, and some require pre-registration.

Learn more about visiting Peckerwood Garden


 Calendar


  Volunteer contributions make a difference!

IMG_3328
Entry to Peckerwood Nursery

Our dedicated and growing team of volunteers continues to be here Tuesdays and Fridays for weeding and garden work, monthly for training, and for special events and private tours. Our events would not be possible without our volunteers. Their amazing work allows us to move forward.

Our location has been a challenge in the development of our volunteer program and growing our team, and we appreciate our volunteers’ hard work to make this happen. Their consistency – working at the garden and sharing of our needs with others – provides a foundation for best practices in our development.

Now that we are ramping up with more events, year-round open days and evening lectures, reliable volunteers are more critical.


 Plant of the month: Quercus tarahumara

Quercus tarahumara
Quercus tarahumara

Peckerwood has long been known for its collection of oaks from Mexico and beyond. We are fortunate to have one species that is among collectors’ “holy grail” oaks due to its distinctive appearance. Quercus tarahumara is quite unusual with its huge, teardrop-shaped leaves that have the feel of cardboard. The olive-gray leaves are strongly cupped underneath, and this feature combined with the size (up to a foot long) has earned it the common name “hand basin oak.” This moniker is especially evident when the upside-down, fallen leaves collect rainwater. The new growth emerges a bright reddish-orange, glowing like jack-o-lanterns when backlit by the low evening sun.

 

Quercus tarahumara new growth
Quercus tarahumara new growth

I was aware of the plant from internet photos and knew a few were in cultivation before my first face-to-foliage meeting of a specimen during a visit to Juniper Level Botanical Gardens near Raleigh, N.C several years ago. Since it didn’t produce seed, nurseryman Tony Avent let me attempt to propagate his tree by grafting, but I never had any success, possibly due to even the thinnest twigs being quite thick. When I interviewed for my job at Peckerwood last November, I was happy to find, on my most memorable tour of the gardens with John Fairey, a specimen of Q. tarahumara among the many treasures. A few months after I was hired, acorns began to develop – the first I’m aware of in U.S. cultivation. These ripened unexpectedly early, detaching from their caps the last week of July. The two dozen seeds produced all look viable, and I was pleased to see that most have quickly germinated. Now we will need to see if they are hybridized with other oaks, or if the tree self-fertilized.

 

Quercus tarahumara acors
Quercus tarahumara acorns

Peckerwood’s tree originated from a seed batch obtained by Yucca-do Nursery, wild-collected by a client. Two additional trees grown from this collection are in a private garden in Dallas and at Stephen F. Austin University’s Mast Arboretum in Nacogdoches, Texas. A few other unrelated trees exist in the U.S., and hopefully we will see more of these trees starting to produce seed in the near future. Additional wild collections would be especially valuable.

 

 


Collaborator visits

Left to Right Greg Paige, John Fairey, Jared Barnes, and Andrew Bunting
Left to Right Greg Paige, John Fairey, Jared Barnes, and Andrew Bunting

A few weeks ago a great group of arborists from the Austin area visited Peckerwood to see our valuable oak collection. The tour was arranged by Vincent Debrock, president of the Texas chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture, who brought April Rose, board member of the ISA, and Andrew McNeill, arborist at Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center where he manages the developing arboretum of Texas native trees. They were joined by Adam Salcedo, vice president of the Native Plant Research Institute; Andreina Alexatos of TreeFolks, where she serves as coordinator of reforestation of the flood-devastated Blanco River; Austin tree enthusiast Angie Rodriquez , and David Richardson from Dallas. David, a tree enthusiast with a particular interest in oaks,  has long been a friend of Peckerwood with many important specimens in the garden originating from his donations.

We spent most of the morning no farther than the oak berm – true oak geeks!  After lunch we explored the rest of the oaks in the arboretum and throughout the other regions of the property where oaks are present, still not having enough time to thoroughly show them everything.
It was fortunate that during this visit that David noticed the acorns on our Quercus tarahumara (this issue’s plant of the month) were ripe, much earlier than many other oaks, and may have been lost if they dropped unexpectedly. We look forward to this being the beginning of future working relationships with all the organizations represented by this wonderful group of visitors.

L to R Greg Paige, John Fairey, Jared Barnes, and Andrew Bunting
L to R Greg Paige, John Fairey, Jared Barnes, and Andrew Bunting

My visit with the folks at Denver Botanic Gardens unfortunately coincided with the visit of several additional visitors I wish I could have spent time with at Peckerwood. Andrew Bunting, assistant director of Chicago Botanical Garden, and Greg Paige, director of Bartlett Research Arboretum in North Carolina (affiliated with the nationwide Bartlett Tree Experts) were hosted by well-respected Stephen F. Austin University horticulture professor Jared Barnes. Andrew and Greg have been leading an expedition throughout the Gulf Coast states collecting seeds of Magnolia pyramidata for backup of locality-specific germplasm in cultivation. After collecting in east Texas they wanted to see Peckerwood, and in my absence they got to spend valuable time talking with John Fairey before touring the garden. Assuming we can coordinate on both ends,  Andrew has generously offered to possibly give a presentation at Peckerwood when he returns to Houston in November – let’s hope we can make that work!

 

 


Explorations in Colorado –Buckweats to Buck Elk

A few weeks ago a great group of arborists from the Austin area visited Peckerwood to see our valuable oak collection. The tour was arranged by Vincent Debrock, president of the Texas chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture, who brought April Rose, board member of the ISA, and Andrew McNeill, arborist at Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center where he manages the developing arboretum of Texas native trees. They were joined by Adam Salcedo, vice president of the Native Plant Research Institute; Andreina Alexatos of TreeFolks, where she serves as coordinator of reforestation of the flood-devastated Blanco River; Austin tree enthusiast Angie Rodriquez , and David Richardson from Dallas. David, a tree enthusiast with a particular interest in oaks,  has long been a friend of Peckerwood with many important specimens in the garden originating from his donations.

Oak Berm
Oak Berm

We spent most of the morning no farther than the oak berm – true oak geeks!  After lunch we explored the rest of the oaks in the arboretum and throughout the other regions of the property where oaks are present, still not having enough time to thoroughly show them everything. It was fortunate that during this visit that David noticed the acorns on our Quercus tarahumara (this issue’s plant of the month) were ripe, much earlier than many other oaks, and may have been lost if they dropped unexpectedly. We look forward to this being the beginning of future working relationships with all the organizations represented by this wonderful group of visitors.

Denver Botanic Garden's xeric garden is alive with color
Denver Botanic Garden’s xeric garden is alive with color

My visit with the folks at Denver Botanic Gardens unfortunately coincided with the visit of several additional visitors I wish I could have spent time with at Peckerwood. Andrew Bunting, assistant director of Chicago Botanical Garden, and Greg Paige, director of Bartlett Research Arboretum in North Carolina (affiliated with the nationwide Bartlett Tree Experts) were hosted by well-respected Stephen F. Austin University horticulture professor Jared Barnes. Andrew and Greg have been leading an expedition throughout the Gulf Coast states collecting seeds of Magnolia pyramidata for backup of locality-specific germplasm in cultivation. After collecting in east Texas they wanted to see Peckerwood, and in my absence they got to spend valuable time talking with John Fairey before touring the garden. Assuming we can coordinate on both ends,  Andrew has generously offered to possibly give a presentation at Peckerwood when he returns to Houston in November – let’s hope we can make that work!

Even with a dream job curating an amazing botanical collection, something had to give considering my self-imposed seven-day-a-week, workaholic schedule in attempt to progress the gardens as much as possible. I needed to get away for a bit, and considering my options, the cool alpine ruggedness of the Rocky Mountains beckoned. Only a day’s drive away to southeastern Colorado, things fell together quickly and I was off. I planned to focus on the plant communities of northwestern Texas, northeastern New Mexico and lower elevations of Colorado to and from an alpine backcountry hiking trip, and fit in a visit with friends at Denver Botanic Garden.

Bush morning glory (Ipomoea leptophylla) northwest of Amarillo, TX
Bush morning glory (Ipomoea leptophylla) northwest of Amarillo, TX

After I began my drive in the dark early morning hours, the plants and geological features grew interesting as the sun rose in the Texas panhandle. Northwest of Amarillo, the first conspicuous plants were the low, dome-shaped mounds of bush morning glory, Ipomoea leptophylla, which were all covered with showy dark-pink flowers. They seemed to be distributed at regular intervals every 200 feet or so along the roadside in an almost predictable manner as if someone planted them, but that surely wasn’t the case.  I found a safe place to pull over to make my first wild observation – a very tidy plant with its dense thin leaves looking like bright green sea urchins dotting the otherwise monotonous prairie. I figured I’d collect seed or cuttings on the way home.

A flowering buckweat (Eriogonum sp)
A flowering buckweat (Eriogonum sp)

At a road cut at the top of a bluff, I could see from the car the upper slope was covered with masses of white flowers of Eriogonum spp., one of the many species of what are collectively known as “wild buckwheats,” somewhat related to, but not the same as the edible buckwheat, Fagopyrum esculentum. This genus has been of personal interest due to the many beautiful species used mostly in the western U.S. for their ornamental qualities which lend themselves well to alpine-style rock gardens. Years ago, my eyes were opened to the diversity in this genus of attractive plants at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Many of the more attractive species form a dense mat of rosettes with narrow, paddle-shaped leaves, often with silver undersides, and display compact masses of flower heads commonly white or yellow but a few species have striking pink or orange flowers. The showy seed heads make for a long season of interest. I took note of the location to revisit on the way home, but before moving on I noticed a 5-foot-tall inflorescence with bright yellow flowers belonging to another Eriogonum, which seems to best match E. alata, a monocarpic (dies after flowering) species, though this one appeared to be persisting considering the presence of old dried inflorescence remnants. Buckwheats weren’t originally on my mind going into this trip, but now they were a primary target. On my way to the alpine hiking getaway I would explore the plains and foothills of the Rockies for species that might be worth trialing at Peckerwood, among other distractions.

Eager to make it to the mountains to find a place to camp by evening, I made a beeline for Raton, New Mexico where I picked up I-25 north. Previous trips through this area had fueled one of my other interests – paleontology, and the abundant coal seams in the road cuts are usually a good indicator of plant fossils. Finding a feeder road where I could safely explore the strata, the first thing I noticed were more Eriogonom species – a white flowering type, which presented itself in striking contrast with the black coal-based sediments.  Not seeing much of interest paleontologically, other than some fossil wood chunks, and eager to make some progress into the mountains, I was back on the road and eventually found a campsite overlooking the intermountain basin above Great Sand Dunes National Park as the sun was setting.

Alpine plants at Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, Vail, CO
Alpine plants at Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, Vail, CO

The next few days were spent backcountry hiking in the solitude of the seldom-visited Gore Range north of Vail. The wildflowers at the highest elevations were absolutely spectacular, some still just emerging from persistent patches of melting snow. These were all out of the realm of anything we could ever grow in Texas.

Upon returning to civilization, I got a hotel in Vail for a soft bed and to get cleaned up in preparation for visiting the folks at Denver Botanic Gardens the next day. When I called Panayoti Kelaidis, esteemed senior curator and director of outreach at the gardens, to let him know my expected arrival time, he told me I needed to first stay in Vail a little longer as there was a must-see botanical garden a few blocks away. I had heard of the Betty Ford Alpine Garden before, but it didn’t dawn on me to visit until Panayoti mentioned it. Off I went to “the highest botanical garden in the world,” situated at an 8,200-foot elevation that allows the staff to grow many alpines that other gardens can’t. The design and collections were amazing, consisting of rock gardens which best show off the high-elevation specimens that often assume the form of dense cushions, hemispherical buns, or flat creeping crusts on rocks. It was a pleasure to meet senior horticulturist Nick Courtens and hear of the challenges and joys of gardening at such a high elevation, surrounded by a busy group of dedicated volunteers ensuring the garden remains flawless.

A tiny portion of the extensive rock garden at Denver Botanic Gardens
A tiny portion of the extensive rock garden at Denver Botanic Gardens

Wanting to analyze every tiny specimen in the garden, I had to pull myself away and head east to meet up with Panayoti at Denver Botanic Gardens. Panayoti has long been a key figure in the world of rock gardening, collecting around the world and introducing many wonderful plants that proved themselves in Denver’s harsh climate. DBG’s rock garden spans several acres and is packed with a dizzying array of miniature plants of diverse colors and textures. Additional signature gardens there include the variety of themed xeric gardens, replicating geographical plant assemblages from around the world and sensitive habitats from various regions of the west.

Texas hill country endemic Salvia penstemonoides overwintering surprisingly fine at Denver Botanic Gardens
Texas hill country endemic Salvia penstemonoides overwintering surprisingly fine at Denver Botanic Gardens

Although in USDA Zone 5, I was shocked to find a number of plants native to significantly warmer climates vigorously thriving and overwintering without issue here, including several natives to the Texas Hill Country and even south Texas. I saw a beautiful specimen of the bush morning glory I saw a few days earlier in Texas, and an abundantly blooming Salvia penstemonoides endemic to the Hill Country. I had agonized over what plants we had in the Peckerwood collection to share with DBG that would stand a chance at surviving even a mild Denver winter, but now I felt more confident that the specimens I brought might actually succeed. The success of these plants in such unexpected places exemplify the fact that we can’t make assumptions of a plant’s adaptability based solely on its current native conditions. With a climate that has changed constantly over time, and long before man’s influence on the environment, plants advanced and receded north and south and some therefore are quite plastic in their tolerances. Others are indeed more refined in their requirements, but we will never know unless we push the limits by trialing in the garden. Beyond broadening the diversity of plants we can use in our gardens, it is good information to have in making projections on how the world’s flora will be affected as the climate changes, be it by human, natural causes or both. Regardless of the stance of human involvement with climate change, the one fact all sides might agree on is that human alteration of the landscape now prevents free movement of plants north and south in latitude as well as vertically in elevation, preventing natural dispersal to find hospitable areas should the current, greatly reduced habitat become unsuitable for various reasons.

The Shale Barrens Buckwheat from West Virginia growing at Panayoti Kelaidis' house in Denver
The Shale Barrens Buckwheat from West Virginia growing at Panayoti Kelaidis’ house in Denver

Panayoti generously let me stay at his home surrounded by more impressive rock and dry gardens. I told him how DBG’s Eriogonum collection had led to a personal interest in the genus and asked for recommendations of species to trial at Peckerwood. He pointed out the window to a glowing, sulfur-yellow patch readily visible at the far edge of the property, explaining how this beauty, E. allenii, was one of the few eastern U.S. native species while also being among the showiest. It hails from the shale barrens of West Virginia, where it grows among the baking hot shale while enduring more humidity than many of the western species. In Florida I had already proven that another plant from the West Virginia shale barrens – a Plant Delights Nursery introduction Dicentra eximia ‘Dolly Sods’ (bleeding heart) that sure enough, thrived in full sun in a rock garden setting, unlike the typical selections of bleeding heart which quickly expire in the deep south. He told me that, coincidentally, he had invited some of Denver’s horticultural elite to join us for dinner and among them would be the founder of the Eriogonum Society, Hugh MacMillan. Additional Eriogonum enthusiasts would join us, including Marcia and Randy Tatroe, Bob and Rebecca Day Skowron, owners of the former Rocky Mountain Rare Plants Nursery, and Dan Johnson, curator of native plants and associate horticulture director at DBG. Who would have known there are so many buckwheat enthusiasts around to justify a society? Among all the lively conversations around an excellent dinner I learned that The Eriogonum Society is having its meeting next month in the Mojave Desert – perhaps another road trip is in order!

After securing cuttings from Panayoti’s E. allenii the next morning, we returned to DBG where he and Dan loaded me down with flats of rock garden plants they thought were worth trialing in Texas. I then bought more great plants from DBG’s sale area and started down the eastern front of the Rockies, gradually working my way home over the next two days while exploring suitable and legal locations in the foothills for collecting plants. I also planned to load the back of my truck with rocks of various colors and forms to utilize in Peckerwood’s developing rock gardens.

Delicate silver rosettes of Antennaria sp. growing on gravel slopes in NE New Mexico
Delicate silver rosettes of Antennaria sp. growing on gravel slopes in NE New Mexico

My first stop of the day was at a road cut composed of a steep slope of a crumbling red metamorphic rock. Clumps of a silver-leaved locoweed (Astragalus spp.) were scattered in the otherwise barren gravel along with a Liatris species and a distinctively attractive Heterotheca species, all conveniently bearing seeds. The several species of Heterotheca, often highly variable and taxonomically confused, are usually ungainly plants with sparse flowers, but there are a few floriferous selections with good form and this low, dense plant covered in golden aster-like flowers was definitely a winner. Though the air was comfortably cool, I could feel the extreme heat radiating off the sunbaked gravel banks. The plants growing in this environment are obviously adapted to dealing with extreme temperatures, a similar environment to the West Virginia shale barrens, so this means they might stand a chance with Texas summers.

I found similar geological exposures at the next road but, but the scree slopes were dotted with spherical green meatballs under 4 feet tall that at first glance looked like willows, but then I realized to be the related narrow-leaf poplar, Populus angustifolia. This species normally forms a small tree along southwestern streams, but these seemingly dwarfed clumps were growing in very dry, well-drained inclines. Worth a try, especially if they proved to be genetically rather than environmentally dwarfed, so I collected cuttings.  I also saw was a clumping bellflower (Campanula spp.) covered with electric blue flowers held on numerous erect wiry stems. I have longed for a blue-flowered bellflower that will take the heat and humidity, so hopefully the seeds collected from this hot site will yield at least some individuals that will adapt to southeast Texas. I also collected seed from tidy clumps of spreading Juniperus communis that dotted the slopes.

After passing through areas of National Forest land where collecting is not permitted, I found a road cut that yielded more things of interest, including another plant I’ve always been fond of: Antennaria spp., which forms mats of tiny silver rosettes perfect for the well-drained rock garden. Also present was a seemingly highly dwarfed form of smooth sumac, Rhus glabra, which was clearly established on the scree slope, but each stem would max out at about 15 inches high with the presence of fruit indicating maturity. Initially there was a conspicuous lack of Eriogonum species, but soon I reached a long stretch of road with at least three species being quite common. As the sun set behind a mountain range, it illuminated a thunderhead to the east with haunting orange and green tones. After many photos, the storm began pelleting me with quarter-sized hail as darkness settled into the valley. In the monotony of darkness on a desolate country road, I was dumping the last crumbs out of a bag of chips into my mouth when I caught the glimpse of a bull elk standing in the middle of the road with an elk-in-headlights look on its face! I slammed on the brakes just in time, and the animal it trotted off into the blackness.

Fossil relative of Norfolk Pine (Araucaria sp)
Fossil relative of Norfolk Pine (Araucaria sp)

The next morning began back in the coal-rich roadcuts south of Trinidad, Co, wanting to spend more time exploring for both fossil and extant plants. The accordion-texture on the underside of a projecting sandstone ledge high up the slope proved to be the impression of a palm leaf Sabalites, similar to our modern genus Sabal. Cuttings of the Eriogonum seen on the first day were collected along with another species of Liatris. As I was leaving, I found a delicately beautiful fossil branch impression of a Cretaceous age Araucaria, relative to the modern Norfolk Pine. As Peckerwood progresses I’d eventually like to have my paleobotanical collections on display as an additional facet to our educational mission, and this would be a worthy display piece considering we have an excellent collection of modern hardy and tropical Araucaria species showing how this living fossil has remained unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs.

Blue Flax (Linium lewisii) in NE New Mexico, with a range extending into west Texas
Blue Flax (Linium lewisii) in NE New Mexico, with a range extending into west Texas

One of the final areas to explore on the way home was a back road in northeastern New Mexico. The area was a scenic mix of open prairie with occasional lava fields from past volcanoes plus forested areas of pines and gambel’s oaks, Quercus gambelii. The grassland was dotted with sky-blue flowers of Blue Flax (Linium lewisii). The road cuts in the area yielded some fascinating things. One slope bore a wild rose that reaches only 6” high and obviously flowering at that size due to the presence of “hips” An unidentified Penstemon spp. was full of seed, more Eriogonum spp., and another patch of a silvery Antennaria spp. was found, different from the specimen collected from in Colorado.

A distinctive species of Standing Cypress (Ipomopsis sp)
A distinctive species of Standing Cypress (Ipomopsis sp)

The last significant stop was a road cut through a relatively recent lava flow that was nearly jet black in color. Again, contrasting with the dark background were more white-flowering Eriogonum spp. by the hundreds. I collected hunks of black lava rock in order to replicate this white-on-black effect in our rock garden. On the lower slope was a distinctive “standing cypress” Ipomopsis spp. with flowers ranging from white to light lavender. Aside from color, the flowers on this yet-to-be-determined species are much longer than the familiar red-flowering eastern species I. rubra that is naturalized in the dry gardens at Peckerwood. Hopefully seeds collected from this species will prosper. Acorns were collected from Q. gambelii from one of the lower elevation populations, but I don’t have high hopes for it in east Texas based on others’ experiences.

Back within the boundary of northwest Texas, I made one final stop just before sunset for the bush morning glory cuttings and the few Eriogonum spp. spotted on the first day. Then I was off on anon-stop seven hour beeline back home across the great expanse that is Texas, loaded down with all sorts of botanical wonders from many beautiful places and many kind people. Though a number will unlikely be long-term survivors in Texas even if sited in the best, well-drained conditions, we will never know of a plants adaptability if we don’t trial them. Just like the Texas natives I observed prospering in Denver, Colorado plants may similarly thrive in more hot, humid conditions of east Texas.

An art display in the ground cover of Peckerwood Garden
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