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May 2017 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden

On the trail of the blue horsetail
Volunteers have put in hundreds of hours this May, Thank you!
Plant of the month: Butterwort (Pinguicula aff. moranensis) 
Slideshow of May photos

(If you are in Outlook and are not seeing the images, please click here)

Adam’s notes from the garden

Brie Arthur’s Foodscape Revolution presentation and book-signing were preceded by a wonderful dinner.

Peckerwood hosted an inspiring, successful evening with Brie Arthur earlier this month. Following the wonderful meal accompanied by Brie’s bloody Mary demo and tasting, we literally packed the house for her presentation illustrating techniques in her new “Foodscape Revolution” book.

Brie’s famous quick and easy bloody mary demo and tasting

Pam Romig coordinated volunteers and Waller County Master Gardeners to make it all happen.

Shortly after, I traveled out of the country, and as I write of the Brie event in my hotel, I read a detailed message from Pam with relieving notes that things are going well. Most notably are the two events Peckerwood hosted that I regret having missed with Chipper Wichman, director of the National Tropical Botanical Garden.

John Fairey interviewed in the garden for Garden Dialogues

I also see Bethany’s initially frightening note about a greenhouse fan not working, but then the reassuring follow-up that her husband, Zachariah, was able to diagnose the problem, and finally, the word that it had been replaced and working again. Volunteers Craig Jackson and Cherie and Frank Lee have been stopping by regularly to make sure the plants are taken care of in the greenhouses. Sadly, head gardener Adolfo Silva’s wife is receiving cancer treatment in Mexico, but he continues to make Peckerwood a priority as well, traveling back and forth despite our insistence to focus on her. Whether on a local or international scale, great things happen when we all work together.

New Caledonia’s famous flamethrower palm, Chambeyronia macrocarpa, has shocking red new leaves.

I am fortunate to be exploring New Caledonia. Where is that? It is an island in the South Pacific, roughly southeast of New Guinea and northeast of New Zealand. Botanically unparalleled, it is home to some of the most primitive plants on earth, including strange fern relatives, a conifer that parasitizes another conifer, and so many additional other-worldly oddities that look more like

The primeval mountain-top vegetation in New Caledonia

something you would see in the pages of a Dr. Seuss storybook. Being surrounded by so many living fossils makes me feel as if I have been transported back to the time of the dinosaurs.

One of the beautiful New Caledonian flowering plants, Xanthostemon aurantiacus

This is actually my second visit, my first was when I managed the University of Florida forest pathology lab, where we conducted field work to research the causes of decline among some of the rare conifer species found on the highest peaks of the island. This time, I am again fortunate to have been invited by the UF lab to assist Ph.D. student Nicolas Anger, who’s thesis is focused on one aspect of the prior studies, specifically visiting ailing populations of Araucaria humboldtensis, a relative of the commonly grown tropical “Norfolk pine” (Araucaria columnaris) that is restricted to a handful of mountain-top sites in the southern part of the island.

The wind-contorted New Caledonian conifer Neocallitropsis pancheri 

With local support from the South Provincial government and the New Caledonian Institute of Agronomy, we are granted access to sites otherwise inaccessible to even the locals, requiring helicopter transport and hoping there is a clear spot to land. Plants we will collect to test pathogens on will be housed at Atlanta Botanical Garden’s state-of-the-art facilities, and for one collection, possibly a new species of Araucaria, we will send DNA to collaborators at Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh Scotland.

The perpetual fog lends further prehistoric feel to New Caledonia’s forests of living fossils.

It is tremendous that Peckerwood Garden can be part of such a wide-reaching collaborative research. First and foremost our mission is to preserve the amazing garden that John Fairey created, but as we enter the realm of being a public garden there is so much more we can do to become an international player in the role of conservation and education. Though our current facilities will not allow us to grow many of the exotic tropical plants from this distant land, Peckerwood can be instrumental in other ways: getting imperiled plants into other suitable collections, working to change local perceptions of the importance of conservation, and sharing with the world the knowledge gained on expeditions like this while attempting to adequately convey its unmatched beauty. Again, it’s amazing what happens when we all work together. This is only the beginning, and we can be proud of the direction John’s creation may help serve in the future on a global scale.

Join us this Saturday at 10 am to learn about the Palms of Peckerwood Garden with Craig Jackson.
Tickets for the Peckerwood Insiders tour available here.
We recommend I-10 rather than HWY 290 for Houston visitors. see a map here: From Houston via Interstate 10

On the trail of the blue horsetail

By Adam Black 

The view among the Riley Mountains – a relative term for the higher than average hills of the region.

I was pleased Darla Harris, president of the Texas Gulf Coast Fern Society, invited Chad Husby to be a guest speaker for the March 2017 meeting. I’ve known Chad for many years, first when he worked at Montgomery Botanical Center, and currently at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens, and we were pleased to provide accommodations for him in Peckerwood’s guest house. Chad generously agreed to also give a talk for Peckerwood’s evening lecture series which coincided with his visit. Among his many interests that tend to focus on primitive plants, Chad is an expert on the genus Equisetum, a fern relative commonly known as horsetails, and this was his presentation topic at the fern society meeting. Chad had mentioned to me the desire to verify the report he had heard of a “blue” horsetail found in the Hill Country west of Austin – something that may prove to be quite novel. I was immediately interested and began planning for us to find the plants in habitat with its discoverer, Austin area plant enthusiast Craig Nazor.

I was familiar with Craig’s name due to his involvement in the cycad world, but I did not personally know him. I contacted him for more information, and soon he generously offered to take us out to the location where he originally found the horsetail during Chad’s visit. Craig had planted some in the prehistoric garden at Austin’s Zilker Botanical Garden years ago, but unfortunately, it no longer exists. Since he had not revisited the site where he discovered it, he was not sure he would remember the exact location. Sounded like an adventure was in order, and even if we didn’t find it, we surely would give Chad a taste of some truly beautiful Texas country along with plenty of other botanical diversions.

The morning of the excursion, Darla joined Chad and me at Peckerwood, and we headed to Austin to meet up with Craig. Soon we were coasting up and down the Hill Country’s namesake geological formations with the roads lined with bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush, and many other wildflowers at their peak. The limestone gave way to granite outcrops as we entered the region that bears the Llano Uplift, an intrusion of metamorphic rock that was pushed up by the earth’s forces through the younger limestone. Off the main road, we stopped at a river crossing and examined some of the plants unique to this region. Among the bluebonnets were the occasional white individuals, surrounded by magenta winecups. We soon found the interesting xeric sun ferns of several genera including Cheilanthes, Astrolepis, and Pellaea growing among the crevasses of the rocks. Along the water, we spotted the four leaf clover arrangement of the water fern in the genus Marsilea. A variety of cacti became evident above the high water mark, mixed with several species of yucca. Craig said it was somewhere along this particular drainage, growing in the granite-based sand, that he found the blue horsetail, but felt it was further downstream.

The first sign of the Equisetum – a single shoot glowing in the dappled light.

We drove on and stopped at a site that had several small cactus species growing in a rather cryptic manner. Mammillaria heyderi was growing in abundance in the shade of low shrubs. Its flat face barely protrudes from the ground and is often partially obscured by leaf litter and grass, making it difficult to spot. Craig noticed one individual with several flowers, which we all photographed. A fishhook cactus (Ferocactus sp.) also was present among the grass. Mahonia trifoliata was in full bloom, with its bright yellow flowers accentuating the olive-grey hollylike foliage.

At another stop we found an abundance of lush green Thelypteris sp. emerging beneath the many limestone boulders, giving the otherwise dry landscape a cool moist feel. Diving through a tangle of vines, I was lured by a glowing scarlet beacon atop a ledge. It proved to be a claret cup cactus in full bloom, requiring the others to bushwhack their way uphill through the dense underbrush to appreciate the plant. A walk down the road revealed patches of Gregg’s Skullcap (Scutellaria greggii) and its bluish-purple flowers growing among antelope horn milkweed.

The next stop was at an intermittent creek that was flowing nicely, and here we found another species of the clover fern Marsilea that had very narrow lobes. I don’t think any of us had seen two naturally occurring species of Marsilea in one day – the things that excite true plantsmen. In a calm pool within the drainage, a dense circular mass of green caught my eye. Closer inspection provided no clues in the way of flowers or other characteristics to allow identification. The best we could tentatively agree on was a species of Ludwigea. Later research revealed it was Callitriche heterophylla, a plant with the ability to be pollinated by water currents when immersed, or by wind when the water dries up. It had great potential in a shallow pond.

Craig took us down a short trail to a high spot overlooking the Riley Mountains, where we found more species of xeric ferns among other unique flora growing out of the steep slopes. Winding down a hill, we arrived at an expansive area of sandbars dominated by willows at the base of a vertical rocky slope covered in Opuntia, Yucca and so many other inaccessible plants we could only peer at through our camera lenses. Craig felt a sense of familiarity as we walked along the periodically flooded sandbars, thinking this might be the place. We began scanning the area looking for the elusive blue horsetail, but there was nothing but grass, rushes, and willows. Suddenly I happened to spot a segmented shoot illuminated by a beam of light filtering down through the willow canopy. It was a horsetail, which prompted me to yell for everyone. Soon everyone was spotting horsetail shoots poking up through the rushes all around the area we just had walked. They were not growing aggressively thick like anyone who has cultivated them can attest, but rather sparsely with a few shoots here, a few shoots there. Even more important, they were not blue, but rather common green. Chad confirmed they appeared consistent with the common Equisetum hyemale. At the very least we could tell they were a lighter green than the typical dark green form.  Collections were made and divvied up between Peckerwood, Fairchild and Darla’s fern nursery. Perhaps the blue population continued to elude us among the typical green form, or perhaps they were simply not as blue at the moment growing in the shade of the Salix nigra and cottonwood canopy. We will grow them out and see. Regardless, our mission was successful in finding horsetails, a true living fossil that is always fun to find in the wild.

May Slideshow

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Learn more about visiting Peckerwood Garden


Plant of the month: Butterwort (Pinguicula aff. moranensis)

By Adam Black 

Seedlings originating from John Fairey’s original wild collection of the Mexican butterwort, grown at Atlanta Botanical Garden.

We deviate this month to a plant that illustrates the value of sharing a plant to get it backed up in various suitable institutions, yet is unlikely to survive in our often hostile climate. “Carnivorous” plants always garner attention due to their unique methods of obtaining nutrients by trapping living things. Usually, they have dramatic methods of capture ranging from elaborate and colorful pitfall traps as in the pitcher plants, or the bear-trap jaws of the Venus fly trap. The butterworts of the genus Pinguicula are no less fascinating despite their lack of elaborate vegetative modifications or moving parts. Their pale yellow-green leaves arranged in a neat rosette may look innocuous, and their brightly colored flowers held high above on a thin stalk add to the deceiving look. The leaves are the equivalent of living flypaper, with a sticky surface that ensnares any insect that dares to land on its surface. These get slowly digested, with the nutrients absorbed through the leaves.

So where is the connection with Peckerwood? When visiting the Atlanta Botanical Garden last year, conservation and conservatory director Ron Determann mentioned their collection included some Pinguicula that John Fairey and Carl Schoenfeld collected in northeast Mexico. Presumed to be related to, or perhaps a form of P. moranensis, this species gets rather large and has showy purple flowers. Unlike many of the native U.S. species found growing in sandy acidic bogs, this species, according to John, was found growing around seepages on vertical rocky cliffs with a species of sedum. They also are found growing as epiphytes, like orchids, on moss-covered tree trunks in seasonally moist forests. This illustrates their preference for well-drained conditions that stay moist. Interestingly, during the dry winter season, these butterworts dramatically change their appearance, creating contrastingly compact winter rosettes that don’t have the ability to capture insects. As soon as the spring rains arrive they revert to the broad sticky leaves and begin flowering again. Though Texas doesn’t provide suitable conditions to grow this species outdoors, it can succeed as a container plant indoors. We are grateful that Ron donated a pot full of seedlings from John and Carl’s original collections that we will keep in the greenhouse until perhaps we can display properly.

Ron also gave us an adult, flowering Pinguicula gigantea, a related species that, as the name implies, is among the largest in the genus, also with purple flowers and similar habitat as an epiphyte or lithophyte in the mountains of Mexico.

Volunteers have put in hundreds of hours this May, Thank you!

By Pam Romig

Brie Arthur

Events in the garden help us promote the beauty of the collection of plants that we are so earnestly striving to protect and share. Recently we held an event at Peckerwood that was very successful in promoting the garden, educating the public, and an overall great social time.  The Brie Arthur event had many hours of volunteer activities that led up to that success.  After cleaning up the outside of the garden house, volunteers also assisted in trimming up trees, mowing and weed eating areas of overgrown grass and weeds, and the essential hand weeding around many special plants.  The house itself was cleaned, and then preparations began on organizing the food.  Some volunteers cooked items before the event and brought them.  Others helped us shop and brought food to the garden where we prepared it.  Amazingly many of the vegetables that we used in our meal were grown by our Master Gardeners in Waller County and made the meal all so much tastier. All in all setting up the garden house, cleaning the grounds, and preparing for the dinner totaled around 95 hours.  It was a fantastic evening, made more so by our visitors, many of who were with the Grimes County Master Gardeners, and visitors from the Houston Chronicle.  Brie’s demonstration of her simple method of making tomato juice and then sharing that juice in Bloody Mary’s was much appreciated.  The lecture was thought provoking and has already helped me in designing new areas of my personal garden!  Hopefully, Brie will return this Fall, so please keep reading our newsletters, as you do not want to miss this event.

The Garden Dialogue event was a huge success although we might have had a few more attendees.  Those who attended were treated to a special chance to hear John Fairey discuss his views of the garden, why he planted certain things, and how his garden evolved.  We are hoping to have more such visits with John in the future.  Special thanks to those who attended, and to those who helped us prepare a few snacks and refreshments.

Another special treat this month was a visit by Chipper Wichman and his wife, Hau Oli from Kauai, Hawaii.  Chipper shared with us his history with the National Tropical Botanical Garden and all that they have accomplished in saving tropical plants, through discovery, conservation, scientific research and public education of tropical plants.  The biodiversity of healthy ecosystems is reliant on tropical plants. This organization has done so much in keeping history alive and protecting their current gardens.  Their volunteer organization (comprised of around 200 people), weed, paint, repair items, work in the nursery, become tour guides and sew crafts for craft fairs.  They are treated by going to special places on their preserves and having potluck lunches and sharing events.  What a reward to be in such beautiful scenery, but they all seem to have the same sense of purpose, doing something for the environment and keeping a beautiful place “Beautiful”.  We enjoyed some wonderful tasty treats prepared by Ruth McDonald and Brenda Wilson.  Thanks so much!

The grounds around our office have been steadily maintained by a core group of volunteers.  Brenda Wilson and Harvey Newman are such fantastic helpers in so many ways.  They have recently begun gathering pine straw to help mulch around so many of the areas that have been weeded.  It’s an arduous task and we are so grateful for their contributions.  We have had a few new volunteers through the past few months who have also assisted in this task. Jane Theiler from Waller County Master Gardeners and Lisa who joined the volunteer group by asking online have also helped with weeding.  Thank you so much for helping to beautify our grounds.

More recently we have had a couple of film students working in the garden in exchange for the rights to film their entry into a 48 Hour film competition. Alex and Reginald have been working in the garden for most of the month of May.  They have scouted out locations as they have worked, so that once they are given a topic, they can write the script, perform, film, and edit the final film in 48 hours.  We are excited to be included in this effort and hope that their film will win this competition so that eventually they can compete in the Filmapalooza and eventually Cannes!

Watering the special plants that we have around the office, and keeping our propagation stock watered as well as our plants for sale has proven to be a bit of an undertaking this month.  Special thanks to Frank and Cherie Lee as well as Craig Jackson for coming and watering many plants by hand.  Special thanks to Zachariah and Bethany as well for keeping our equipment running.  Frank and Cherie have also helped to keep our plants as happy as possible, and have done a lot in protecting and “up potting” plants that are in stress and growing outside their current pots!

Lastly, special thanks to Harvey.  He has been helping me with moving and maintaining a couple of beehives that we recently placed at Peckerwood.  I love bees and am always fascinated by how quickly they adapt.  I’m especially fond of what great workers they are.  So far our two box hives grew to 3 and even 4 hive boxes, with full boxes of honey.  Depending on how they fare through the summer, we might have some of our very own Peckerwood honey to sell!

Peckerwood has many more acres to develop and grow, so I hope that as our volunteer group grows we can offer even more exciting tasks to undertake.  If you are interested, please contact Bethany and we will get you involved!!!


Posted on

April 2017 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden

In Search of a few East Texas rarities
Guest Speakers and special lectures in May
Plant of the month: the genus Tephrosia 
Slideshow of April photos

(If you are in Outlook and are not seeing the images, please click here)

Adam’s notes from the garden

Silene regia in the rockery

We’ve had a steady stream of visitors, both groups, and horticultural professionals, touring the garden. These tour times allow me a more thorough opportunity to keep better tabs on current highlights in the garden while sharing the joy of finding that surprise just around the path’s corner. In showing visitors around, I didn’t miss the patches of Spigellia marilandica in full flower, the inflorescence on Arisaema heterophyllum, the brief blossoms on some of our miniature cacti, and the sight and scent of another of John Fairey’s flowering Mexican Philadelphus species.

The low light casts long shadows in the dry garden north of the creek
The metallic silver undersides of Croton alabamensis var. texensis, known only from a few sites in central TX. Donated by Pat McNeal.

It’s educational to see what others find interesting that I may not focus on, but perhaps should, and to learn what excites visitors that I may interpret as “common.” One example is our Zamia floridana, the only cycad native to the U.S. In my home state, this Florida native, a durable and attractive plant known by its Seminole name “coontie,” is one of the most commonly used species in commercial landscapes. Though a staple in Florida nurseries for decades, it has never caught on here. I’m also amazed at how many visitors ask about our saw palmettos, Serenoa repens. Again, using Florida as a reference, it is abundant in well-drained soils throughout the state in both natural and cultivated settings. Many despise this palm due to the thought that snakes and other vermin inhabit the dense mass of clustering, creeping trunks, and eradication services exist on Craig’s List. John prefers our specimen – the highly attractive silver form, to be kept free of the old, dead inner leaves that tend to accumulate on wild plants, resulting in a stately and structurally bold presence adjacent to the fountain courtyard area.

Sphaeralcea ambigua ‘Louis Hamilton’
Dyschoriste linearis is proving to be a carefree xeric plant

The Magnolia tamaulipana germplasm collection has been flowering nicely the past few weeks. I think this species, native to only a couple of small natural populations, has among the most beautiful and graceful flowers of all magnolias. It is interesting to see how variable the flowers are among these different clones, which were collected as cuttings from the original trees in the wild. Visitors during the past year have been immediately struck with the abundant black spots on the leaves of all our M. tamaulipana, yet completely absent on the adjacent species of magnolias. These are strange blue-green algae(cyanobacteria) that proliferates when moist conditions are right. It causes no harm to the tree, and despite the concerning appearance, it does not draw any nutrients, just uses the leaf as a suitable surface on which to exist. It easily can be scraped off, revealing no damage to the leaf’s tissue. It is simply living like an orchid on a tree branch or moss on a tree trunk. Of course, it may be unsightly, and everyone asks “isn’t there something you can spray on it?” Even if there were a spray to kill it, the dead colony would remain adhered to the leaf, so all we can do is hope this year’s environmental conditions aren’t conducive for the recolonization on the new flushes of leaves, and the old polka-dotted leaves will naturally fall off in time. Until then, it is fun to educate visitors on the complexities of these harmless cohabitating organisms utilizing the garden as their habitat, and how everything doesn’t need chemicals, with patience and acceptance persevering.

Carpinus tropicalis, formerly identified as a Mexican version of C. carolinianus
Clematis pitcheri is native to east Texas, but this particular form was collected in Mexico

Near the fountain courtyard, visitors walk beneath a “musclewood” John collected in northeastern Mexico. This has been identified as a disjunct Mexican version of the wide-ranging Carpinus caroliniana found throughout much of the eastern U.S, with discontiguous populations occurring throughout Central America. In early April, visitors enjoyed the amazing flush of the tree’s corrugated bronze foliage which soon hardened off to green. After some scrutiny, I have recently found that this may actually be a different species that occurs in Mexico – Carpinus tropicalis. In fact, C. tropicalis was elevated to an accepted species after formerly being considered a varietal form (C. caroliniana var. tropicalis). It’s always exciting to discover a new species in the garden. 
Another mystery I want to solve is that of a Mexican collection of jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema sp.). I missed the flowers last year, and with its return from dormancy, it should flower soon. The foliage resembles our native “green dragon” (Arisaema dracontium), which also occurs in Mexico, but there is yet another species restricted to south of the border, A. macrospathum, with foliage that resembles A. dracontium but bears an inflorescence that has a much broader spathe – the hood-like structure that shelters “jack” in his pulpit. I am hoping to see it flower this year before my travels through much of May, and I’m also hoping the seed we produced last year will germinate.

In Search of a few East Texas rarities

By Adam Black 

A driver’s view of the dwarf plum, Prunus gracilis, forming a low groundcover on the sandy banks

With spring in full swing, I had been wanting to make a trip into the east Texas woodlands to track down some of the more unique or rare ephemeral plants, and finally, on a whim, I woke up one beautiful late February Sunday morning and decided this was the day. My target was to find the rare Texas trillium (Trillium texanum) and see if I could track down some trout lilies (Erythronium rostratum). I knew where these would be found, there would be other surprises. With some inside tips on a few recorded trillium populations, I set out on the two-hour drive eastward.

The endangered Trillium texanum

Not far from home, I noticed a roadside patch of the common Phlox pilosa that was highly variable in color, ranging from dark pink to lavender to white. The crests of hills along the way were dotted with the blue-gray foliage of emerging Baptisia bracteata, a few already starting to produce their horizontally oriented spikes of cream-colored flowers. Then, just east of Huntsville, I angered a truck driver on my tail when I had to suddenly pull over to see what the solid white carpets of flowers were that capped the sandy roadcuts. It was a dwarf plum, Prunus gracilis, which Will Fleming had told me about a few weeks earlier. These particular colonies of this extensively suckering shrub were consistently maxing out at about two feet high, creating a neat groundcover of snowy white prior to the emergence of the foliage. In the right situation, this would have tremendous horticultural potential. Also with great potential were it not so invasive was a beautiful gold leaf form of the maligned Chinese tallow tree, Sapium sebiferum.
Light rain began to fall as I arrived near the first ravine where I hoped to find T. texanum. As I hiked down a powerline easement, native azalea (Rhododendron canescens) flowers were clearly visible in the lower reaches. And as I looked off into the forest from the cleared strip of land, flowering dogwoods showed as masses of white in the distance while the copper retained leaves of American beech (Fagus grandifolia) added a warm feel to the cool late morning. Reaching the drainage, I hiked up to the source – a muddy seep, where, from my understanding, the T. texanum prefers. A good sign was the presence of Onoclea sensibilis – the sensitive fern, unfurling its new fronds. It is an indicator species for the proper habitat for the trillium. A bad sign were the extensive craters excavated by feral hogs. An extensive search yielded no signs of any trilliums.

An Itea virginica individual with exceptionally long inflorescences, worthy of selection for cultivation

Two more sites where the trilliums had been recorded also had similar destruction and were similarly unproductive. As the afternoon progressed, I gave up on finding T. texanum and decided to check out a site Georgia trillium enthusiast Charles Hunter told me has an extensive population of another more common species, T. gracile along with Erythronium rostratum. On the way, I spotted some purple flecks on a roadcut that proved to be the charming birdfoot violet, Viola pedata. This population was variable, with individuals bearing small and large flowers, with colors ranging from dark to light purple to nearly blue. One distinctive clump had a few anomalous characteristics. Normally violets have a pair of posterior petals that point upward like bunny ears. Every flower in this clump lacked those two petals, and even stranger, the erect shape curved abruptly downward like a candy cane with the flowers drooping atypically.

As Charles had indicated, the final stop of the day was indeed a surprisingly thick population of T. gracile. These were highly variable, some quite tall, some with exceptionally long petals, and some with solid green leaflets instead of the typical mottling. In between were the trout lilies, but in the waning light, the flowers were mostly closed up for the day. Mixed in were cut-leaf toothwort, Cardamine concatenata, with its white flowers held above its Japanese maple-like leaves. Though common throughout much of the eastern U.S., it is only known from a few counties in Texas, and this may be the southwestern-most population.

Trillium recurvatum with both typical maroon along with some yellow flowered forms

I had been holding off visiting a better-known population of T. texanum for a trip planned with Rick Lewandowski, director of Shangri La Botanical Garden in Orange, Texas, but our schedules did not coordinate. I didn’t want to miss them flowering, so I met up with native plant enthusiast Peter Loos several days later. But first, as an additional treat, we decided to check out one of the most southwestern populations of T. recurvatum in Texas on the private land of well-known plantsman Greg Grant, just north of Nacogdoches. Aside from being one of the more distinctive trilliums, this population harbored a few yellow-flowered forms among the typical maroon to red flowers. Also noteworthy at this site was the rare gooseberry Ribes curvatum, which has a spotty distribution throughout the southeast.

Hopefully these aren’t the last individuals of Parnassia grandiflora in Texas

We readily found the T. texanum at this particular site along a creek. There was still quite a bit of pig activity, and therefore potentially Peckerwood can help with conservation efforts in the future. Unlike the other Texas native trilliums, T. texanum has white flowers on a long arching peduncle as opposed to the other species where the upright flower is nestled tightly against the junction of the three leaflets. It is also unusual in that it prefers wet sites while the others require sloped, well-drained conditions.

Aesculus glabra var. arguta

Peter took me up to a secondary drainage of the main creek where the state’s only population of grass of Parnassus (Parnassia grandifolia) is known. Unfortunately, we did not see any plants where he remembered them to be, now quite disrupted with hog damage. Further downstream we found two individuals, hopefully not the last two in Texas. Yet another area where we should take the conservation lead before all is lost.

Penstemon murrayanus is one of the most beautiful in the genus

Peter mentioned the presence of the spectacular Penstemon murrayanus in the high sandy scrub above the creek bottom. We hiked up the hill, and he quickly found the rosettes of leaves and last year’s dried inflorescences, but no signs that they were making any attempt to flower yet. A few other interesting plants in this well-drained area were Pediomelum sp., a small ground-hugging plant with palmate, bluebonnet-like leaves and compact inflorescences with tiny blue flowers. With them was the rather uncommon Tetragonotheca ludovicianum, a member of the sunflower family with robust foliage and short yellow rays around the large central disc. Unusually large Yucca sp. were present in the scrub, some with long thin arching foliage more resembling that of a Dasylirion. In the low mesic areas, an occasional Texas variety of the Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra var. arguta) was displaying its yellowish green flowers.

The conjoined bracts on the erect inflorescence of Penstemon murrayanu form cups

A few weeks later, when I found myself in the region, I decided to check on the P. murrayanus to see if they were flowering yet. I tried to revisit the two Parnassia but could not find them. The area was heavily engulfed with ferns at this point, so I am hoping I overlooked them. The trilliums had begun fading, but many jack-in-the-pulpits with bold dark streaks on the inner lining of the “pulpit” were now fully up. Hiking back up the hill, I soon found the scarlet beacons of the penstemon inflorescences dotting the open sandy field. The four-foot-high flower spikes bore bracts uniquely modified into a cup that encircled the scape, giving the plant a most curious appearance. Here and there, clumps of silver hairy pinnate foliage gave rise to inflorescences of pastel yellow-green and pink pea flowers of Tephrosia virginiana, which is always nice to see.

April Slideshow

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Learn more about visiting Peckerwood Garden


Plant of the month: the genus Tephrosia

By Adam Black 

Tephrosia lindheimeri
Tephrosia sp. John and Carl collected in Mexico

One of my many botanical focuses that I think deserves more attention for landscape diversification and beauty are those members of the pea family (Fabaceae) that tend to be low-growing, compact, with attractive foliage and flowers. Most that fall into this category are often found in dry, well-drained conditions and therefore perfect for xeriscaping. Tephrosia is a genus I have become quite fond of for these situations. In our south perennial garden, we have a nice patch of the Texas native T. lindheimeri, which is currently flowering away with intense magenta flowers held above a spreading mat of blue-gray foliage. Even better is one of John’s Mexican collections, an unknown species with broad blue-green leaflets edged in white and erect spikes of dark pink flowers, forming a non-aggressive groundcover with a pleasing appearance even when not flowering.

Tephrosia virginiana photographed in Bastrop, TX

Native to east Texas and throughout the southeastern U.S. in fire-maintained sandhill scrub habitat is Tephrosia virginiana. Unlike the previous two, this one forms a clump of short, upright stems with fuzzy silver leaves bearing narrow leaflets. The bicolored flowers are a most distinctive combination – pastel shades of rose pink and greenish yellow. Familiar to me from Florida, I recently found a roadside population in the pinelands near Bastrop, and more recently growing with the spectacular Penstemon murrayanus near Nacogdoches. All species die back to a woody taproot in winter, vigorously emerging again in spring. Along with perfect drainage, full sun is necessary for proper growth of these species, which we hope to offer in our developing nursery in the near future.

Special guest speakers in May

By Bethany Jordan

Peckerwood Garden is pleased to present several interesting options to visit us or join us in Houston for special guest lectures in May (pre-registration required, limited space available).

May 6th join us for Garden Dialogues 2017: Artist in Residence with John Fairey. Tickets are $75.

May 9th we are proud to welcome author and horticulturist Brie Arthur for a lecture and book signing “The Foodscape Revolution”. There are few spaces remaining for this, please purchase tickets now.  

May 19th Charles “Chipper” Wichman, President, CEO, and Director of National Tropical Botanical Garden will present ” Plant Conservation and Research at the National Tropical Botanical Garden” here at Peckerwood Garden, 7 pm. Tickets are $15 for our Evening at Peckerwood Lecture series.

Also, Join us for Open Day May 13th and 27th. tickets are $10. May 3rd we will have our Peckerwood Insider’s tour of the North Dry garden and other collections located across the creek. Tickets are $15.

please contact us if you are interested in volunteering.