In my home state of Florida, the native cycad is a staple landscape plant in parking lot islands, foundation plantings…anywhere. These cycads are planted as individual textural specimens or massed in clumps or rows. Aside from their attractiveness, their popularity also is due to their propensity for being a durable, drought-tolerant and frost-hardy option for a tough spot in sun or shade. Peckerwood founder John Fairey has utilized this species for its various attributes in many areas of the garden, yet I was surprised upon moving here that the plant is still rather unknown in Texas horticulture. It is not difficult to find in the nurseries, but it should be just as popular here as it is in Florida.
Confusingly known by a few scientific names, most commonly Zamia floridana, most researchers consider Z. integrifolia to be the most current name. At least two forms exist, the “southeast” form ranging from southernmost Georgia to the tip of the peninsula which bears broad leaflets and compact form, and tends to be the most common selection in cultivation. Another form localized in the sandhills of the northwest portion of the Florida peninsula has thin leaflets that stand upright in a V arrangement on the fronds. A giant form from northeast Florida called the ‘Palatka Giant’ can be found in collector circles, and a mature clump can reach heights of at 5 feet. On the opposite end of the spectrum, John has a dwarf mutant in his personal collection that was a surprise among numerous seedlings derived from our garden’s plants.
When I guided members of The Cycad Society around Peckerwood, cycad biologist and Zamia specialist Michael Calonje from Miami’s Montgomery Botanical Center noted how our mature female clumps of Z. integrifolia were scattering their shocking red seeds from their crumbling cones throughout the garden. A common sight in Florida, I never thought about what is pollinating these cones in Texas until Michael asked if we had one or both of their specific beetle pollinators here. Though it is entirely possible that the pollinators hitchhiked from Florida in nursery stock and became established here, nobody has documented them in the state. We have since learned that fertile seeds are produced in other Texas counties from Houston to Austin without human intervention. We will have to pay attention next year to see if we can catch the culprit in the act and officially document its presence in the state.
Debatably a native to east Texas, this trillium is better known from Louisiana so it is used to heat and humidity. It prefers moist but well-drained woodland garden conditions, such as on a berm with supplemental irrigation during dry spells. It dies back in late spring/early summer but will re-emerge in February the following year.
At first glance, young plants might resemble just another common silvery blue agave abundant in the area’s landscapes. However, once this plant gains some size, it is a real standout with an elegant form to the 6 feet long leaves, most of which point straight up, creating a vase-like shape. Unlike the more common silver species, this great selection maintains a clean matte coloration free of blemishes. It’s one of John’s favorite agaves, as of yet unidentified, that he collected around Miquihuana, Tamaulipas, Mexico.
Although becoming more popular, this amazing Mexican oak is so unlike any other with its dark green and highly textured leaves, it therefore deserves wider use in the area’s landscapes.
This subtropical Asian maple looks nothing like a maple. You won’t see fall color with this species as it is mostly evergreen with unlobed elliptical leaf shape that is perfect for fooling your gardening friends as to its identity. A very tough plant once established. — Adam Black
Here’s a little-known yet spectacular evergreen shrub for dappled shade. With insignificant flowers, it is grown for its dense form and large paddle-shaped leaves which give it a tropical appearance, yet is fully hardy in our area. — Adam Black