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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

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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!!!