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December 2016 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden
It’s Not the Borer’s Fault!

Social Media
Volunteer appreciation
Plant of the month
Slideshow of December photos

See a slideshow of 2016 memories

Adam’s notes from the garden

Lindera angustifolia in its full autumn glory.
The yellow fruits of Euonymus myrianthus burst open to reveal their red seeds.

Winter is setting in, and things are not following the same pattern as last year. Interestingly, things that displayed fall color in late January or February 2016 are currently at their peak. John Fairey’s collection of bigtooth maples (Acer grandidentatum) from the San Carlos Mountains in Tamaulipas is showing nice yellow colors here in late December. My photos verify the trees were a clean orange color in early February. The Taiwanese maple Acer oliverianum var. formosanum was also a nice consistent scarlet color in late January, but currently, has rather “dirty” red color as the leaves unfortunately, got blemished by superficial leaf spot pathogens originating from the moist late spring we had. Another Taiwanese native,

The temporary carpet of reddish Taxodium leaves helps make some specimens really stand out.

Liquidambar formosana, glowed a brilliant orangey-red in late January earlier this year but was rather weak and brief this past week. Acer discolor was the last to color up with sherbet orange last February, but it is on its way to peaking here the last week of December.

Sinojackia xylocarpa with surprising color.

On schedule are native eastern US natives Quercus shumardiiQ. michauxii as well as Acer barbatum. The Taxodium disticum along the creek colored up nicely with their rusty orange canopy that soon became deposited in a striking monotony on the ground below following a breezy frontal boundary.

In addition to winter flowers, Prunus mume can also have great fall foliage.

The blue-grays of the neighboring Serenoa repens, Yucca rostrata and Agaves really popped sharply against this rufous backdrop, moderated by the clean yellows of Tilia americana leaves and orange blush of Fagus grandifolia.

The blues of Aagaves, Yyuccas and palms really pop with the seasonal backdrop of color.

Bordering the cypresses, and appearing to stay on their mid-winter color transition schedule, are the Mexican sugar maples (Acer skutchii) which are still not quite feeling the chill and remain a dark green for now. A surprise to me were the two species of Sinojackia trees that had decent clean-yellow leaves retained for some time, longer than their related native Halesia grandifolia.

Asian spicebushes (Lindera sp.) always have fascinated me with their year-round interest as small understory trees. First to color up were Lindera cheinii and another unknown Lindera sp., both a pale, clean yellow color.

The orange of John Fairey’s courtyard fountain wall echoed in the white oak beyond the gallery.

Next were the several Lindera angustifolia and L. glauca that John has planted around the garden, the latter with a brief orange color, and the former with school bus yellow. Both soon transitioned to a coppery tan color, that when focused on out of context, simply looks like dead leaves. To more perceptive observers, who take the landscape in as a whole, the leaves, which are retained through the winter, catch the light that filters down through the woodland garden canopy just right, glowing with a translucent copper richness that blends so warmly with the adjacent evergreens and flowering camellias.

Acer barbatum takes center stage in the arboretum.
Prunus mume fall foliage mixing well with cycads and xeric plants.

Our first significant freeze killed back the foliage on a few hardy tropicals like the various gingers, Hamelia patensCalliandra species, and a number of random perennials. Still, the garden is quite unfazed by the cold, being mostly composed of hardy plants. Some of the early flowering Mexican Mahonia species are already in bloom, including M. chochoca as well as a new, soon-to-be-named species flowering for its second time in cultivation. Soon to follow are the Asian Mahonia species and hybrids, which are budded up nicely, along with the remaining Mexican species which will provide a succession of canary-yellow flower spikes through early March. Our first deciduous magnolia cultivar is flowering, but most of the others still have developing buds. I continue to be impressed by Scutellaria wrightii in the rockery near the offices, as there has not been a day since late spring when it didn’t bear at least some purple/blue flowers.

It’s Not the Borer’s Fault! The Fascinating, Inbred, Misunderstood Beetles That Didn’t Kill Your Trees

By Adam Black 

Sawdust generated by two species of beetles at the base of a Magnolia. Despite all this activity the crown of the tree still looks deceptively healthy.

As I was strolling the gardens a few weeks ago, I noticed sawdust accumulating around the base of a hardy cinnamon tree, Cinnamomum chekiangense, north of the creek. Having a background managing the forest entomology lab at the University of Florida, which is at the forefront of research dealing with ambrosia and bark beetles, I carved a few of these “borers” out, all smaller than a sesame seed. I found two species –  the abundant, pill-shaped granulated ambrosia beetle, Xylosandrus crassiusculus, and the more elongated pinhole borer, Euplatypus compositus. The latter is native, but the former was introduced from Asia and has been one of the most successful of insect invaders worldwide. Regardless of whether they are native or introduced, “borers” are often blamed for the decline and death of a prized ornamental tree based solely on their conspicuous presence, yet unjustly so. That’s right, the borers didn’t kill your tree, and in some cases, you wasted money fruitlessly treating with chemicals only to have the tree still die.

Xylosandrus crassiusculus tending to its fungal garden lining its gallery, with eggs on the right. Photo courtesy Jiri Hulcr.

How can this be? The tree was healthy, and all of a sudden there was clear borer activity on the trunk, extruding compacted spaghetti-like masses of sawdust from their boring activities as the tree quickly died. Of course, it must have been the borers’ fault. Wrong! Though your landscaper or arborist will happily take your money in order to drench the root zone with chemicals, administer trunk injections and other pricey witchery, treating for the beetles is pointless. By the time you notice the beetle activity, it is almost always too late. And again, it is not the beetle’s fault. Why? Because the beetles are attracted to the chemical cues given off by an already-stressed and dying tree. Yes, the tree looked fine before the borers colonized the trunk, but what you didn’t see what the fungal infection slowly rotting the interior of the tree. The beetles sensed it and came in to serve as the secondary, opportunistic undertakers.

On windier days, the extruded sawdust noodles break and accumulate below the gallery entrances.

It was a constant struggle at our lab to convince clients that borers weren’t the primary cause of death for their rare, or highly valued tree. Fungal infections can be slowly eating away at a tree internally for months before it displays any visual signs of distress. The beetles are able to sense the stressed tree and home in on it. In fact, when trapping these beetles for research, one of the best lures is ethanol, produced in a plant’s decomposition process. The beetles’ affinity for alcohol is also clear on some humid summer night when you are outside drinking beer…if you pay attention, that little hard thing you felt go down your throat quicker than you could spit it out was often a tipsy Xyleborinus saxesenii that ended up in your bottle! One larger introduced species, Cnestus mutilatus, so named as its blunt abdomen looks as if it was chopped off, is such a glutton for ethanol that it has been known to eat through plastic fuel containers that bear gasoline containing ethanol.

Ambrosia beetles come in all sorts of fascinating forms. Photo courtesy Jiri Hulcr.

Ambrosia beetles (boring into the wood) and bark beetles (living just under the bark) have evolved where they carry a little bit of fungus with them from tree to tree. Different species have their own types of fungus they specialize in, while others can carry several species, or are generalists. Some have special pockets inside their mouths that get stuffed with fungi, others carry it under their wing covers, in a pocket under the top of their back, and a few even have dense tufts of orange hairs on their head that bear the fungi. When they find a stressed tree, ambrosia beetles chew a tunnel, known as a gallery, deep within the tree, while bark beetles hollow out tunnels directly under the bark. The sawdust generated is pushed out the hole in a compacted tubular mass that can get quite long on a calm day. These are affectionately called sawdust “noodles” among bark beetle researchers and are usually the first visual sign of an infestation. Once the galleries are dug, the beetle will transfer the fungus it brought with it into the tunnels, where it soon grows on the gallery walls. The beetles tend to this crop, which they and their eventual larvae will consume. There is evidence preserved in fossil amber that beetles have been doing this for millions of years, since the time of the dinosaurs, and therefore may be one of the earliest farmers on earth.

The fungi they carry can serve various purposes. Some species are “saprophytes,” helping to decompose dead wood, while others can act as mild or even severe tree pathogens. Wait a minute, didn’t I just say that the beetles (or the fungi they carry) were not killing trees, only finishing them off?

Swamp bays in east Texas affected by laurel wilt disease, one of the very few instances where ambrosia beetles attack healthy trees.

There are a few rare, but significant instances where a certain species of beetle will colonize a perfectly healthy tree, introduce its fungus, which then kills the tree. There are very few species in this category, five or so species in the U.S. that when introduced into a new environment, shift from being attracted to stressed trees as they behave in their native range to making themselves at home in healthy, unstressed trees. One of the most noteworthy invasions following this pattern in recent years is the redbay ambrosia beetle, Xyleborus glabratus which arrived from Asia. A single beetle was introduced into the U.S. via Port Wentworth (Savannah, Ga.), likely hitchhiking among wood pallets or other untreated wood crating materials, back in 2002.

Cnestus mutilatus gets its name due to the appearance of its abdomen being chopped off. Photo courtesy Jiri Hulcr.

It is most fascinating that one tiny individual beetle and its fungal accomplice could initiate one of the most significant impacts on native U.S. tree species in recorded history known as laurel wilt disease. These beetles are among the most successful colonizers of new territory due to their unique modes of reproduction. One female was liberated from her foreign shipping materials at a sea port, easily found a redbay tree, Persea borbonia in the nearby maritime forest, dug her gallery and introduced the laurel wilt fungus she brought with her in specialized pockets inside her mouth. Possessing a unique reproductive strategy, she has the ability to lay fertile eggs without being fertilized by a male. The initial eggs all hatch as males, which mate back with their mother. Her second round of eggs will include females, sparking a new exotic introduction to the country and reproducing exponentially. Originating from one female, all the millions of current redbay ambrosia beetles that have spread from North Carolina south to the tip of Florida and west to east Texas are all one clone, bearing identical genetics. Furthermore, the fungus that is now killing back millions of trees in the southeast is also a single clone. Quite an interesting story.

The introduction of the redbay ambrosia beetle was highly unique in that this was a case where there was a significant shift from normally being attracted to stressed trees in Asian forests to attacking perfectly healthy, unstressed trees upon introduction into the US. Other southeastern US natives laurels are also fair game, including swamp bay, sassafras, spicebush, along with the cultivated avocados and bay leaf. This is one of the few cases where you can blame the beetle for a tree’s death, assuming the tree is a host plant for this particular beetle. Still, nearly all beetle infestations among cultivated trees take place in trees dying from other environmental or cultural stress.

Just under the bark, the galleries created by bark beetles can often be quite beautiful.

Though few people grow members of the laurel family as ornamentals (though they should), the south Florida avocado industry has been impacted. The outlook was grim for the native host plants, but after more than fourteen years with a foothold in the southeastern U.S., it is clear that trees do die back, but most resprout from the roots vigorously and will grow for several years and even produce fruit until they attain a trunk diameter attractive to the beetles again. Furthermore, Dr. Marc Hughes earned his PhD. in our Florida lab with a primary focus on identifying naturally resistant trees in the areas hardest hit by the disease. He found that some of these resistant trees developed disease but were able to shrug it off, while others simply had a genetic profile that didn’t give off the right chemical cues that attracted the beetles. That said, we don’t know if all members of the laurel family will show similar resistance, especially if the disease spreads into the Lauraceae-rich regions of Mexico, Central America and down into South America. It appears we have natural barriers in place in south Texas (consisting of a complete lack of native laurels south of Corpus Christi) to prevent a natural flow of the beetles into Mexico, but this can be circumvented if people move firewood from an infested area to a new area, like the Rio Grande Valley where avocados are grown on a small scale. It has been proven that other significant insect pests have been introduced to new regions through hitchhiking in firewood, so it is always critical to obtain wood close to where you plan to burn it.

So what can you do to combat borers? Plant only trees that are proven adaptable to the soil chemistry and climate of the region. If you are a collector and likely trialing odd species of trees, expect some to not be happy and eventually decline and serve as a home for ambrosia beetles. If you already have an infestation, just say your goodbyes to the tree, and make the best of it by enjoying your newfound appreciation for these complex organisms just trying to make a living. There’s no use treating with expensive chemicals.  Try to narrow down any stress-causing factors that lead to the tree’s susceptibility to borers and work towards making changes with remaining and future trees.

Compacted sawdust ‘noodles’ being extruded by ambrosia beetles.

The infested hardy cinnamon tree I mentioned was one of several established trees we have had that declined slowly over the summer through fall almost surely due to the flooding earlier this year. Several steps away from the dying cinnamon, I more recently spotted an infestation at the base of a large magnolia, also subjected to the flooded conditions. This tree had another species of exotic ambrosia beetle, Euwallacea interjectus that has become well-established in the southern U.S. DNA studies conducted by Dr. Anthony Cognato and collaborators have shown that the E. interjectus found from Louisiana eastward to Florida are a separate introduction from Asia than the few previously recorded from east Texas, meaning there were two separate invasions of the same species. The eastern beetles are more genetically similar to those that naturally occur in Japan, whereas the Texas introductions match Taiwanese native populations. We can surmise that those in Texas arrived via wood packing crates or pallets at one of the ports in Houston on a freighter from Taiwan. Coincidentally, I had collected this species in Taiwan over a year ago and Dr. Matt Kasson’s lab at West Virginia University found that they carry a distinct species of fungus related to, but quite distinct from the fungus the Japanese E. interjectus carry. I sent his lab some of our presumed Taiwanese-turned-Texan beetles from the magnolia to confirm they have the same fungus as those I collected from the Taiwanese mountains. I find it quite interesting that I have been coincidentally involved with the characterization of the fungal symbiont from the beetles’ Taiwanese range and its new range extension in the U.S.

After being exposed to the complex world of ambrosia and bark beetles with my previous job, I can not shake my appreciation for such amazing creatures that, love ’em or hate ’em, are forever intertwined with our love of gardening. I must continue to stress though, to not automatically feel you should waste money on chemicals thinking you are doing something helpful. Just accept losses in the garden as normal, all the while having a greater appreciation for the complexities of these hard-working invertebrates who are avid gardeners themselves!

December Slideshow

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Learn more about visiting Peckerwood Garden

Follow Peckerwood on Instagram or Facebook!

We maintain an active Instagram ““@peckerwoodgarden” and hope you will become one of our followers and join our hosts, Adam Black and Craig Jackson. On Facebook, “peckerwoodgarden” shares images of what the garden is like that week and what is happening soon, hosted by Bethany Jordan and Adam Black. “@PeckerwoodG” on Twitter also updates you on current happenings at Peckerwood Garden and is hosted by Bethany Jordan.


Plant of the month: Ilex x ‘Cherry Bomb’

By Adam Black 

In last month’s newsletter, I made note of the hybrid holly from the National Arboretum breeding program initially referred to as NA28255 but then renamed Ilex x ‘Cherry Bomb’. Within minutes after we released the newsletter David Creech at Stephen F. Austin University contacted me with the full story on the plant with some clarifications, credits and additional information on this plant. David wrote:

“This is a J.C. Raulston (North Carolina State University) distributed plant via National Arboretum . . . he wasn’t supposed to propagate or distribute but that wasn’t his style.  Margaret Pooler of the National Arboretum announced to the breeding program cooperators that since there was no interest in that particular plant at the time, it should be destroyed.  John Ruter of the University of Georgia told her that he thought Creech had the plant and had handed them out, and that Treesearch Farms in Houston was selling it. The nursery’s then-horticulturist Scott Reeves asked me if I liked the name Cherry Bomb . . . I did . . . so, Scott (now at Creekside Nursery) should get the credit for the name and SFA Arboretum should get credit for saving it from the trash heap. I called Margaret after I had visited with Ruter, got everything smoothed out . . .  and it was made as a joint release under that name.  It is a good plant. Alkalinity tolerant. Proof positive in my mind that plants need to be shared . . . sometimes a failure in one spot sets up a success in another.”
If this one hadn’t made the cut in National Arboretum’s trials, I’d be interested to see what did. I remember first seeing this dense tree loaded with fruit and already bearing the name ‘Cherry Bomb’ at Tony Avent’s Plant Delights Nursery/Juniper Level Botanical Garden years ago. He shared cuttings with me to root in north Florida. I shared with a few folks in Florida and was then surprised to find it in Peckerwood’s collection upon moving here. It soon became apparent it was in many collections out here with the Texas connection. Prior to David’s clarifications, after the newsletter was released, Scott visited Peckerwood and told me about his naming of the tree that had caught my eye years earlier. It’s always great when things come full circle – a good plant earns its well-deserved time in the spotlight through the combined efforts of several good plantsmen, all of whom I have come to know except, regrettably, J.C. Raulston, whose untimely death left a huge void in the horticultural world yet firmly instilled the philosophy of freely sharing good plants, a mission which lives on in so many to this day.

  Volunteers in 2016

By Bethany Jordan

Weeding and clearing land.
Developing Alpine Rock Gardens near the Parking area

This past year has been a time of great change and development for Peckerwood Garden. Our volunteers have been instrumental in aiding our transition into a public garden. Now with open days being held at least once a month, our reliable docents have increased their time with us by leading tours, helping volunteer groups, assisting with open days, helping in the nursery, and participating in monthly classes.


Craig Jackson leading a tour.

In the office, volunteers have transcribed interviews with John Fairey, prepared membership mailings, researched information, and much more. Working in the garden house, volunteers have cleaned seed, maintained the house for guests and events, prepared for lectures, assisted guests, and compiled large documents.




Volunteers have cleaned large areas of the property around the buildings and have worked with Adam on our mission to develop an aesthetically pleasing entry and reception area.



Collecting acorns

Volunteers helped reorganize and maintain the nursery and price the plants for sale. From tedious weeding, data entry, tour assistance, class participation and propagation our volunteers have been here with us every step of the way. When setbacks or needs arise, the volunteers are available and present through the whole process and are critical in the positive changes created.




Our Open Days and other increasing events are possible only because our volunteers are here to assist guests in every area from sign-in and parking to tours and nursery sales. Thank you to all of our volunteers for 2016! We look forward to working with you as we continue to advance our garden into a more publically accessible place of enjoyment.



Join us in remembering 2016 at Peckerwood Garden with this slideshow.
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Need transportation to Peckerwood from the Houston area?

By Adam Black

Do you want to visit Peckerwood Garden but refuse to fight with the hectic traffic? Are you planning to visit Houston and need a ride from the airport to the gardens and points beyond thereafter? Gardens supporter Albert Howell, an independent contract driver licensed by the city of Houston, has generously agreed to offer his driving services to Houston area residents and visitors to/from the gardens. Even more generous, Albert is offering discounts to our members as one of our newest partner businesses. His late model Chevy Equinox is very fuel-efficient and can seat up to four passengers. Albert is a very friendly plant enthusiast so there will surely be some great botanically-oriented conversation on the way! Please feel free to coordinate directly with Albert for a ride in advance of our open days or other events. His phone number is: (832) 206-1877 and you can also find his contact information on our website.


Monthly training classes continue with Winter Interest. The next session is January 14. Though geared toward training our docents, all active volunteers are invited to participate for free to learn more about refined topics pertaining to the garden. Members may join us for $15. Pre-registration required.

Sign up Now



From welcoming visitors to leading tours, working in the garden or in our office, there are many ways to lend your talents! Let us know how you would like to get involved. Sign up to assist at an event or to join a bi-weekly gardening session here.
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November 2016 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden
Collecting in Florida’s Sandhills

Social Media
Volunteer appreciation
Plant of the month


Adam’s notes from the garden

A soon-to-be-described species of Mexican Mahonia is among the first to flower this month.
The seasonal yellows of Lindera chienii filter the sun’s rays above Sabal tamaulipana.

After the initial cool weather in October, it was quite warm until our recent first light frost. The only indication of brief freezing temperatures are the dead tips of a few tender plants in active growth such as Hamelia patens. Though we are weeks away from some of the showier deciduous trees to develop fall color, we should be seeing more in our natives. (Meanwhile, there is a beautiful fiery red clump of foliage growing near the nursery belonging to…poison ivy!)
One tree near the nursery I had assumed to be the native tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) did produce a reasonable display of flaming orange. The foliage began dropping rather fast, but in the process revealed an abundance of attractive dark purple fruit that made me question my initial identification. With fruits held singly, occasionally double on long peduncles, it did not resemble any of our native species.I asked Wade Roitsch of Yucca Do Nursery, and he recalled some seeds of an Asian Nyssa species they received long ago and planted around their former nursery site at Peckerwood. I’m now guessing the tree is N. sinensis, and our seed, which appears viable, must be hybridized with the N. sylvatica John Fairey has planted near the creek since Nyssa are dioecious.

The gold-fruited form of Yaupon, Ilex vomitoria ‘Saratoga Gold’, attempts to mimic the autumn foliage of our Mexican hickory (Carya sp.) in the background.

Signs of winter include ripening fruits on various holly species. One that always begs for attention whether in fruit or not is Ilex x ‘Cherry Bomb’. The willowy, semi-succulent leaves lacking teeth and a dense, rounded form make it a standout as a free-standing specimen. Vastly underutilized and not available as often as it should be, this hybrid was created at the National Arboretum and originally circulated under the catchy name “NA28255,” but for some reason, Dr. David Creech at Stephen F. Austin University thought the name ‘Cherry Bomb’ would be more marketable.

On the north side of the garden house are two pendulous hollies growing side-by-side and exhibiting their abundance of red berries – a large Ilex vomitoria ‘Pendula’ and a gently weeping Ilex decidua ‘Pendula.’ The latter will eventually shed its leaves but retain the fruits into winter. We also have gold-fruited forms of both species, I. vomitoria ‘Saratoga Gold’ and I. decidua ‘Finch’s Golden.’

The warm colors of a low fall sun and turning leaves on an Asian spicebush, Lindera sp.
The fall-flowering Pitcher Sage, Lepechinia hastata is a salvia relative that has an interesting range that includes Mexico and Hawaii.
The fall-flowering Pitcher Sage, Lepechinia hastata is a salvia relative that has an interesting range that includes Mexico and Hawaii.

Competing for attention with the hollies is the “Butcher’s Broom” Ruscus aculeatus. Our lone plant is a self-fertile female variety and therefore produces a profusion of red fruits the size of small grapes. This unusual plant lacks true leaves and instead has stiff sharp-tipped structures called cladodes that are actually flattened stems. Though not a recognized harbinger of winter due to its unfamiliarity, a winter-fruiting tree I am especially fond of in our collection is a Chiococca species that John and Carl Schoenfeld collected in Mexico. This species will be discussed in more detail in our “Plant of the Month” section below.
Every time I stroll through the garden these days, I notice more shades of pink Camellia sasanqua cultivars coming into flower, along with some white selections. These will continue into December, and eventually Camellia japonica hybrids will continue the show into early spring.
Mahonia chochoca – both the curly and typical leaf forms – are full of buds, hinting toward .a profusion of golden flowers. Another slender leafed Mexican Mahonia species, that soon will be officially named, is flowering much earlier and more abundantly than it did last year.

A Mexican ash tree (Fraxinus sp.) from Hildago with subtle clouds of yellow flowers.

A late-flowering member of the mint family is the “false salvia” Lepechinia hastata, which is unusual in being native to both in Mexico and Hawaii. I almost missed the magenta flowers held in dense heads atop arching 6’ stems tucked behind a widening patch of bamboo muhly grass. Another less prominent flowering took place on our unknown species of Mexican ash tree (Fraxinus sp.) that resembles something between Fraxinus gregii and Fraxinus cuspidata and is evergreen like the former.

Polyspora axillaris clearly showing why it earned the name Fried Egg Tree.

Wade Roitsche of Yucca Do collected this ash from Hildago, where he said it was growing almost as a creeping groundcover due to being heavily goat-pruned. Now protected from marauding feral livestock, it has turned into a beautiful upright multi-trunked tree about 18’ tall. The flowers on this male plant were quite subtle, unfortunately, but nonetheless interesting and full of pollinators. On the other hand, it’s impossible to overlook the sea of yellow crowning the masses of the leopard plant Farfugium japonicum in the woodland garden understory. The real show is just beginning, as we keep reiterating how winter is the most wonderful time of the year in the garden in terms of flowers, especially mid-January through February.


Collecting Scrub Oaks and Other Xeric Plants from Florida’s Sandhills

By Adam Black 

The Running Oak, Quercus pumila, forms an attractive groundcover less than three feet high.

Oaks are one of Peckerwood’s key collections. John Fairey’s and Carl Schoenfeld’s collections from Mexico set our assemblage apart. We maintain detailed records of where the oaks were collected, making these specimens valuable for future research and conservation. These Mexican selections are complemented with species native to Europe, Africa, Asia and representatives of species native to the southern U.S. Lacking in our collection are the diverse oaks native to Florida and the surrounding states. Originally from the “Sunshine State.” I have long been fascinated by the xeric-growing species found in the hot, dry sandhill scrub in north and central Florida. Since I am still in the process of relocating from my previous home near Gainesville, I used my past few visits to collect acorns of many of these species for inclusion in Peckerwood’s holdings and to distribute to other botanical institutions.

Kalmia hirsuta, the Hairy Mountain Laurel.

Most of these scrub oaks are not well-represented in botanical gardens, yet many are quite restricted in their ranges and are otherwise threatened by habitat loss, making it important to back these up in cultivation. The “sandhill scrub” habitat is a high, dry environment situated on ice age sand dunes and therefore more suitable for development as opposed to the surrounding lowlands prone to flooding.

Turkey oaks (right) and sand live oaks (upper left) dominate the scrub with scrub rosemary and saw palmetto in the foreground.

Even where preserved, this fire-dependent land is often not managed as well as it should with regular prescribed burns. In the past, these open scrublands would often be subject to lightening-sparked fires which tend to cleanse out aggressive weeds and brush, maintaining an open mix of small trees, shrubs, saw palmettos and many herbaceous plants. With proper habitat now quite fragmented, and burns occurring far too infrequently, many fire-dependent plants get smothered.  Interestingly, the sand laurel oak (Quercus hemispherica) is one of these weedy species that can form thick stands in the sandhills when fire is lacking, shading out the smaller scrub oaks.

One of the many leaf forms of Quercus geminata.

With my focus on central and northern portions of the Florida peninsula, I aimed to collect all native species restricted to the scrub. Of particular interest to me are the various types of “live oaks,” especially the dwarf forms. There is a tremendous amount of variation in these species, that botanists tend to lump into either Quercus minima for the small species and Quercus geminata for the tall species. Those new to exploring the oaks of Florida’s xeric habitats initially are confused when they attempt to identify the numerous and highly variable intermediate forms. Eventually, one begins to see that they can categorize these into several seemingly stable forms that occur in non-contiguous sites. I believe that further research using modern molecular methods may yield new species among these nebulous forms.

The cupped leaves of Quercus geminata often are strikingly white to tan colored underneath.

Complicating identification further are the many random forms that deviate considerably in leaf and acorn form, and overall tree habit. Most of these surely represent hybrids.

The first site I had access to collect on was private land near my house in Levy County. This site doesn’t have any typical Q. minima, which normally should be under 3’ tall and spreading by underground rhizomes, making a low, dense patch.

The curled leaves of Quercus geminata create quite an interesting texture on a dense tree.

This site did have plenty of Q. geminata, variable in itself but generally distinguished from its close relative, the widespread southern live oak (Q. virginiana) by the curled leaf margins making a cupped form with a light underside. I was pleased to instantly find a great crop of acorns, being that previous years had yielded next to nothing. The convex leaf accumulations under the larger trees look curious and are quite fun to walk on as they crunch underfoot. I found some forms that had leaves that were nearly folded in half, others with nicer white undersides, some broad and glossy, others narrow and roughly textured.I made many collections of the different forms, but their progeny will be similarly variable and few, if any, will exactly resemble the parents.

The crunch of the dried cupped leaves of Quercus geminata underfoot is quite satisfying!

Though there were no Q. minima, there were a number of live oak types that don’t conform to Q. geminata.  One distinctive form makes a colony of 15-20 foot tall narrow columnar trees. Another could be perhaps interpreted as a giant form of Q. minima, attaining heights of 12’ to 15’ but not as vigorously suckering, usually consisting of six or eight trunks.

A very stable form of suckering, vertically oriented scrub oak to about 20′ found at many sites in north Florida but not recognized as a distinct species.

Acorns are not very diagnostic among any of these scrub live oaks, unfortunately.Mixed in with these consistent forms were unusual mid-size live oaks that defy categorization and are often unique enough to likely represent a mixture of these complex varieties situated between Q. minima and Q. geminata.

Quercus minima, the dwarf live oak.

In between attempts to make sense of the oaks, there are many distractions in acorn season.Several species of Liatris are abundant, with their long erect purple inflorescences garnering the most attention. With them are subtle pink Palafoxia, Eriogonum with tall scapes crowned with white flat heads, and purple flat tops of “deer tongue” (Carphephorus corymbosus). I found here possibly a northwestern range extension of Persea humilis, the scrub redbay, which is endemic to fire-maintained habitats of central Florida and being significantly impacted by laurel wilt disease.

Deer Tongue Carphephorus corymbosus, is one of the sandhill scrubs beautiful fall flowers.

It differs from the common southeastern native redbay in that it has smaller leaves, a more compact habit, and most notably, gold fuzzy undersides to the leaves that make it a showy, drought-tolerant evergreen plant for the landscape.

I had passed by many turkey oaks (Q. laevis) without acorns, but since found a few that were loaded. I collected a few since we don’t  have any in Peckerwood’s collection and hope to get some representatives from other parts of its range, which extends from eastern Louisiana to southern Virginia, though always restricted to sharply drained sandy hills.

Scrub Redbay, Persea humilis has rusty undersides like some Magnolias, but is much more drought tolerant.

Having a similar range but extending further west into east Texas is the bluejack oak, Q. incana. This species is rarely grown but can be very attractive in cultivation in the right situations. At this site, it was randomly interspersed among the turkey and sand live oaks but always conspicuous with the long leaves, slightly curved like a sickle, being chalky white underneath and blue-green above.

The graceful blue-green leaves of Quercus incana are a striking white underneath

This is another that I have rarely found acorns on in the past, but many trees were producing them in abundance this year.

While in search for more species and forms of oaks, I stumbled on a patch of white flowers atop clusters of stems bearing fine foliage that radiated out from a central point of growth. This was Dalea pinnata, a plant I have never seen cultivated, but I feel would make a great ornamental for the dry garden. Those familiar with the more commonly cultivated Texas natives D. fruticosa and D. greggii would not make the connection upon first glance of D. pinnata. Growing with them in the bright white sugar sand among patches of terrestrial lichens were the fern relative Selaginella arenicola, one of the “resurrection plants” that shrivel up during dry periods and unfurl into a green rosette with the next soaking rain.

A characteristic feature of healthy scrub in the coastal plain are dense, dome-shaped plants with needle-like foliage. This “Florida Rosemary” (Ceratiola ericoides) is not related to the culinary herb, but surprisingly is an uncharacteristic relative of blueberries and rhododendrons.

Healthy scrub provides not only habitat for several interesting oaks, but also the beautiful but hard to cultivate scrub rosemary, Ceratiola ericoides.

I wish it were easier to cultivate, but seedlings never survive transplanting. It would make an amazing textural plant in the xeric garden if only we could grow it. Growing out of one rosemary clump was a hybrid oak, clearly involving Q. incana and a lobed leaf oak, likely Q. laevis.


My next stop was a site in Lake County, on private land near the unique scrubland that is Ocala National Forest. In this region, sand pine (Pinus clausa) is the dominant tree with an understory of many interesting endemics. Among the dwarf oaks is an unusual xeric variant of American holly – Ilex opaca var. arenicola. It has a very upright shrubby habit and bears rich green leaves folded in half.

I’ve never been able to successfully propagate Osmanthus megacarpa, but Tony Avent has a beautiful one growing at Juniper Level Botanical Garden in Raleigh, N.C. that shows what a fabulous and adaptable ornamental it can make. It seems to have a denser habit than its close relative O. americanus. Most beautiful in my opinion is the “Florida Scrub Hickory” Carya floridana, a small shrubby species which has a most beautiful rusty color on the undersides of the small olive-green leaves.

A medium sized scrub oak with small leaves that is somewhere between Quercus geminata and Q. minima.

I’ve already brought seedlings of this  underutilized ornamental xeric plant to Peckerwood. Low evening light makes the foliage glow a warm cinnamon color.

Quercus chapmanii has light green leaves with slight lobing.

In addition to more Q. geminata and Q. laevis were typical low-growing Q. minima loaded with acorns. Mixed in at this site were two of my favorite scrub oaks – Q. myrtifolius and Q. chapmanii. The former tends to form low, naturally dense mounds with broad oval shaped leaves – quite beautiful and with great ornamental potential in a well-drained site. With a little more open habit but nonetheless interesting, Chapman’s oak has larger olive colored leaves with an irregularly scalloped margin held on ascending branches.

Dalea carnea is very different from our Texas natives but otherwise, makes a great xeric wildflower.

Below the oaks were a few interesting finds, including another species of Dalea on my list: the pink-flowered D. carnea. A sedge with bright green glossy foliage always draws attention, looking too lush in contrast to the stark white sands.Something I hadn’t noticed in this area before was a “Blue-eyed Grass” that must be Sisyrhynchium xerophyllum, unique in that it was growing in dry loose sand, unlike all the other native species that prefer moist areas. The dwarf blueberry Vaccinium myrsinites forms a very attractive groundcover with glossy leaves among the large bold leaves of the central Florida endemic palm Sabal etonia.

A red form of shiny blueberry (Vaccinium myrsinites).

My last stop before I headed back to Texas was another scrubby area in northern Levy County. Here there were more Q. geminata, Q. laevis, and Q. incana, combined with a tremendous variety of odds and ends in the intermediate dwarf live oak complex. One of particular interest was an 8’ shrub with three trunks, but it had extremely tiny leaves and acorns. No others could be found in the area, so it will be interesting to see if any of the seedlings carry on this trait. Several more distinctive forms of Q. geminata were collected.

A miniature mutant form of winged sumac, Rhus copallina, dwarf in all regards.

With a backpack full of acorns, I worked my way back to the truck around an open grassy area bordering a dry pond. There I noticed many red seed clusters protruding from the grass. Looking closer, I saw it was a dwarf sumac that was carpeting several acres, maxing out at a diminutive 12” high. Thinking I had discovered a new species, I looked closer and realized this must be an exceptionally dwarfed form of Winged Sumac (Rhus copallina.) Most impressive is that it is likely a single female clone vigorously spreading via rhizomes over such an expansive area. I could not find any males or additional disconnected patches of this miniature, and the few nearby R. copallina were the typical tall forms. I collected some out of personal interest, though I am sure this will never be the next great landscape plant. Perhaps it can be the next low-maintenance alternative lawn substitute.

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Bethany Jordan and Adam Black continue to share on Facebook with regular updates on what is happening and when you can visit the garden and pictures from each of them and from a few guests that share. Visit us at “peckerwoodgarden” Our recently created Instagram account “@peckerwoodgarden” continues to develop with Adam Black and Craig Jackson sharing their images and insights. Twitter also continues to develop at “@PeckerwoodG” join us for quick views of what is happening that day in the garden.


  Volunteers Appreciation Lunch A Success

By Adam Black 

img_5388 img_5406Earlier this month we held our volunteer appreciation lunch featuring delectable food prepared by Brenda Wilson, Ruth McDonald, Craig Jackson, and Zachariah Lambright.
Following the meal and camaraderie, we held a rare plant giveaway featuring unique treasures from Adam’s stash, donations from Yucca Do Nursery and a few other volunteer donations. img_5402Every volunteer got to choose two plants when his/her ticket was called, and Ruth provided additional bare-root aloe plants for everyone to take home.

We can never thank our volunteers enough for all they have been accomplishing, from helping with events, administrative duties and lots of weeding and gardening around the offices. Nothing would happen without their regular presence.

  Plant of the month: Mexican Snowberry Tree (Chiococca sp.)

By Adam Black 

img_7772 One plant I was surprised to see when I started here was a rather large tree with broad evergreen leaves and remarkable fruit clusters that were snowy white. Upon checking the tag, I was surprised to see it was labeled Chiococca alba, which I figured must be wrong. img_7782The C. alba I was very familiar with was a native of my home state of Florida, though that plant, which goes by the common name “snowberry,” can also be found throughout the Caribbean, south Texas and into Mexico. Throughout its range, it is found in quite warm lowland conditions, often on the coast, where it forms a small-leaved, low spreading shrub lacking structural integrity and often growing among other shrubs for support. Yet, here at Peckerwood, we have a freestanding tree bearing this name with a thick vertical trunk and huge round leaves. It has obviously been here through many zone 8b winters prior to my arrival, indicative of its cold-hardy genetics that lacks in the shrubby version of snowberry.

img_7783A little research revealed that Peckerwood’s plant, collected by John Fairey and Carl Schoenfeld in Mexico, was surely another species of Chiococca but definitely not C. alba. There are two options from northeastern Mexico that more closely resemble our tree, and we will need to make some more observations next time flowers are available. A member of the Madder family (Rubiaceae), this species is related to more familiar garden plants like gardenias, pentas and coffee trees. The large, glossy green leaves attain the size of an average human hand, and clusters of small, pale-yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers are held at the tips of each branch. These flowers turn into clusters of blueberry-sized drupes that are stark white. These fruits ripen in late fall and are retained on the tree at least into mid-winter. The attractive tree is densely branched and casts deep shade. The true C. alba serves as a larval host plant for a few species of butterflies and moths, and this species also may serve similar insects.

Visitors from Near and Far

By Adam Black

Wow, it’s been a busy month with visitors. First, I gave botanist Yalma Vargas from Universidad de Guadalajara a tour of Peckerwood. She stopped by before her lecture at Stephen F. Austin State University on her research of Mexican sugar maples to see our garden’s collections of Acer skutchii and Acer grandidentatum. I was amazed she recognized the provenance of our big-tooth maple from the San Carlos Mountains from quite some distance without reading the tags. She was happy to get foliage samples of this wild collection to bulk up her DNA studies. We also discussed the many other noteworthy, threatened flora she and her collaborators had been discovering in the mountains of Jalisco, including a new maple species she soon will be describing, and the unsuccessful attempts to convince the government to preserve these diverse habitats. She was thrilled to learn that we would be interested in backing up germaplasm from these sites before these environments disappear. I showed her plants I already had indirectly received from her collaborator, Antonio Vasquez via the lab I formerly managed at the University of Florida. These were two species of unusual poplars endemic to that area – Populus guzmanantlensis and P. simaroa which will now be housed at Peckerwood. We eagerly look forward to working with Yalma, Antonio, and others to preserve the unique flora in the mountains of Jalisco.

David Parks of Camellia Forest Nursery collecting cuttings off Mahonia chochoca.

A day later, we were visited by David Parks from Camellia Forest Nursery in Chapel Hill, N.C. His Open Day presentation, “Exciting Camellias You Can’t Have,” teased us with the many enticing hybrids being developed in China but currently can’t be legally imported into the U.S. David also provided examples of other desirable plants offered in China that we would all die to have. Following the talk, David and I raided the garden for cuttings with Darrin Duling and Jacob Martin, director and horticulturist respectively at Mercer Botanic Garden. It was good to have David give more information on our past purchases from his nursery to improve our records while stumping him with plants originating from him years ago that he had forgotten.
The following week, assistant director of Chicago Botanic Garden Andrew Bunting visited while in the area collecting plants. His talk, “Magnolias for the Garden,” was tailored to species and hybrids worth trialing in our area. Andrew was a tremendous resource for advising on the challenges we face as a growing public garden. We sent him back with a variety of plants from our nursery, which were loaded into his van already packed with garbage bags of gingers obtained from Mercer and ferns purchased from Darla Harris at Fern Plantation Nursery near Magnolia, Texas.
Scott Reeves and Jessica Lowery from Creekside Nursery spent time touring the garden and collecting propagation material to trial for potential future product lines. Peckerwood serves as a great source of new material for nurseries to promote for diversifying our landscapes, and it is nice to know we have these local plant geeks interested in expanding the palate of offerings. Scott and Jessica generously donated an eclectic mix of plants to incorporate into our developing rock garden plantings around our office.




Monthly training classes continue with Flowering Shrubs. The next session is November 19. Though geared toward training our docents, all active volunteers are invited to participate for free to learn more about refined topics pertaining to the garden. Members may join us for $15. Pre-registration required.

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From welcoming visitors to leading tours, working in the garden or in our office, there are many ways to lend your talents! Let us know how you would like to get involved. Sign up to assist at an event or to join a bi-weekly gardening session here.
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October 2016 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden
South to the Rio Grande
Social Media
Volunteer appreciation
Plant of the month
Noteworthy Visitors


Adam’s notes from the garden

November is upon us, and I’m finally finishing our October newsletter. The past weeks have been busy, but that is the case every month as we push forward with offering increasing opportunities for visitors while keeping the existing and developing gardens looking great.

Fall flowering grasses in the perennial border

Fall is setting in at Peckerwood, but in typical warm-temperate climate fashion, we don’t see the red, orange and yellow leaves that come to mind when one thinks of autumn – at least not yet. Our colorful display of changing leaves on the maples, hickories and other deciduous trees will happen, but months later. Until then, we enjoy our own unconventional late-season interest in the garden.

Muhlenbergia capillaris producing a puff of pink above fall aster Symphyotrichum oblongifolium

One signal of the coming winter is the flowering grasses. In the north perennial border, we have a nice display of Muhlenbergia x ‘Pink Flamingos’ that has transitioned from clouds of pink flowers to  straw colored seed heads, attractive regardless of the color. More on this popular grass, which originated as a chance hybrid at Peckerwood, in our “Plant of the Month” section. At the entrance to the woodland garden, Muhlenbergia capillaris also presents stunning pink flowers, a trait it contributed to ‘Pink Flamingos’ as one of the hybrid’s parents. Several other grasses add interest including the hanging tassels of Miscanthus sinensis that brush against visitors as they are lured into the western segment of the north perennial border for a closer inspection of the curious hot pepper-shaped fruits on our Diospyros rhombifolia.

Another sign of fall are the flowering Japanese Anemones

Of course descriptions of fall at Peckerwood must include the ripening of acorns on our vast collection of oaks. We have been collecting many of the rarer species and sharing them with other gardens and collectors around the world, who in return are sharing new species for us to try here. We had intended to make remaining acorns available for online retail sales, but with such a busy month, we regrettably realized that we would not be able to keep up with the anticipated demand. With acorns having a short shelf life after harvesting, we cannot store them for future distribution. It has been difficult enough to reimburse the many collaborators who have already generously shared rare and unusual species with us. In one sense we let a number of prospective customers down after promoting the acorn sale, but we also can look at it from the perspective that Peckerwood is rapidly moving forward with more tours, events and guest lectures, and we are fortunately being kept on our toes with such a great public response. There is so much we want to offer visitors and supporters as soon as possible, but then reality sets in and we need to prioritize what our small staff and valued volunteers can adequately handle.

Quercus skinneri germinating from wild collected seed from El Salvador

Some exciting acorns have been received from some unexpected places, and many more are on the way. We received the giant seeds of Quercus skinneri from my longtime friend in El Salvador. Surprisingly some of the higher elevation tropical oaks have a fair amount of latent cold hardiness, so more of these deserve to be trialed in our zone 8b climate. The Q. skinneri seeds have already germinated and are approaching a foot tall. Additional Central American oak acorns from the highlands of Guatemala and Panama are on the way as are those from other foreign collaborators. We look forward to acorns from Taiwan, where acorns generally mature later than many places, to provide many exciting species.  I think many of the species I collected from the dry sandhill scrub of my old stomping grounds of north Florida may do very well on our well-drained sunny berms. Noteworthy among these is the “running oak”, Q. pumila, which, surprising to some, is not a tree but a low growing groundcover oak, forming extensive multi-stemmed patches two feet tall. There are other dwarf and shrubby species I collected that have potential for smaller landscapes.

The giant seeds of the Vietnamese buckeye Aesculus wangii

We also received seeds of the Vietnamese buckeye, Aesculus wangii, a giant in all regards. One huge seed has germinated, and within a few years we hope to see the nearly yard-wide leaves. The gigantic seeds are three times the size of our native A. pavia seeds which are normally the size of ping pong balls. The few who have grown A. wangii all note the inconvenient habit of this plant breaking dormancy in late fall, growing in winter and having soft new growth frozen back. I’m interested to see if grafting it on the rootstock of another species such as A. pavia that behaves on the preferred schedule would reprogram the A. wangii crown to hold off growing until spring. If we can find out how to make it behave on our terms, this will be a standout plant in Peckerwood’s collection. Dr. David Creech at Stephen F. Austin University was the lucky recipient of another A. wangii before us, which is now over five feet tall, so we will compare notes on our experiences with this impressive species in Texas.

The berry-like cones of Taxus chinensis

Coning conifers are adding subtle interest to the fall garden, though many of these aren’t what most would recognize as cones. The scarlet color of the soft berry-like cones of Taxus chinensis makes them really stand out against the dark green foliage. Several of the “plum yews” in the genus Cephalotaxus have produced round cones that consist of a large seed inside a fleshy covering that turns purple when mature, resembling miniature plums. Torreya grandis also produced similar plum-like cones which have already been harvested. It will be interesting to see if seedlings are hybridized with the nearby male Torreya taxifolia.

The strange, edible fruit of Akebia quinata

It looks like we will have another good crop of seeds from Keteleeria davidiana and K. pubescens judging from the many developing cylindrical scaly cones. Podocarpus cones are unusual in that a blue-green seed is held at the end of a plump, colorful berry-like structure called an aril. Many do not realize that after the non-edible seed is removed, the aril is edible when it turns from red to purple and is quite tasty, somewhat like a sweet cherry with a slight hint of pine resin – better than it sounds! You surely will get some stares from passersrby when foraging off the next Podocarpus macrophyllus hedge you spot in Houston.

Peltophorum sp. flowering for the first time, thanks to the recent mild winters.

Some early flowering camellia cultivars are blooming in the woodland garden. A striking groundcover of fall aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) is blooming profusely in the perennial border. An interesting tropical tree flowering this month is a Peltophorum sp. In colder winters, this tree in the pea family freezes back and never attains flowering size. The past few mild winters have produced dieback only in the outer tips, allowing it to quickly rebound and grow significantly. At approximately 40 feet, every branch was tipped with bright yellow clusters of flowers, readily seen from some distance away.

South to the Rio Grande Valley by Adam Black

Salt crystals on a log in La Sal del Rey

When Steven Ramirez invited me to present at the fall symposium of the Rare Fruit Growers of the Rio Grande Valley, I jumped at the opportunity. I’d never ventured into the southern tip of the state, but I’d always been fascinated by the flora of the region, especially since some have proven quite cold hardy at Peckerwood. Steven, a long-time docent and volunteer at Peckerwood, lives in “the valley” when not attending school in Houston and had been telling me of all the great growers and enthusiasts in the area I need to meet.

On my drive south, I began to see the vegetation change to a fairly monotonous and rather floristically boring landscape as I progressed toward Corpus Christi. Then as I drove across a river, I noticed some trunked palms of the genus Sabal. I wondered if these were an outlier population of the mysterious “Brazoria palms, which were originally thought to be a natural hybrid between Sabal minor and Sabal mexicana often referred to as Sabal x texensis or Sabal x brazoriensis. Recent molecular studies show justification that it is a good, stable species and was given the official name Sabal brazoria. Later research showed that the trees I was seeing were instead the northernmost individuals of Sabal mexicana – my first wild observation of this species which I didn’t know ranged this far north.

Palafoxia hookeriana in the sandhills of the King Ranch area

As I got into the “King Ranch” area south of Kingsville, the vegetation became more interesting with the abrupt transition into a sandy scrub dominated by live oaks. Steven had texted coordinates to look for the beautiful Palafoxia hookeriana, but I had already noticed the bold pink daisy-like flowers on four foot high stalks readily visible from the road along with the silver paddle-shaped leaves of Croton coryi glistening in the evening light.

Manihot walkerae, an extremely rare native of south Texas, in Ken King’s collection

The next morning was the first day of the symposium held at the Valley Nature Center in Weslaco. It was great to meet all the growers of unusual fruit and experts in many other related fields from beekeeping to building economical “green” houses using natural materials. I was amazed to learn how warm it really is there in an average winter, similar to the growing region of south Florida where I grew up. That evening Steven took me to Tad Dyer’s nursery. He is one of the main growers of palms and other tropical specimens for the region’s landscapes. Most interesting to me at his nursery was a couple of out-of-place but otherwise happy cultivated burr oaks (Quercus macrocarpa) with their giant acorns among masses of tropical palms and cycads with seedlings volunteering among a patch of croton (Codiaeum) cultivars. After leaving Tad’s nursery, I spotted a remarkable weeping cottonwood, Populus deltoides, growing in front of a boarded-up house. The long branches hung over the sidewalk, and since nobody occupied the run-down property, I figured I was doing a service by trimming back the branches hanging in the way of pedestrians.

The tropical blue waterlily, Nymphaea elegans

The next stop was the home of Ken King, one of the valley’s main experts of the region’s flora, and co-author with Alfred Richardson of the excellent book “Plants of Deep South Texas”.  There is no missing Ken’s heavily planted property in the otherwise non-descript neighborhood. In front is a beautiful specimen of Esenbeckia berlandieri, a rare native in the citrus family that was a treat to see. Entering his backyard it became apparent that Ken’s botanical interests are, like mine, all over the place. Among rare natives are South American bromeliads, South African euphorbias, orchids, a collection of Boswellia species from which the treasured myrrh resin is obtained for incense, tubs of various water lilies and other obscurities. Ken generously shared a number of rare natives complete with locality data for Peckerwood’s collection.

Steven exploring the botanical riches along the brackish creek

If you are a true plant nerd, botanizing doesn’t end at dusk. After some great Mexican food Steven took me to an abandoned trailer park-turned locally maintained park that still contained a number of old avocado trees and other things planted long ago. With flashlights and headlamps, we checked each tree we came across for fruits. Steven found one tree that had a distinctive avocado with perfectly smooth glossy dark purple skin that was unlike any I had seen before. Here was my first experience with naturally occurring “Anacua” (Ehretia anacua), with their dense veil of tiny white flowers appearing as ghostly apparitions in the darkness. Though it grew happily for me in Florida, I had never seen profuse flowers until now, and it was clear it was quite an abundant weedy tree in the area. As we were heading back to the car, a surprisingly giant Ficus trigona adorned with aerial roots materialized from the blackness.

An immense jujube tree Steven found growing in the Brownsville area.

Before the night was over, Steven showed me other noteworthy trees he had found between Weslaco and McAllen. We saw a massive Montezuma cypress, Taxodium mucronatum, growing in town. The stout, gnarled trunk supported a low crown of broadly spreading branches that gave it tremendous character.  In front of a Mexican dessert shop – where I enjoyed an addictive cup of chilled jicama slices seasoned with cayenne pepper – there stood a massive old pine that Steven hoped I could identify. I was stumped, and there were no cones to help with identification. Monterey oaks (Quercus polymorpha) used as street trees show how wide-ranging this plant, long promoted by Peckerwood and other nurseries, has gotten around to all corners of the state.

A bluff of cacti and other fascinating xeric plants adjacent to a mangrove creek on the right

Sunday tours of several growers in the region began at Thad Magyar’s densely planted jungle of towering palms and a wide variety of mature ornamental and fruiting trees he and his wife had collected over the years. His wonderful tropical oasis made me feel like I was back in Miami and was complete with pet parrots and a cantina where we were treated to the refreshing juice of Costa Rican sour guava. Next was the home of Gus Gonzales and his extensive groves of mangoes, avocados and citrus, clearly showing what can be done here. The tours concluded with a visit to an exceptionally diverse collection of rare and unusual tropical fruit trees.

That afternoon, Steven and I went to the Sabal Palm Sanctuary to explore the natural stand of Sabal mexicana and accompanying native flora along the Rio Grande. While I didn’t see a speckled racer, a most beautiful snake that barely enters the U.S. in this area, I did spot many new-to-me species of native plants. Exotic birds such as chacalacas and green jays further made me feel like I wasn’t in Texas anymore.

Ferocactus hamatocactus, Mammilaria heyderi and Echinocereus sp growing overlooking a mangrove creek

Steven took me to see more noteworthy trees and plantings in the Brownsville area that he had found, including the largest and most beautiful jujube tree I have ever seen. Working our way toward the mainland shores of the Laguna Madre behind South Padre Island, we ended up at a coastal tract remaining relatively undisturbed despite being sandwiched between condominiums. I was instantly immersed in contrasting mix of xeric plants growing side-by-side with salt marsh plants. In some areas I could reach out with one hand and touch a mangrove growing along a brackish creek while impaling my other hand on a diverse array of cacti growing on the dry adjacent bluff. These included barrel cactus (Ferocactus hamatacanthus); an Echinocereus pentalophus with ropey creeping stems that looked like someone’s trimmed dredlocks tossed on the slope; and ground-hugging, disc-shaped Mammilaria heyderi which I was more familiar with from far west Texas.

Among the cacti were the succulent rubbery stems of Jatropha dioica, fat exposed caudeces of the succulent cucumber relative Ibervillea lindheimeri, the appropriately named allthorn (Koeberlinia spinosa) and silvery clumps of cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens).

A beautiful weeping Forestiera angustifolia at Laguna Madre National Wildlife Refuge

The fun continued the next day with a trip to Mike Heep‘s wonderful native plant nursery. Like Ken King, Mike is a highly respected authority on the native flora of the region. Our friends at Caldwell Nursery in Rosenberg make special trips to Mike’s in order to offer his unusual selections to collectors in the Houston area. I filled my truck with all sorts of things, some long on my wish list and others completely new to me. All are especially valuable to Peckerwood’s collections as Mike retains collection information with his plants.

Later I made a solo trip to South Padre Island to explore the dune vegetation. After crossing the causeway I traveled north until the road ended in a desolate area with nobody around.

Not knowing what to expect, I was surprised that there was a complete absence of woody plants in the natural areas of the island. In contrast, the barrier islands of the east coast of the southern states all have quite an assemblage of wind-sculpted trees and shrubs, but here there was not one to be found. The dunes were instead covered with an attractive mosaic of grasses and low-growing annuals and perennials. The closer I got to the water, the more my eyes began to sting and an uncontrollable cough developed.

I wasn’t sure what was going, but then I spotted many dead fish at the water’s edge – thousands of menhaden along with scattered black drum, redfish, seatrout and others. I concluded my respiratory discomfort was due to the red tide that also had killed the fish.

Purple foliage on Agalinis sp., South Padre Island

Retreating from the irritating emissions from the algae bloom, I hiked behind the first set of tall dunes, and breathing became more comfortable. Any remaining discomfort was soon forgotten as all sorts of plants new to me begged for closer inspection. Several metallic silver or gold croton species dominated the loose sands on the dunes and stood out sharply. Joining them were Conoclinium betonicifolium, Baptisia leucophaea, Solidago sempervirens, Liatris, Agalinis and other wildflowers.

Golden foliage of wax myrtle with sky blue flowers of Conoclinium betonicifolium on North Padre Island

After becoming familiar with most of the representative plants on South Padre Island, I decided to find another floristically interesting spot with fresher air.

Looking at Google maps, I zoomed into a green patch that usually indicates a natural area. It was the Laguna Madre National Wildlife Refuge. After negotiating a road that was more potholes than pavement for miles, the vegetation suddenly became interesting, as was an “ocelot crossing” sign and then the entrance to the park. Dry thornscrub was the dominant feature here, composed of mesquite, Texas ebony (Chloroleucon ebano), Parkinsonia, Condalia, Leucophyllum and others. The most interesting find was a young vine of Cissus incisa that had solid silver leaves.

The seed pods of screwbean mesquite (Prosopis reptans) growing on the shores of the Laguna Madre

The next morning, it was time to begin moving north. Steven had told me about some salt lakes nearby that sounded like they deserved to be explored. Finding an access, I was soon hiking among the open dry woodlands characteristic of the “Tamaulipan Thornscrub” ecological zone. Before getting far down the trail to the lake, a loud cry from the top of a large mesquite grabbed my attention. Homing in on two animals, I saw spots.

Vegetation of the Tamaulipan Thornscrub, La Sal del Rey National Wildlife Refuge

Thinking excitedly that I found an ocelot, I soon realized the lack of a long tail meant I was instead staring into the eyes of a bobcat that then became spooked by my presence. After it shot down the tree and disappeared in the tall grass, I focused on its intended quarry, still quivering at the tip of the branch. It was an orange domestic cat, way out in the middle of nowhere, which almost became a late breakfast for the wild relative. Clearly not tame, it also quickly descended the tree and shot off in the same direction the bobcat had retreated.

It was here that I got to see my first wild occurrence of Cordia boissieri, the Texas wild olive that is so commonly planted in the region and sparingly the further north in the state one travels. After enjoying the starkness of the sterile, snowy white salt flats surrounding the lake of brine, I headed back to make some progress north. Around the same place I had observed the cat scuffle, a Texas indigo snake shot across the trail and off into the bramble patch before I could get a closer look.

Two silvery white species of Croton decorate the dunes on North Padre Island

My final stop was North Padre Island just offshore of Corpus Christi. Here the flora was similar to that of South Padre Island, but this time with a few woody plants consisting of scattered stunted live oaks and wax myrtles. New perennials not seen on South Padre were flowering mounds of Phlox glabrifolia ssp. littoralis, the fuzzy silver mats of Stemodia lanata and several additional species of Croton. Liatris elegans was abundant in a mix of colors ranging from dark purple to pink to solid white, with their arching inflorescences glowing as the descending sun put an end to this fulfilling introduction to the southern Texas flora and the horticultural and botanical experts of the region.

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Follow Peckerwood on Instagram or Facebook!

Bethany Jordan and Adam Black continue to share on Facebook with regular updates on what is happening and when you can visit the garden and pictures from each of them and from a few guests that share. Visit us at “peckerwoodgarden” Our recently created Instagram account “@peckerwoodgarden” continues to develop with Adam Black and Craig Jackson sharing their images and insights. Twitter also continues to develop at “@PeckerwoodG” join us for quick views of what is happening that day in the garden.


  Volunteers Making a Difference

By Adam Black and Bethany Jordan

A colorful harvest of Quercus rysophylla acorns picked by Craig Jackson small

As things become busier in the garden, volunteers continue to step up and make miracles happen. Though we were unable to come through with retail acorn sales as hoped, we still wanted to satisfy some bulk orders from a few key species that we have in quantity. With time of the essence to collect the acorns before they drop, img_4970-smallPam Romig sprang into action and enlisted some of the Waller County Master Gardeners to strip our trees of their seeds. Thanks to Glovena Hambly, Harvey Newman, Craig Jackson, Brenda Wilson and Pam for collecting a ton of acorns in such a short period of time.

We had a return visit from the National Society of Black Engineers chapter out of Texas A&M Prairie View campus who volunteered a half a day clearing brush from around the garden house. img_4965An extraordinary amount of area was cleared, and we look forward to continuing our relationship with this hard-working group. That same day we had a tour scheduled, and Burton Knight once again made the three-hour drive to help our other regular volunteers with the day’s many activities. Suzzanne Chapman, Pam Romig, Craig Jackson, and Harvey Newman spent the day working with these teams and with the tour group.

Harvey Newman picking acorns from Quercus polymorpha

After all the clearing our regular volunteers have done around the offices, I look forward to planting some interesting specimens soon. Thanks as always to Craig, Brenda, Harvey, Pam, and for their help on Tuesdays and Fridays.

We will honor all our volunteers at an appreciation lunch at 11:30 a.m. November 15th in the garden house. We have made great strides over the past year and look forward to more advancements in the next, but without our valued volunteers, none of this would ever be possible.

Behind the scenes in the office and on the computer, Ruth, Craig, and Nancy Royal continue to be not only huge assets but a major force in moving things forward. Nancy is once again transcribing interviews with John Fairey about the history of Peckerwood Garden and his Collection trips. Ruth McDonald has been a key part of the developing volunteer program and her help and research has made both the upcoming and ongoing changes possible. img_4962-smallShe has also taken on coordination for our Volunteer Appreciation lunch and is working with Bethany and Adam to ensure the success of the event. Craig continues his remarkable work with the plant database and mapping software.

If you have joined us for one of the recent lectures, you have enjoyed the excellent refreshments and careful preparations of Ruth, Craig, and Brenda. Their care and excellent refreshments have ensured the evening was a success each time.

  Plant of the month: Pink Flamingo Grass (Muhlenbergia x ‘Pink Flamingos’)

Pink Flamingo Grass in the south perennial border
Pink Flamingo Grass in the south perennial border

If you have been following us on Instagram or Facebook, you will have noticed quite a few photographs recently of the billowy clouds of pink that lend such a soft yet strikingly bold presence in the perennial border. Prior to the introduction of Muhlenbergia x ‘Pink Flamingos’, the closest gardeners in the southern U.S. could get to such an effect was by using Muhlenbergia capillaris, a striking grass in itself which also has pink flowers but the inflorescences are not as tall or as puffy. It wasn’t until this species happened to cross with Muhlenbergia lindheimeri that ‘Pink Flamingos’ was born – and it all happened right here at Peckerwood Garden!

The hybrid Pink Flamingo grass (right) with one of its parents Muhlenbergia cappilaris (left)

Since then, Pink Flamingo Grass has become a staple among nurseries from the mid-Atlantic states through the southern U.S. Sometimes the cultivar is mistakenly listed as ‘Pink Flamingo’ (singular) in nursery catalogs but the plural form is correct. Fall flowering, it is still very attractive the rest of the year with its dense clump of narrow blue-green arching foliage.  When the pink flowers fade, the straw-colored seed spikes remain attractive through late fall.  Like both parents, this hybrid requires full sun and well-drained conditions. Older clumps losing their tidiness benefit from cutting back to the base during late winter before new leaves emerge. With time, a dead bare patch may appear in the center of the clump as the outer, younger leading edge expands outward. This is best remedied by dividing the clump into thirds or quarters, leaving one section in place and planting the others elsewhere, as you can never have too much of this distinctive ornamental grass.

 Recent and Upcoming Noteworthy Visitors

We have had a parade of important visitors over the past month, and more are on the way. We had a great day with Bob Lovett and Jim Carcano of Lovett Pinetum. So what’s a “pinetum”? It’s an arboretum focused on not just pines but all conifers. To take advantage of different climates, Bob’s pinetum is actually spread out in three states, with units in California, Missouri and one near Lufkin, Texas. Jim is in charge of the Lufkin (Angelina) unit, a wonderland of conifers that I was very impressed with during my spring visit. Though not generally open to the public, they are open by appointment, and not to be missed if you are a true conehead!

Kelly Dodson and Sue Milliken (foreground) from Far Reaches Farm with Patrick Kirwin and Scott Ogden small

Kelly Dodson and Sue Milliken of Far Reaches Farm were in the area after generously delivering specimen-sized plants to our friends at Mercer Botanic Gardens to be used for restoration efforts following their devastating flood. I had a memorable time when I visited their Port Townsend, Washington nursery, one of my all-time favorite rare plant sources. Kelly and Sue are such kind-hearted souls, so the pressure was on for me to reciprocate at Peckerwood. They brought with them a number of unusual plants for Peckerwood’s collections, including several new distinctive Asian species of Mahonia to add to our ever-increasing collection of this genus, plus one of the few fantastic Mexican species we didn’t have – Mahonia russellii. After an ambitious day collecting several garbage bags full of cuttings, they gave an enthralling presentation on their collecting adventures in China portraying so many lust-worthy plants and beautifully rugged scenery. Kelly and Sue are so famous that a number of well-respected figures in the horticultural world drove 2-3 hours just for the evening lecture and social. It was great to finally meet renowned garden designer and author Scott Ogden along with fellow landscape designer extraordinaire Patrick Kirwin (Kirwin Horticultural Services) who both came all the way from Austin for the night of botanical geekery. From the opposite direction, Rick and Veronica Lewandowski made the nearly three-hour drive from Orange, where Rick directs Shangri-La Gardens. Scott Reeves from Creekside Nursery and his wife, Ginny, added more plant enthusiasm to the room, and we thank them for their kind donation of some much needed wine glasses for future events. Many other local enthusiasts came out for what amounted to our most well-attended and enjoyable evening lecture so far.

We look forward to a similar attendance during our November 12th open day when we will have special guest David Parks from Camellia Forest Nursery giving a presentation at 11 a.m. on hybridization efforts of the rare and beautiful Camellia azalea in China. Rare in the U.S., this species is among the most beautiful and I’m curious to hear how hybridization may be making some exciting selections for the future. For our November 18th Evening at Peckerwood Lecture, we are proud to have Andrew Bunting, assistant director of Chicago Botanic Garden, to present “Magnolias for the Garden”.  Andrew is an expert on woody plants and especially magnolias, and recently published “The Plant Lover’s Guide to Magnolias”.  We have additional luminaries of the horticultural world planning to visit, and I’m twisting their arms into sharing their knowledge with our local supporters through lectures, so please keep your eye on our events calendar.


Monthly training classes continue with Flowering Shrubs. The next session is November 19. Though geared toward training our docents, all active volunteers are invited to participate for free to learn more about refined topics pertaining to the garden. Members may join us for $15. Pre-registration required.

Sign up Now


From welcoming visitors, to leading tours, to working in the garden or in our office, there are many ways to lend your talents! Let us know how you would like to get involved. Sign up to assist at an event or to join a bi-weekly gardening session here.
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September 2016 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden
Special Guest Lectures
Acorn Sale
Social Media
Volunteer appreciation
Plant of the month
Expedition to West Texas

Adam’s notes from the garden

Rhodophiala bifida

Though it is still quite hot out, the ripening acorns and sudden appearance of flowering oxblood lilies are signaling that fall is just around the corner. After a tumultuous year of weather extremes, mild conditions can’t come soon enough.

Mimosa dysocarpa

Signs that folks are planning to emerge from the air conditioning and resume interest in gardening are evident based on the rapid increase in garden club tour reservations. It’s shaping up to be a busy fall at Peckerwood with many visiting collaborators, increasing events, acorn sales, and more.

Schoenocaulon sp

New discoveries abound in the garden, and as is often the case, on a small scale among more permanent structural features.  As a tight patch of coppery yellow Habranthus tubispathus flowers were waning following the regular August rains, out from the gravel erupted tight clumps of purple flowers, soon followed by tripart leaves composed of three thin arch-shaped leaflets joined together at the apex. This summer-dormant Oxalis livida is one of the more distinctive members of this diverse genus. North of the creek, the evergreen clumps of an unknown Mexican species of Schoenocaulon have always lent a unique character in the dry gravel beds. This obscure bulb has grassy foliage cinched together tightly at the base by persistent dark brown sheaths. The long leaves on this plant are always folded down under their weight. If this was a grass it would be unsightly, but this plant can’t help it, so it is acceptable to find the beauty in its floppiness. Only recently inflorescences appeared, erect stalks with dense tapering heads of tiny intricate white flowers – much more refined than the charmingly disheveled vegetative parts it towers above.

Seeds ready for harvest from Cycas panzihuaensis
Lobelia siphilitica

Lobelia siphilitica is showing its beautiful true blue colors that never seem to capture properly in photos, appearing more on the purple side. This species, which gets its species name from its use among Native Americans to treat syphilis, is found more often in northern states, from the front range of the Colorado Rockies north to North Dakota and in every eastern state except Florida, though most abundant north of the Mason-Dixon line. Only a few records exist from extreme north Texas. Ours were shared by Yucca Do Nursery in Giddings, TX, where nursery manager Wade Roitsch is unsure where his stock plant came from, perhaps a surprise volunteer in the pot of something else. Though naturally found in moist areas, Wade has proven this selection to be quite adaptable to drier conditions as well. This is another good example of trialing plants from unexpected areas for adaptability. If you are interested in it, you should order soon while Yucca Do’s supplies last, and before they ultimately close.

North Perennial Border

I received some giant acorns of Quercus skinneri from a collaborator who collected them in the mountains of El Salvador, and days after receiving them they have already started germinating. We have exchanged material for years and surprisingly, many of the high elevation plants in this tropical country have proven quite frost hardy. There are many plants at the tops of the mountains that are southernmost range extensions for plants otherwise found in Mexico, as well as things found nowhere else. I am hoping to make a collecting expedition to this exciting area soon.

Oxalis livida

Finally, I had recently reported on some losses in the garden stemming back to the floods earlier this year, surely exacerbated by the two hot, rainless months that immediately followed. Stress-induced diseases can often take quite some time to produce visual signs of distress, and I was expecting more trees and shrubs to meet the fate of one of our larger, prominently located Quercus rysophylla, along with our original specimen of Casimiroa pringlei, and several other oaks and conifers. I’m happy to report that we haven’t seen any further mortality. Our two Quercus crassipes, a personal favorite, both appeared to have died, but on one recent evening stroll across the arboretum, a rosy glow caught my eye. I was happy to see one individual was covered in tender fuzzy white-backed pink foliage adorning the tips of every one of its previously bare limbs.

Two Special Guest Lectures in November not to be missed!

In November, we are honored to have two notable figures in horticulture presenting talks on their areas of expertise: David Parks, owner of Camellia Forest Nursery, will speak during our Saturday November 12th Open Day, and Andrew Bunting, assistant director of Chicago botanical gardens will be our guest lecturer for our Friday, November 18th “Evening at Peckerwood Lecture Series”. Please see below for the details for each talk.

Camellia azalea the beauty of which cannot accurately be captured in photos is the subject of David Parks November 12th lecture coinciding with our open day

David Parks, owner of Camellia Forest Nursery “Camellia azalea hybridization in China”

November 12, 11:00 am (concurrent with our Open Day)

Free with Open Day admission

If you collect rare and unusual woody plants, Camellia Forest Nursery needs no introduction. This Chapel Hill, NC nursery is the premier source of Camellia species and hybrids combined with a vast array of hard-to-find woody plants. Many collector trees and shrubs have been introduced through their own introductions, both from their international plant explorations and in-house nursery selections. Many Camellia Forest acquisitions figure prominently in Peckerwood’s landscapes. Owner David Parks will be visiting Peckerwood coinciding with our November 12th Open Day and we are excited to announce his willingness to present a lecture that day at 11:00 am, at no additional cost beyond our regular open day admission.

David will be presenting on “Camellia azalea hybridization in China”. If you aren’t familiar with Camellia azalea, the confusing name may lead you to believe that two different plants are being referenced, or taking the talk’s title into context, that two unrelated plants, azaleas (which are Rhododendrons) and Camellias are being somehow hybridized. Actually, Camellia azalea is a naturally-occurring species, and arguably one of the most stunningly beautiful. More often used in Southeast Asian landscapes, Camellia azalea is still quite unknown in the US, and when available, usually fetches a high price due to the demand among collectors. The intensely glowing red flowers are quite large and contrast sharply with the blackish green foliage, putting this species in a class of its own. From a distance, a specimen in flower does indeed look more like some type of Rhododendron you would expect to see thriving only in Oregon or Washington State, yet it is naturally from a quite warm subtropical climate. Though in itself a stand-alone winner, I was excited to hear of the hybridization efforts in China utilizing the wonderful traits of this species for incorporating into new and improved cultivars. As a hopeless plant geek, I am anxious to hear and see David’s elaboration on this topic. This talk should be of great interest to any true plant enthusiast, not to mention a great opportunity to meet the owner of one of the world’s premier collector nurseries.

Andrew Bunting from Chicago Botanical Garden “Magnolias for the Garden”

Evening at Peckerwood Lecture, November 18th, 7:00 pm

Magnolia tamaulipana

For our November 18th “Evening at Peckerwood” lecture, we are excited to have renowned botanist and horticulturalist Andrew Bunting presenting on “Magnolias for the Garden”. Andrew is both assistant director of Chicago Botanic Garden as well as director of their plant collections. Along with appearing on Martha Stewart Living television show, He has lectured at botanical institutions worldwide and has authored many articles in various well-known horticultural magazines and journals.

Andrew is an expert in woody plants, with particular interest in Magnolias. He is author of a new book entitled “The Plant Lover’s Guide to Magnolias” published earlier this year by Timber Press. He is past president of Magnolia Society International and he visited Peckerwood in August while travelling through the southeast collecting Magnolia pyramidata seed from representative populations throughout the species range for germplasm conservation. We are very grateful that he generously offered to give a presentation coinciding with his next visit to our area.

Regular visitors to Peckerwood likely know of the various Magnolias in our collection, including the special Magnolia tamaulipana John Fairey and Carl Schoenfeld collected in Mexico a number of years ago. Many species and hybrids are winter flowering and therefore have gone unnoticed being that our past open days only occurred in spring and fall. Now that we offer tours every month, and to more areas of the garden, visitors will be able to take in these various species and hybrids displaying their full glory through winter and early spring. Andrew’s talk will be an inspiring window into the diversity of ornamental features that Magnolias can offer to the landscape, and will serve as a timely preview for what to expect on our winter tours as well as an introduction to additional distinctive selections worthy of trialing in our area.


Learn more about visiting Peckerwood Garden

Acorn Sale Coming Soon!

Quercus laeta

We are having a good crop of acorns this year, and plan to get back to mail order sales of seeds of various species, including some rare Mexican ones. In upcoming weeks we will be listing our availability and prices on our website, along with ordering information. Acorns are perishable, so we will only be offering them as they ripen and then as long as they remain viable. Some species will be in very limited supply, and others mature much later than others, so it will be best to watch for updates. It should be noted that all seeds are open-pollinated, and being that hybridization readily occurs in oaks, especially in a collection as diverse as ours, it must be understood that not all seedlings will necessarily resemble the parent plant. We make no guarantees that seedlings will resemble the true wild-type species.  We make every attempt to ensure seeds are viable, free of visual evidence of pests and pass a “float test” (only sending “sinkers”), but none of these methods can guarantee 100% viability and germination. We will gladly provide resources for germination and care.

Quercus glauca

In addition to old favorites like Monterey oak (Quercus polymorpha and Loquat-leaf oak (Quercus rysophylla), we plan to have available seeds from several trees of the Quercus sartorii complex, Quercus aff. pringlei, Q. laeta, Q. canbyi, and several that are currently unidentified. Folks have already been calling to ask for seeds of the Japanese Blue Oak, Quercus glauca, which we will have plenty of. Though still maturing, it looks like we will have a good crop of the Asian oak relative Castanopsis cuspidata.

Though acorn sales should keep us busy, we hope to be able to add some other seeds from additional exciting plants beyond oaks. Please monitor our website or ensure you are on our mailing list to be kept appraised of the latest updates.

Follow Peckerwood on Instagram or Facebook!

Muhlenbergia x ‘Pink Flamingo

Though we have developed quite a following on Facebook for some time, we have recognized that many of our supporters prefer other social media outlets. We recently have branched out and created an Instagram account “@peckerwoodgarden” and hope you will become one of our followers. Adam Black along with volunteers Craig Jackson, Grace Pierce, and perhaps others are posting several photos a day from their own perspectives.


  Volunteers Making a Difference

Peckerwood Garden’s newest volunteer, Harvey Newman, taking a break from weeding.

We are hoping milder temperatures will bring new volunteers out of the woodwork. We have lots to do, and simply cannot progress without additional volunteer gardeners. We are restructuring and streamlining our volunteer signup and scheduling methods so if you have been put off by past confusion or inefficiencies please know we are working on correcting things.  In addition to beautifying the areas around the office and nursery, we want to make progress in other areas too. Please consider joining the team on Tuesday and Friday mornings in the garden. We have made great strides outfitting our volunteer “headquarters” with the purchase of new tools and systems to make the experience more efficient.

We thank our regulars who faithfully show up on Tuesdays and Fridays and make great strides combating weeds around the office area: Brenda Wilson, Craig Jackson, Harvey Newman, Sephie Friend, and Pat Piper. Ruth McDonald has made tremendous advancements in developing a professional volunteer coordination program. Prior to every “Evening at Peckerwood” lecture, Ruth and Brenda spend time preparing all the wonderful snacks and refreshments for the guests to enjoy. Harvey faithfully shows up early prior to every event and stays well afterwards eager to help wherever needed. Nancy Royal continues to be of valuable assistance to Bethany in the office every Tuesday.

img_4186Craig is putting his background in computer geekery to great use in that he has developed our own in-house mapping system to be integrated with our plant collections database. Craig developed his own prototype for mapping our plants literally within days following our initial discussions. Most botanical gardens spend lots of money for licenses to use proprietary mapping software, so this is quite a bargain. This will be present on our website and will allow anyone to search our collections and locate the plant on a map of the gardens in seconds. We continue to discuss other features I’d like to see and he just makes it happen. He’s amazing!

Last month’s open day wouldn’t have been possible were it not for Frank and Cherie Lee and Harvey, along with Craig and Pam Romig serving as docents. Thank you all!

 Plant of the month: Chinese Bishopwood (Bischofia polycarpa)

img_5973-smallWhen I give general tours in the garden, I usually lead visitors by the group of Magnolia tamaulipana and explain their story, and then continue around west and to the north toward the creek. This route skirts a giant dense tree that I never tend to point out for some reason, despite my great appreciation for it. Inevitably someone in the group will still ask about the green giant and I’ll gladly highlight the qualities of this tree, Bischofia polycarpa, also known as Chinese bishopwood.

img_5988-smallNative through much of southern China, most sources say it gets to about 45 feet tall, though Peckerwood’s specimen is well over 60 feet. The leaves of this tree are divided into three equal sized leaflets organized in a loose triangular pattern, but each leaflet is large enough to lend a tropical appearance. Though it tends to be ungainly when young, it grows quickly into a tree with a rounded dense crown. In spring racemes of small, insignificant flowers soon develop into hanging clusters of copper colored berries resembling bunches of miniature grapes. These fruits are held under the foliage and through the summer are only visible if you walk under the tree. Non-toxic but unpalatably astringent, the fruits are fermented in Asia for use in liquors. After this deciduous tree drops its leaves in fall, the pendulous fruits persist well into winter, and combined with a mature tree’s branching architecture and rich brown, rough-textured bark, creates a wonderful structural accent in the winter garden. Despite marauding cedar waxwings, Peckerwood’s huge tree holds so much fruit that it keeps the birds supplied with food well into early February.  Smaller trees may be stripped much sooner.

img_5986-smallGrowing up in south Florida, I remember beautiful dense trees on the grounds of my elementary school that were the only natural providers of deep shade during recess, with massive, low branching trunks good for tree-climbing. These were a tropical relative to B. polycarpa, simply called “Bishopwood” (Bischofia javanica). Planted regularly around Miami in the 1970’s – 80’s, it was soon found that they adapted to the warm climate a little too well and became quite a noxious weed.

img_5981-smallThe assumption can be made that the cold hardy Chinese Bishopwood might also become weedy, but fortunately the abundant fruits on this tree are infertile. There seems to be only one clone – a female – in cultivation of this particular species. Hopefully nobody will unnecessarily introduce a male tree to cultivation and ruin our ability to grow this beautiful tree with year around interest. Though it can grow to an imposing size, it can be cut to the ground if it gets too large, after which it will resprout and can be maintained as a multi-trunked small tree. Though it can’t be grown from seed, midsummer cuttings fortunately root fairly easily under intermittent mist. Whenever we get our water quality situation resolved, we hope to regularly offer this versatile species in our nursery. Until then, it is seldom available from collector nurseries.

 An Expedition to West Texas

Malaxis wendtii is a very rare orchid found in the US only in the Chisos Mountains

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to travel to west Texas with fellow oak nuts David Richardson, Vincent Debrock, and Adam Salcedo. David should be familiar by now due to his regular mention in our newsletters, usually in conjunction to one of the many interesting oaks he has generously donated to our collections. Vincent, an arborist who serves as president of the Texas chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture, and Adam, vice president of Native Plant Research Institute, both visited Peckerwood a few months ago and sufficiently proved their plant nerdiness at that time, so I knew we were going to have an enjoyable trip. Our mission was to gather acorns and other seeds in areas where we could legally collect, and where collecting was off-limits, observe and try to make sense of the variable complex of oaks in the Chisos and Davis Mountains.

White form of Liatris sp. western portion of Edwards Plateau

After a meeting up in Austin, we made a beeline for west Texas. Following considerable rains in the region, the desert was uncharacteristically lush and green with many plants flowering profusely. We made our first stop near Fort Stockton on a ridge dominated by one of the two native pinon pines, Pinus remota. I had visited this spot six years ago and found a witch’s broom in one of the pines and was eager to check for cones. Witch’s brooms are densely branched clumps of foliage, which is often dwarfed, that spontaneously develop in a small percentage of individuals within a population of conifers and occasionally other plants. Though some brooms can be the result of disease, most are actually harmless genetic “sports” and there is a sector of conifer enthusiasts that search forests for these mutations and create new dwarf conifer selections through grafting. If lucky enough to find a broom with seed, a percentage of the seedlings will display dwarf characteristics.

The beautiful dwarf Cenizo Leucophyllum minus

The dwarf loblolly pines at Peckerwood are examples of broom seedlings. I was very pleased to find that the broom I had discovered years earlier in the Pinus remota was now bearing cones with fresh seeds, so hopefully good things will come from it.

Tecoma stans var angustata has much narrower leaves than the commonly cultivated form

Among the pines were low, shrubby oaks with silvery leaves and coppery new growth. These are Mohr’s oaks, Quercus mohriana, which is wide-ranging through west Texas. Plenty of ripe acorns were available and gathered. Purple clumps of vigorously flowering

Dalea frutescens dotted the ground between the pines and oaks, along with the sulfur yellow flowers of Eriogonum sp.

The beautiful grey foliage of Quercus grisea Davis Mountains

David pointed out the presence of both the blackfoot daisy, Melampodium leucanthum and the nearly identical Desert Zinnia, Zinnia acerosa which could easily be mistaken for one another if not looking at the finer details. A flowering Golden Leadball Tree, Leucaena retusa, rounded out the mix. As we pondered other random wildflowers, copious rain suddenly fell and we decided to move on.

Bouvardia ternifolia among many other fascinating plants Big Bend National Park

We arrived in the town of Alpine, secured hotel rooms, and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the botanical highlights of the area while enjoying the refreshingly cool temperature. From towering deodar cedars (Cedrus deodara) to Texas madrones and native oaks, I was amazed at the variety of things present in the residential neighborhood. We stopped at the former home of the late renowned Sul Ross University botanist Barton Warnock, who contributed so much to our understanding of the west Texas flora. Many of his trees are still present on the property.

Beautiful exfoliating bark colors on an old Arizona cypress growing at Sul Ross university

While hovering around the property and looking at the intriguing specimens from afar, we soon made contact with the friendly current owner who generously allowed us free reign to explore the property and collect seeds. Senna wislizenii was loaded with both yellow flowers and seed pods which everyone eagerly helped themselves to. Several different forms of the variable Quercus grisea, with its silvery blue foliage, had varying amounts of acorns available.

An unusual variant of Salvia lycioides

A beautiful narrow-leaved form of Quercus canbyi had fewer seeds, but we managed to find a few. A prize Chisos Rosewood, Vauquelinia angustifolia grew next to a large bigtooth maple, Acer grandidentatum, both bearing seeds.

Next we visited Sul Ross University, which has several gardens scattered around campus featuring rare and unusual west Texas flora.

The desert fern Cheilanthes lindheimeri Davis Mountains

Most impressive to me were the gigantic Arizona cypress, Cupressus arizonica, displaying a patchwork of brilliant colors in the exfoliating bark not often seen in much younger cultivated specimens. Interestingly, I found a witch’s broom in one of the cholla cactus species, Cylindropunta kleiniae. Who wouldn’t want a dwarf compact “jumping cholla” stuck to their flesh!

Mandevilla macrosiphon cultivated at Sul Ross University

The next morning, we were off to Big Bend National Park for a hike thorough the Chisos Mountains. We were joined by David Cristiani, a landscape architect from New Mexico who is also afflicted with Quercitis. After many trips here over the years, I had never seen the Chisos and surrounding desert so green and floriferous. The mountains were dotted with flaming red clumps which were a mix of Bouvardia ternifolia and Salvia regla. In between was the electric blue of two additional Salvia species – usually S. lycioides but occasionally S. arizonica would present itself. All of the xeric ferns of the genera

A natural rock garden in the Chisos Mountains Big Bend National Park

Cheilanthes, Astrolepis and Pellaea were fully hydrated and unfurled, unlike most previous visits where they are always shriveled up. Mandevilla macrosiphon, which I was completely unfamiliar

with until I saw it cultivated the previous day at Sul Ross University, was all over the place with its conspicuous trumpet-shaped white flowers, never noticed in my previous visits in drier times.

Quercus rugosa Big Bend National Park

Being of interest to all, we observed the oaks along the way, noting the wide array of variation in leaf shape, color, growth form, and acorn features. Most prevalent was Quercus grisea which appeared as suckering dwarf patches to robust single-trunked trees. The two Davids taught the rest of us how to distinguish the somewhat similar Quercus arizonica, which led to more confusion as to where to draw the line among the many oaks displaying features of

both species. Quercus gravesii came in many leaf forms and acorn sizes. Once we reached Laguna Meadow we were wading among the low buns of Quercus intricata with its tiny, thick, curly and somewhat crumpled leaves, making it one of the most distinctive of oaks. David R. spotted a bear up in a Pinus cembroides happily crunching the abundant pinon nuts. We were soon back in open woodland and found a patch of oaks David R. thought may be the rare Quercus carmenensis.

The rare scarlet ladies tresses orchid dichromanthus cinnabarinus in Big Bend National Park

After enjoying the magnificent views of the Rio Grande valley and Mexico from the south rim of the Chisos, we began looping back toward one my favorite places, Boot Canyon. As the Arizona cypress and bigtooth maples became more abundant, we began seeing new oaks, including the more distinctive Quercus rugosa with its rough, paddle-shaped leaves. A few other strange oaks presented themselves and left us wondering what they could be, either the result of so much hybridization or new species complexes requiring more study. I had hoped to lead the group to the state champion Cupressus arizonica off the beaten path down Boot Canyon,

but the creek was flowing deeply making it impossible to access the big tree. It was getting late so we decided to step up the pace to make it back to the trailhead by dark.

A mottled rock rattlesnake adding excitement to the botanical foray in the Chisos Mountains

Following a small group of the rare terrestrial orchid Dichromanthus cinnabarinus and their showy orange inflorescences, Adam S. spotted a huge orange fungus on the slope above the trail, glowing beautifully in the low evening sun. I was going to ascend the slope to get a photo, but then remembered my manners and encouraged Adam to go first. He declined, and as I crouched down near ground level for some close up shots, I heard a loud buzzing next to my right ear and saw a jerky motion in my peripheral vision. Knowing exactly what it was, and otherwise being a snake lover, I was excited to see it wasn’t just any rattlesnake that nearly bit me, but a beautiful mottled rock rattlesnake – the only species I had yet to find among the species native to the Big Bend region. After a few photos and admiring the snake’s pink hues we continued down the mountain.

Silene lacinata Big Bend National Park

Though it was getting dark, we quickly observed the Chisos Hophornbeam, Ostrya chisosensis, found only in these mountains and nowhere else in the world.

One clearing in the trail offered a glimpse of the small population of aspens that persists on a talus slope below Emory Peak. Nearly dark and unable to focus anymore, we made it back shortly after dark.

Quercus hinckleyi

After a night near Terlingua, Adam S. and Vincent needed to part ways to head back to Austin, and David Cristiani had to move on as well. David R. and I took River Road west along the Rio Grande, enjoying the very different flora than seen in the Chisos. It was exciting to find many individuals of Buddleja globosa flowering among the beautiful scenery. Guaiacum angustifolium shrubs were red with seeds, but we could not collect along this stretch of road.

David Richardson inspecting a patch of Quercus hinckleyi

After lunch in the border town of Presidio, we headed north on our way to the Davis Mountains. First we had to stop at one of the few populations of one of the rarest and most distinctive of oaks in the country, Quercus hinckleyi. The late Texas native plantsman Benny Simpson had shown David this locality years ago, and now

Hedeoma sp. Chisos Mountains Big Bend

David was introducing me to this most unusual species with tiny holly-like leaves forming stoloniferous colonies on the limestone ridges. Unfortunately we were greeted with “No Trespassing” signs, with the colonies of oaks visible at the top of the nearby hill. Fortunately a presumed local resident who stopped to see what we were doing assured us it was fine to go look at the plants after learning of our intentions.

Buddleja globosa growing along the Rio Grande

The tiny, holly-like leaves on these dense clumps sprouting up from the caliche was a sight to behold, along with the disproportionately large acorn caps that remained on the plants. In the same area was a beautiful miniature Leucophyllum minus, much smaller and more refined than the common L. frutescens, the “Cenizo” or “Texas Sage” commonly used in central Texas landscapes.

Arriving at Fort Davis, we stopped at the courthouse which was surrounded with very old specimens of various trees of interest. A few massive Quercus gravesii anchored one corner of the property, and other sectors included the largest alligator junipers I had ever seen, Pinus strobiformis, aspen, and a beautiful madrone.

The team resting at south rim Chisos Mountains, Left to Right: David Richardson, Adam Salcedo, David Cristiani and Vincent Debrock

Many other native plants were used around the foundation of the courthouse.

Finally arriving in the Davis Mountains, we began seeing lots of Quercus emoryi mixed with Q. grisea. This was my first visit to this terrain, which was so different from the Chisos, reminding me more of the Colorado Rocky Mountain foothills. The open grasslands were marked with ghostly, silvery white Eryngium heterophyllum with powder blue flowers. David showed me an immense gnarled Quercus grisea that he had lead an International Oak Society tour to years ago, and I was excited to see the Texas population of Pinus ponderosa.

Eryngium heterophyllum Davis Mountains

The rain moved in as we descended the northwest flank of the range. One last surprise as the land became flat again and the sun began to set on our last day in the field was an especially attractive Mojave Rattlesnake about to cross the road, who kindly posed for some photos before continuing on his way. It was one of my most memorable trips to the Big Bend region with new introductions to grow for the gardens and new inspiration for Peckerwood’s future. Special thanks to David Richardson for coordinating the expedition and for sharing his knowledge of the area and its flora to the rest of the group, not to mention Vincent, Adam S, and David Cristiani for their specialized contributions to  everyone else’s’ understanding.


Monthly training classes continue with Flowering Shrubs. The next session is November 19. Though geared toward training our docents, all active volunteers are invited to participate for free to learn more about refined topics pertaining to the garden. Members may join us for $15. Pre-registration required.

Sign up Now


From welcoming visitors, to leading tours, to working in the garden or in our office, there are many ways to lend your talents! Let us know how you would like to get involved. Sign up to assist at an event or to join a bi-weekly gardening session here.
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August 2016 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden
Yucca-do Nursery
Monthly Events
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 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


  Volunteer contributions make a difference!

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
Monthly training classes continue with Flowering Shrubs. The next session is September 10 at 9 am. All active volunteers are invited to participate for free. Members may join us for $15. Pre-registration required.

Sign up Now


From welcoming visitors, to leading tours, to working in the garden or in our office, there are many ways to lend your talents! Let us know how you would like to get involved. Sign up to assist at an event or to join a bi-weekly gardening session here.
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Volunteering at Peckerwood Garden

We strongly value our volunteers! They make a huge contribution!

What they do

  • Weed the area around the office.
  • Water the greenhouses.
  • Plant around the office.
  • Lead or assist on tours (requires training).
  • Prepare snacks for events.
  • Assist the office manager with clerical tasks.
  • Clear undeveloped property.
  • Perform basic carpentry.


Volunteers work Tuesdays, but days are flexible.

Start Volunteering Today!

Call 979.826.3232 or email

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July 2016 Newsletter

Table of Contents

Adam’s notes from the garden
Caribbean Connections
Monthly Events
Ongoing Collaborations
Volunteer appreciation
Plant of the month
What’s New in the Nursery

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 evening lectures. Horticulturist Adam Black will fill you in on how he’s adding to Peckerwood’s treasured plant collections.

Adam’s notes from the garden

Casimiroa pringlei (3)
Casimiroa pringlei

I finally had a chance to taste the fruits of Pringle’s Sapote, (Casimiroa pringlei) several weeks ago. This interesting introduction to U.S. cultivation from John and Carl’s Shoenfeld Mexican collection is perhaps the only zone 8 cold hardy species of an otherwise tropical genus of fruit trees. Though seeds were distributed in the past from Peckerwood, and plants have been available in our nursery, it still hasn’t caught on among enthusiasts of unusual edible plants. The largest of several trees in the garden was loaded with orange fruits the size of large grapes – quite a large crop despite the fruits’ small size. They are soft textured and sweet with a slightly tangy acidic quality and a cherry pit-sized seed in the middle. Everybody I previously asked previously described it slightly different, but I’d compare it with a cross between a pineapple and a banana.

Craig Jackson

I was surprised to learn that long-time volunteer Craig Jackson had never tasted it during his tenure, so off we went to go find some ripe fruits. I had noticed the first time I sampled the fruits that the tree was looking a little yellow, and in the following days a lot of the yellow leaves were falling. We found the tree even more defoliated and many of the abundant fruits had dropped. I found a couple that looked to be at the perfect stage of ripeness as judged in my initial tasting experience, but when I tried one, it was very bitter and pungent. A second one was also quite repulsive despite appearing perfectly good. After much spitting and commenting how I couldn’t get the taste out of my mouth, Craig had no interest in trying the fruit.

A week later the tree is mostly defoliated and clearly suffering from an infection in the roots or trunk judging from the quick, consistent symptoms that appeared throughout the crown of the tree. The increasingly poor fruit quality perhaps stemmed from improper ripening in the tree’s stressed state. Since it grows along the creek, the tree’s root zone was submerged in all three recent flooding events we had, and likely the tree’s current state is the result of a stress-induced pathogen. Fortunately, we have back-ups of the tree in other portions of the garden, though not as old as this original collection.

Hymenocallis aztecana
Hymenocallis aztecana

Other tree specimens are now declining in portions of the garden that were flooded. In the woodland garden, several Cephalotaxus are showing signs of fungal infections, and  large portions of  each plant are dying. One tall, long-leaved form of C. fortunei rapidly declined, likely due to a root pathogen, and as soon as I saw it going down I took some cuttings from the remaining healthy portion before it too died. A beautiful specimen of Taxus sumatrana unfortunately browned so suddenly I didn’t have a chance to salvage a piece. One prominent loquat-leaved oak (Quercus rysophylla) growing along the perennial border rapidly died in recent weeks, with its crown of dead retained bright rusty red leaves punctuated against the green woodland garden canopy behind, strangely beautiful despite the loss, at least to me. Though planted high up on an embankment, its feeder roots surely extended down the slope into the adjacent depression which remained quite soggy for weeks during the rainy period.

Dioon edule (2)
Dioon edule

All is far from doom and gloom at Peckerwood, and aside from the prominently located dead oak, which will soon be removed, most visitors would not notice any morbidity in the garden. Though we are now wishing for rain and are having to provide supplemental irrigation to some valuable specimens, many other plants weathered the severe drought a while back without any care and continue to look great.  The garden looks as amazing as it always has. Loss of some favorite specimens, though initially sad, creates new opportunities, and perhaps provides more foresight in better selection of species for a particular spot should we flood again.

Mucuna cyclocarpa
Mucuna cyclocarpa

Lots of summer flowering perennials are at their best right now. I’ve never been very keen on spider lilies (Hymenocallis spp.) being that they all superficially look the same. However, since they have all started flowering, it is interesting to see that at least some are quite distinctive. John has a cluster of wild-collected Hymenocallis aztecana from Mexico that started flowering recently. It has typical spider lily flowers but the foliage is quite different from most, and is a distinctive blue-grey color. It appears this may be a solitary species that doesn’t offset like most others, but time will tell. The Mexican Sweetspire trees, Clethra pringlei, are flowering up a storm right now. In the dry gardens the naturalized standing cypress Ipomopsis rubra is just coming into flower atop its tall stems that protrude from among the woody lilies and cacti.  Oblivious to the dry conditions in its baking position in the garden near the office, Wright’s Skullcap (Scutellaria wrightii) is blooming like crazy. This is a must-have Texas native for any dry garden. I’ve forever been and am a fan of the durable ironweeds (Vernonia spp.) and John has a couple patches of V. noveboracensis in the perennial border displaying their deep purple flowers against dark green foliage.

A number of unique vines are creating quite a show on the trellises around John’s home and gallery. It was nice to see Camptosema sp. finally bearing the scarlet red flowers I had only previously seen in pictures. This member of the pea family hails from Argentina and seems quite durable.

Menispermum sp. from Mexico
Menispermum sp. from Mexico

Another of my favorites is Mucuna cyclocarpa, with tight, fist-sized clusters of dark purple-black pea-like flowers. John is especially fond of a large flowered selection of the profusely-blooming snapdragon vine, Maurandya antirrhiniflora, and rightfully so. Though it doesn’t have particularly showy flowers, a Mexican collection of Menispermum sp. (moonseed) presents exceptionally bold blue-green foliage, much larger and thicker than our U.S. native M. canadense. I reluctantly had to cut it back somewhat in order to prevent it from smothering a wild collected Mascagnia lilacina that shares a trellis.

While many  visitors focus solely on flowers, I’m always trying to promote the ornamental qualities of foliage which can complement or take the spotlight away from adjacent flowers! Many cycads have recently flushed new growth, with the various Ceratozamia species bearing rusty red to bronze leaves up to five feet long. The various Dioon edule regional selections have new soft leaves ranging from pastel green to reddish-orange to even light blue. When backlit by the low evening sun the new translucent foliage glows intensely and creates interesting shadows among the older opaque leaves.

Caribbean connections

Callicarpa hitchcockii, a Caribbean beautyberry with potential adaptability to southeast Texas
Callicarpa hitchcockii, a Caribbean beautyberry with potential adaptability to southeast Texas

In early June I traveled to my birthplace of Miami, Fla. for the American Public Gardens Association annual meeting, where it was great to see old friends and meet new ones. One big highlight was being able to visit my friends at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden and see all the progress Chad Husby and Jason Lopez had made in their world travels in search of interesting plants for cultivation and conservation. Of particular interest to me are their extensive Caribbean conservation collections. Though all of these are from tropical, frost-free habitats, we already know of a few woody plants from this region that perform in colder areas of the southern U.S. in Zone 8b as dieback shrubs, sustaining minor tip dieback or dying to the ground entirely and vigorously resprouting and flowering by summer. In Zone 9 of the Houston area they perform even more reliably, often experiencing little to no dieback in average winters which often translates to an even longer flowering season. One good example of a tried-and-true tropical shrub that returns after freezing back is firebush (Hamelia patens), naturally found only in frost-free areas of south Florida and throughout the Caribbean and into South America. Simpsons Stopper (Myricanthes fragrans) seems to be catching on in southeast Texas as well, another one of those Caribbean plants that reaches its northern extent in warmer parts of south Florida.  Some Caribbean palms, including Sabal causiarum, have long been known to be remarkably hardy despite their tropical island homes in Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, indicating it may have evolved from the hardier stock currently present in the southern U.S. On the more obscure side I was successfully growing a variety of Caribbean things in northern Florida’s zone 8b including Cuban beautyberries, Bahamian cycads, a Juniper from Barbados, a Honduran pine and others.

Hamelia patens has stood the test of time in zone 8 despite its tropical origins
Hamelia patens has stood the test of time in zone 8 despite its tropical origins

When touring the collections with Chad, it dawned on me that there must be other Caribbean plants with similar attributes – bearing either latent hardiness or the ability to vigorously re-sprout after being frozen back and quickly resume displaying ornamental features through the next hard frost. The majority of these plants definitely won’t tolerate freezes, or even cold weather, but those plants either related to the known performers, or that bear similar qualities, are worth trialing as possible new landscape plants in seemingly unlikely places. Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens is in some cases the only collection in the U.S. where these rare plants are preserved, and if we can extend the growing areas of at least some of these they can be backed up in other conservation gardens including Peckerwood and better distributed to the public.

For the die-back shrubs the key for reliable spring resprouting is having a well-established root system prior to freezing back. This entails planting healthy, robust specimens as soon as the threat of late frosts is over in spring, which allows seven or eight months for the plant to develop a healthy vigorous root system over summer through early fall prior to getting cut back.  Adequate mulch helps keep the roots from freezing in its first few years. One could provide further protection if desired, but I at least am not interested in dragging out the frost blankets all the time, nor should anyone else!

Melochia tomentosa, a tropical species that has proven iteself at Peckerwood
Melochia tomentosa, a tropical species that has proven itself at Peckerwood

I shared a few things from Peckerwood’s Mexican collections that I figured would be suitable for Miami’s conditions, and got many cuttings of plants I felt are worth trying in Hempstead. I was especially interested in the genus Callicarpa (beautyberries) since a Cuban species, C. ferruginosa, has performed well in Zone 8, so surely other Caribbean species are worthy candidates. One that caught my eye in Fairchild’s collection was C. hitchcockii, with tiny oval cupped leaves, bearing a rough dimpled convex top surface that was dark shiny green contrasting with the light blue-green in the concavity underneath. The showy pink flowers turn into purple fruits resembling our native species. Time limitations did not allow for extensive collecting of cuttings, but we will continue our good relationship with Fairchild exchanging more of John and Carl’s important Mexican collections that would be suitable for the south Florida climate in exchange for more interesting and unexpected treasures.

I also stopped at my friend Richard Moyroud’s West Palm Beach nursery, Mesozoic Landscapes. Richard collects and promotes obscure south Florida natives and their Caribbean relatives. He generously loaded me down with additional plants to trial at Peckerwood that he felt would have potential. I was happy to receive from him his last Melochia tomentosa, a plant I was introduced to at Peckerwood as a beautiful dieback shrub that flowers profusely and offers showy silvery-green foliage. It reaches its northern extent in extreme southern Texas and south Florida where it is very rare, but more widespread in the Neotropics. Richard’s plant, of south Florida provenance, looked significantly different from the specimens I’ve seen at Peckerwood and a few local nurseries, so we will see how it performs here.

We will continue to seek new plants from unlikely places that hold potential for low-maintenance landscapes while displaying unique ornamental features, and also serving our conservation mission by preserving imperiled germplasm in cultivation.

 Monthly Events: from Bethany Jordan 

Peckerwood Insider’s Tours have proven to be interesting to members and new visitors. These focused looks at less-visited areas of the garden showcase some of Peckerwood’s best aspects. Visits to the gardens across the creek were a rare treat. I have witnessed only two groups touring that area in my Years at Peckerwood, but now more have the opportunity to discover the plants here. Likewise, the upcoming tour of rarely visited sections of the Woodland Gardens is a treat you shouldn’t miss.

Another exciting development, the Evening at Peckerwood Garden Lecture Series, opens at 7 p.m. Friday, July 22 with Adam Black, who will present “Six Months and Counting – The Endless Discoveries at Peckerwood.” Adam will talk about his excitement and sensory overload while discovering the countless treasures through the seasonal transformations from his hiring in January through summer. His focus on rare plants and obscure specimens should make this a fascinating look at Peckerwood Garden in 2016.

Open Days have always been the primary opportunity for guests to visit the garden. Groups can schedule tours anytime, but most families prefer to come on a day we are open and scheduling a private tour is not necessary. With our new monthly Open Days, we are able to be consistently available and offer a predictable schedule. We welcome the opportunity share the garden with you and showcase the incredible beauty of Peckerwood Garden and to highlight the amazing variety of changes that happen all year.

Watch the calendar for additions to the schedule. Tickets are available online for all events, and some require pre-registration.


  Volunteer contributions on the increase!

Thank you to our Watermelon Festival team

I am pleased to report that we are picking up steam with our garden volunteer work, both in consistency and in numbers. IMG_3326As I reported in previous newsletters, Brenda Wilson, Craig Jackson and Ruth McDonald were initially the stalwart volunteers making a difference in reclaiming Carl’s old garden beds around the offices and nursery. Recently Persephone Friend has joined us and will hopefully continue as a long-standing regular despite the long drive from Houston. Most recently long-time supporter and new foundation board member Pam Romig joined Craig and Brenda along with newcomers Jan Swope and Harvey Newman.

Garden House – Thank you volunteers for working in here

IMG_3328Together they went through the nursery and surrounding areas, weeding and straightening things up, and it looks amazing! With our remote location it has always been a challenge to find dedicated volunteers who are either local in the surrounding small towns or Houston residents willing to make the drive on a regular basis. Nancy Royal and Pam Romig have continued to help in the office on a regular basis, which is always a huge help for Bethany.

Looking at the cleared area between the paths to the Garden House

Pam also helped clean a ton of seeds from a variety of Mexican mahonia species, and Linda Demet helped divvy these up into labeled envelopes for distribution. Roger Holland often goes unnoticed, but he heads up the surveying of our bluebird nest boxes. Peckerwood is a registered bluebird sanctuary, and Roger maintains nesting records in the many bird houses set up around the gardens in order to maintain our status. We set up a booth at the Hempstead IMG_3324Watermelon Festival offering plants and most important, public exposure. Harvey Newman was a watermelon festival recruit, and others expressed interest as well. Thanks to Pam, Craig and Bonnie Burger for helping at the booth. Now that we are ramping up with more events, year-round open days and evening lectures, reliable volunteers are more critical. We would not be able to make any progress without everyone’s help.

 Plant of the month: Litsea japonica

IMG_931620160116_131443On my one and only visit to Peckerwood during a 2007 open day prior to my employment here, I was fortunate to attend a tour led by John Fairey. Among the other wonders, John pointed out a plant in the woodland garden that captivated me. It was an evergreen shrub holding dense foliage all the way to the ground, yet growing in fairly deep shade. The leaves were a blue-green above, with a bright tan fuzzy indumentum below. I was surprised to learn what it was, as I was familiar with the genus Litsea from both the southeastern US native Pondspice (Litsea aestivalis) which is a small shrub with tiny leaves, and I was aware of a few Asian species with larger plain green leaves, nothing like Litsea japonica. 20160721_165911I was glad to find that Peckerwood’s nursery had a few available for purchase that day, and they became favorites in my Florida garden. Most seasoned plantsmen that visited had no clue what it was either, thinking along the lines of some strange big-leaf Rhododendron, never venturing into the laurel family, but regardless, everyone wanted it. Beyond Peckerwood, Woodlander’s Nursery in Aiken, SC was the only place that would occasionally have it available, but it still is very few and far between, even in botanical gardens. One of the few other plantings I’ve seen of it, in the wonderful campus-wide arboretum at Armstrong Atlantic University in Savannah, GA illustrates that it looks equally attractive with quite a bit more sun.  20160721_170008I kept my plants in dry sandy shade and once established they were left to fend for themselves, and they did so admirably, never looking stressed even during droughts. Of course I’ve already learned that Florida droughts are different than Texas dry spells, but goes to show it isn’t something that needs constant care after establishment.  This is an indispensable plant in the southeastern shade garden as there aren’t many other shrubs that maintain full, dense habits in that situation. The flowers are not very showy – it is an evergreen foliage plant first and foremost, but I find the new-emergent growth covered with fuzzy silver hairs to be quite a spectacle. We have some young seedlings coming along in our nursery that we hope to offer soon.


Ongoing collaborations

Katie Dickson (right) and collaborator from Moore Farms Botanical Gardens with carload of plants
Katie Dickson (right) and collaborator from Moore Farms Botanical Gardens with carload of plants

Over the past few weeks several important visitors have toured the gardens. Katie Dickson, senior horticulturist at Moore Farms Botanical Garden near Lake City, S.C. visited on a plant-collecting trip from Austin to Peckerwood and back, amassing unusual plants suitable for a proposed scree garden. I’ve been excited that more southeastern U.S. gardens are incorporating scree gardens into their displays, as it is a great way to grow more Mediterranean and xeric species that prefer to stay on the dry side in an otherwise summer-wet climate. It will be fun to see what distinctive flair Moore Farms uses in the design, in addition to the incorporation of the unusual plants we’ve provided.

Ethan Guthrie and Amanda Bennet from Atlanta Botanical Garden think big when on a plant gathering expedition
Ethan Guthrie and Amanda Bennet from Atlanta Botanical Garden think big when on a plant gathering expedition

Other visitors included Ethan Guthrie and Amanda Bennet, both from Atlanta Botanical Garden. Ethan is in charge of the amazing plant collections at ABG’s new secondary Gainesville, Ga. garden site, located northeast of Atlanta. It was great to meet this fellow plant nerd. Amanda is in charge of the spectacular display gardens at the Atlanta site. They flew into Austin, rented a huge truck and had it a mostly full of nursery purchases before arriving at Peckerwood. We loaded them down with more plants and cuttings from the garden, and explored the greenhouses at night by flashlight looking for obscurities to share.


In late June I attended Stephen F. Austin University’s “Wild about Woodies” nursery industry field day. It was great to finally meet Dallas area tree enthusiast David Richardson, a long-time friend of John’s and supporter of Peckerwood. Many unique plants, especially obscure oaks, bear his name as the source on our tags. He shared a wonderful group of seedling oak species to add to our collection. As always David Creech from the SFA Mast Arboretum generously shared cuttings from the diverse arboretum and a variety of exciting plants from the nursery.

Quercus nuttallii 'Firecracker', a selection donated to Peckerwood from Southern Tree Source
Quercus nuttallii ‘Firecracker’, a selection donated to Peckerwood from Southern Tree Source

In addition to visits from collaborators I’ve made a number of my own visits to other nurseries, gardens and enthusiasts from which Peckerwood has mutually beneficial relationships. On my frequent Florida trips I try to break up the monotony of hours of driving by stopping by Gardens of the Big Bend located at the University of Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy, FL. Dr. Gary Knox is director of this relatively new garden and he strives to seek out new and interesting things not commonly utilized in the southeastern U.S.. I  try to share whatever I can with them, and I end up leaving his greenhouses loaded down with more (and much larger) plants than I brought him! Gary is especially interested in magnolias and has shared a variety of rare species and unique hybrids with us, not to mention a collection of interesting species crepe myrtles that are far different than the common hybrids. Other odds and ends were added to the mix included a hardy Schefflera hoi which Gary had obtained from Ethan.

Kaempferia 'Pink Lace', at Tom Wood's nursery
Kaempferia ‘Pink Lace’, at Tom Wood’s nursery

While touring the garden there, I was mesmerized by a Quercus nuttallii selection with the most brilliant, longer-lasting red new growth. It is a named cultivar called ‘Firecracker’. Gary put me in touch with Southern Tree Source’s Buster Corley  who selected this tree from a batch of seedlings and monitored it for years to make sure the intense, long-lasting coloration on the new growth was a consistent trait before applying for a patent. Buster generously donated a ‘Firecracker’ oak to Peckerwood, and since he also had promised one to David Creech at SFA, I brought the tree back to Texas for eventual delivery to the arboretum. I sent David’s tree to SFA with Ethan and Amanda on their big truck following their Peckerwood visit. It’s always fun to think of how the plants we love get around though our networks!

Young Victoria water lilies on their way to becoming huge at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens
Young Victoria water lilies on their way to becoming huge at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens

Prominent ginger expert Tom Wood fortunately lives right down the road from my Florida property so during my last visit I stopped by to see what was new. He shared with Peckerwood a variety of new hardy ginger species and hybrids of Kaempferia, Hedychium, Curcuma, Globba, and Siphonochilus including his own creation Kaempferia ‘Purple Lace’.

Also nearby is Don Goodman, founding director of Gainesville Florida’s Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, where I used to work for a number of years. Among the many sights there, many come visit Kanapaha from summer through fall to see the two species and one hybrid of the giant Victoria water lilies that Don has expertly grown from seed every year for decades. Also known as water platters, winter-germinated seedlings quickly turn into massive plants by August, dying when water temperatures get too cool in mid-fall. Though individual leaves can get nearly 10 feet in optimum conditions, they are usually less than 6 feet in cultivation, but Don grew the US record leaf several years ago, just shy of 8 feet. He generously donated some young plants to Peckerwood which I am establishing in the lake behind the guest house.

Nursery News

Anisacanthus quadrifidus var wrightii
Anisacanthus quadrifidus var wrightii
Scutellaria wrightii
Scutellaria wrightii

Despite the challenges of keeping the nursery plants looking good in the hot dry conditions we’ve been facing, there are still some great plants in the nursery. I know many folks don’t want to plant anything until fall, let alone be outside in the first place, but there are some drought tolerant things that, with a little initial care, can be a great addition to the summer landscape.  A real winner, completely shrugging the harsh conditions, is the Texas native Wright’s Skullcap, Scutellaria wrightii. Naturally occurring in dry open areas, it has been blooming like crazy for the past several weeks in our revamped rock gardens around the office with no supplemental water.

Kaempferia elegans
Kaempferia elegans

Another not-so-rare but still indispensable plant is Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii – commonly known as Firecracker Bush or Hummingbird Bush. We have some nice gallon size plants in full bloom now. We continue to have an excellent selection of Kaempferia gingers for that shady area in your yard. With a little moisture they will continue to flower for another few months within their beautifully patterned ground-hugging foliage before going dormant and starting the show over again early summer next year. Of course we always have interesting Agaves, Aloes, Dyckias, and other xeric plants that you don’t need to worry too much about establishing if you want something to plant right now.


Pool Plaza
Monthly training classes continue with Gephophytes. The next session is August 20 at 9 am. All active volunteers are invited to participate for free. Members may join us for $15. Pre-registration required.

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North Woodland Garden
From welcoming visitors, to leading tours, to working in the garden or in our office, there are many ways to lend your talents! Let us know how you would like to get involved. Sign up to assist at an event or to join a bi-weekly gardening session here.
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Quercus glauca

This beautiful evergreen Asian oak tends to form multiple trunks bearing a dense crown of glossy green leaves with chalky blue undersides.

Peckerwood is known for its extensive oak collection, especially those from John’s Mexican collections, but we do have a variety of Asian oaks as well. A few decades ago, John imported seeds of Quercus glauca, also known as the Japanese Blue Oak or Ring-Cupped Oak. They germinated well and were offered through Yucca-do Nursery locally and via mail order, but according to John none sold, presumably due to being just too unfamiliar to collectors at that time. After sitting around for a while, they were eventually planted around the Peckerwood and Yucca-do properties. As they attained significant size, people finally began to notice what attractive evergreen trees they had become, with spreading branching structure, multiple trunks and smooth polychrome bark in shades of silver, white, light green and grey. Many did not immediately recognized these trees as oaks, being the thick, stiff glossy leaves with dark green tops and chalky blue undersides didn’t look remotely like any familiar North American oak. The spreading branching structure was especially appealing, combined with the naturally dense crown. These trees began producing seed –recognizable as a standard oak acorn, but with concentric rings encircling the cap, hence one of the common names (Ring-Cupped Oak). With mature trees to behold in the garden, and now offspring, there were now customers lined up for the opportunity to finally grow this tree that had to earn its admiration over time in the Peckerwood landscape.

Quercus Glauca

Quercus Glauca

20160421_151443I have been fortunate to see Q. glauca in Taiwan where it is native. It occurs in low elevation tropical forests that are rather dry, yet when grown in colder areas it is quite tolerant of hard freezes it would not otherwise see naturally. It does get some damage in zone 7 but excels in zone 8 to 10. It seems adaptable to any location with well-drained soil and full sun to light shade. I think the best specimens are attained in full exposure, starting out as a compact tree with a fairly upright habit, and eventually producing additional trunks that spread gracefully outward. If grown in shadier conditions, it will grow more vertical, less spreading, as it reaches for the light. Examples of both forms growing in these different conditions can be observed at Peckerwood, and both have their merits.

In March, the new growth emerges a purple-bronze color that is quite attractive, and when the tree is a little older this growth will be accompanied by hanging catkins of flowers.  Of particular note are the trees on the west side of the nursery property, as they did not receive any supplemental water in the most recent prolonged drought, yet they really never missed a beat. Taiwan was in a severe drought when I visited in early 2015, and many adjacent natives were clearly wilted and suffering while Q. glauca looked flawless.

— Adam Black

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Dyschoriste linearis – Snake Herb

Dyschoriste linearis


Dyschoriste linearis

Some might expect a “plant of the month” to be some exceptionally rare and boldly attractive plant. This month I wanted to focus on a groundcover that at first glance may seem quite humble in many ways, but is in fact incredibly versatile and has a unique charm of its own. I always liked Dyschoriste after growing a Florida native species prior to my move, but assumed others would never see its attractive qualities over the more flashy options. Shortly after starting at Peckerwood, I was surprised to find that one of our most reliable volunteers, Craig Jackson, shared my appreciation of the patch of Dyschoriste linearis that John has growing along the perennial border near the south entrance to the woodland garden. I then began to see that nurseries here in Texas actually carry this plant, and soon found that, when offered in our nursery, others were attracted to it and bought it, shattering my assumptions!

Snake Herb is an evergreen Texas native that is drought tolerant, cold hardy and low maintenance, with dense, weed-suppressing foliage that looks attractive year around. Dyschoriste linearis is a highly variable plant, with leaves that can be either thin and needle-like, or slightly more


Dyschoriste linearis

broad and elliptical. John’s plant is the broad-leaf form, but the linear-leaved form seems to be more common in the nursery trade. Both are equally attractive and create a low, dense mat of 8” to 12” tall evergreen stems that gradually form a tight, tidy clump. Throughout the warmer months, purple flowers resembling smaller versions of the related Ruellia are readily visible.

Naturally growing in dry, sunny spots in sandy or gravelly open areas, this plant is amazingly tolerant of neglect following establishment, after which water should only be necessary following long dry spells. The dense mat it forms tends to be compact and tight, but occasionally an errant runner will result in a random patch or two forming a short distance away from the main plant. Some may prefer to remove any satellite clumps if you are keeping a more formal, organized landscape, but for naturalizing it is simply a matter of preference. It is in no way an aggressive spreader, so it will not become something you regret planting and removal of undesired shoots easy.

South entrance to the Woodland Garden

In addition to its xeric qualities, snake herb will also grow in fertile garden soil with regular irrigation,


Quercus oblongifolia

provided there is excellent drainage and at least a fair portion of the day in full sun. Design ideas utilizing this plant include planting around bold foliage, like around the base of thick, succulent Agave leaves, or as a foreground layer in front of or in-between taller specimen perennials or low shrubs. I think its color and texture goes well with silver colored foliage. Gravel mulch around the plant really helps make the clump stand out compared with wood mulch or bare earth.

Don’t be put off by the common name “Snake Herb”, it does not attract snakes any better than other ground covers. In fact, I can’t readily find out why it has that common name. Other species elsewhere in the world, some of which form taller shrubs, have many cultural medicinal uses, and perhaps somewhere it has been used to treat snakebite. Quite possibly it is instead named for its long snakelike rhizomes which results in its ability to form a colony. Either way it is a valuable addition to any well-drained sunny landscape.

We currently have the needle-leaf form available in our nursery, but we are also rooting divisions of John’s elliptical-leaved form. Adam will be bringing a Florida collection of Dyschoriste oblongifolia to trial in Texas, and there are several other species native to the southern US to seek out in an attempt to broaden the palette of snake herb varieties that can be utilized for all their desirable qualities.

— Adam Black