Adam’s Notes from the Garden
The dramatic contrast of the woodland garden's transition to the gallery courtyard's dry plantings
It’s been a busy summer both on-site and with travel. We have lots of exciting developments on the horizon, and lots of collaborative collecting trips around the state and around the world. 
Though many folks finally got drenching rain recently, it completely avoided the garden, and exacerbated by the average daytime high temperatures around 100º F we are having to provide more supplemental water than normal. Thankfully, since John Fairey built Peckerwood with these harsh conditions in mind, everything looks great as usual.
Visitors often are surprised that our plants are not suffering in the dry, baking Texas summers. Though we do water, we only do so when the plants tell us they need it. In the woodland garden, we turn on the sprinklers manually when the Farfugium start sagging. They are a great visual indicator that other plants will soon experience drought stress. We don’t run sprinklers on timers as this results in “soft” plants that become accustomed to regular doses of water and are less durable during inevitable irrigation system malfunctions. It is better to toughen up plants by not allowing them to expect water on a regular schedule. They will adapt and be more forgiving, and you will use less water in the long run.
Bouchea linifolia (foreground) flowering among xeric plants around the Blue Wall
The 30 foot tall inflorescence of Agave sp . 'Miquihuana Silver'
One of John’s favorite Mexican agaves just finished flowering atop a nearly 30 foot inflorescence – quite impressive. An unknown species he named ‘Miquihuana Silver,’ its normaly upswept, clean silvery blue foliage has already been drained of the energy reallocated to the production of the massive flower spike. Fortunately this species offsets freely so we have several other individuals of varying sizes, and some for sale in our nursery. 
Two nearby clumps of squid agave ( Agave bracteosa) each produced two synchronized flower spikes this year. I’ve heard varying opinions on whether this species does - or doesn’t - die after flowering like most agaves. More often, I am asked why one won’t flower. Here is my thought based on observations here. Our flowering clumps are just that - 4-foot in diameter masses of many rosettes. One of the two clumps also flowered last year. I’ve seen many gardeners thin their clumps, either to share with friends, or simply to avoid the tangled, unkempt appearance that develops over time. Our patches that get thinned for better appearance have never flowered, while the two that never get thinned out do flower, leading me to believe the combined energy of the entire clump allows for one of the older rosettes to send up a flower spike. Following flowering, the individual flowering rosette yellows and dies, while the rest of the colony remains alive to flower again the following year.
Erythrina vespertilio
Mimosa dysocarpa with cotton candy colored foliage that fades to white
Another surprise is a little-known yet quite cold-hardy orchid tree Bauhinia coulteri that has been flowering daily the past few weeks. More on this special plant in our “Plant of the Month” section in this newsletter.
August and September Dates to visit Peckerwood Garden!
August 25, 10 am - 3 pm
Special summer highlights will be the showcase for the August Open Day. Join us for a walk through the garden, mostly in the shaded woodland areas.

Register ahead or purchase tickets onsite.
Peckerwood Garden Insiders Tour
September 1, 1 tour at 10 am

One of the more notable collections at Peckerwood Garden is the “woody lilies”, which include the familiar agaves, yuccas, and Dasylirion (grass trees/sotol), many of which were collected by our founder John Fairey and Carl Schoenfeld in Mexico and introduced into horticulture. There are many other members of this family in our collection, some familiar and some rarely cultivated, including Manfreda, Beschorneria, Nolina, Polianthes, Hesperaloe and many more. Though often thought of as desert plants, many do grow in the shade, and some even grow in moist environments, creating options for nearly any garden’s conditions. Come explore the surprising diversity of these indispensable architectural plants that give a bold, southwest feel to any low-maintenance garden, learn tips on growing them properly, and get a sneak preview of new additions to our growing collection.

There will be one tour at 10 am.
September Evening at Peckerwood Garden Lecture
September 15, 5:00 pm

Peckerwood Garden welcomes Mike Shoup of the famous Antique Rose Emporium near Brenham, TX. Watch here for more details about his fascinating and educational presentation prior to the event. Get your tickets now!  

Pre-lecture tour at 3:30 pm. Refreshments and lecture at 5:00 pm
Plant of the month: Bauhinia coulteri
By Adam Black
We have a great collection of hardy “orchid trees” of the genus Bauhinia here at Peckerwood. Some are surprisingly hardy, with some like B. macranthera and B. ramosissima never flinching when we get a blast of cold into the teens. One particular plant in the garden had mystified me until recently – a small multi-stemmed shrub about 2 feet high with silver dollar sized foliage that was quite round and glossy yet still in the cloven-hoof shape typical to most bauhinias. The tag showed it was a 1999 wild collection from Mexico, on the road from Xilitla in San Luis Potosi to Jalpan, to the west in Queretaro. Why was it so small for being nearly 19 years old? I first thought maybe it was freezing to the ground in the harshest winters, and resprouting, but the base of the plant gave no indication of regular regeneration. Having seen it endure the past winter’s two consecutive nights at 14ºF and 16ºF without any foliar damage, this surely didn’t account for its minimal stature. Furthermore, there was no indication it had been pruned back.
I was excited to see flower buds finally forming in early June. Before they opened, I was discussing with John some other plants in the vicinity, when he noted that there “used to be” Bauhinia coulteri planted nearby. He explained having collected it on the road to Jalpan and how he never saw plants bigger than a few feet tall. Once I realized he was talking about the mystery species, I confidently told him this plant was still alive, and about to flower. He described the flower as a peach or apricot color, which sounded exciting considering most of the other hardy Mexican Bauhinia species were pink to purple or white.
Rather than wait for the surprise, I cheated and looked up the species online, finding a few in-situ shots of a showy apricot-blushed flower with darker striations, the five broad petals arranged in a half-circle. I could find no reports of it being in cultivation anywhere else. The next day, I went out to check the development of the buds, and sure enough, one was open! It was quite unexpectedly large in proportion to the foliage. We continued having a flower a day from the cluster of buds, then another cluster developed on another branch, continuing the non-stop show. We never had two flowers at once, which is probably why no seed pods developed. We always worry about backing up lone plants, so we plan to set up a few cuttings to have more individuals and to share with other gardens, and eventually to propagate to offer into horticulture.
Living and Extinct Botanical Jewels of Deep East Texas
The forests of east Texas, including the “Big Thicket” region are the western fringes of the expansive eastern woodlands, transitioning into the “Post Oak Savannah” roughly west of Interstate 45. Some plants that are rare in Texas are common in states eastward. Others are nowhere common in the U.S., sparingly scattered where suitable habitat remains. New discoveries are being made as more land is explored.
These forests were not always as they appear today, but there is plenty of evidence in the form of abundant fossilized wood that trees have dominated the region for millions of years. In the vicinity of Jasper County as well as other locations extending into Louisiana, a band of sandstone known to geologists as the Catahoula Formation erodes into hilly formations through the actions of flowing streams. The rock rarely presents itself on the surface, and the few natural outcrops tend to be along creek banks, but even then still subtle under a cover of fallen leaves, moss and understory plants. Occasional exposures are better seen on man-made roadcuts and other forms of land alteration.
I’ve joined several groups led by Peter in this region, often with naturalists Lori Horne and Keith Stephens. Until recently Keith worked for Campbell Global which owns a lot of the managed timber lands in the region, and in addition to being instrumental for our access to the property, he is in a position to ensure the protection off the localized treasures that are present in the region. Other regular attendees are Dawn Stover, research associate at Stephen F. Austin State University Mast Arboretum and Gardens, who has a particular love of native plants; and Joe Liggio, who co-authored “Wild Orchids of Texas” with his wife, Ann. It was great to get out in the field again with Rick Lewandowski, director of Shangri La Botanical Gardens in Orange and see Texas’s newest tree species he discovered. The Big Thicket bushwhacking twins Gerald and Darrell Durham are fun to have along with the local flavor they add to the experience
Peter Loos looking for ripe seed in the canopy of a Cornus alternifolia .
The rare lady's slipper orchid, Cypripedium kentuckiense
The highlight of a trip in early April was to see the amazing Kentucky lady slipper orchid, Cypripedium kentuckiense . Now quite rare, the remaining known plants inhabit the shady ravine slopes where the Catahoula formation erodes out. As luck would have it, my first sighting of this orchid in the wild happened to coincide with the best flowering in several years of a particularly large clump bearing six flowers. A beam of light penetrating the canopy overhead was hitting them just right, their plump pouch-like labellums glowing like yellow light bulbs between their twisted pairs of long hanging lateral petals with rusty purple striations – patterns similarly mirrored on the hood-like dorsal sepal. We checked a few other plants in the region, most of which were not flowering. It is these entrancing flowers that tempt people to dig these plants from the wild to add them to their gardens. Without the combinations of exacting conditions this plant situates itself in, the transplants always quickly fail, even for gardeners who make an attempt to replicate the plant’s growing conditions. 
I’ve always been attracted to trilliums, of which there are a few species that call the forested ravines of east Texas home. I had seen all the native species, except Trillium ludovicianum which is only known near the Louisiana border, so Peter took me to see several populations. I had grown this species from a couple different Louisiana provenances, where it is much more common, and these Texas plants looked fairly different to me. Recent DNA research is starting to uncover other cryptic Trillium species that have been hiding under our noses all this time due to similarities with known species, and I, as well as other trillium researchers are wondering about these as well.
The next trip, in early May, coincided with the flowering of one of North America’s most spectacular flowering shrubs, Stewartia malacodendron . Also known as “silky camellia,” its flowers remind of its close relatives in the genus Camellia . Most species of Stewartia occur in Asia, but two are found in the southeastern U.S. Silky camellia has a very spotty distribution in the coastal plain, limited to sites with very specific conditions ranging from southern Virginia to northern Florida and around the Gulf Coast. In Texas, it is only found along a short stretch of one small creek that incises through the Catahoula formation in Newton County.
Trillium ludovicianum
Stewartia malacodendron
 I’ve long known a number of silky camellia populations are in the wilds of the Florida panhandle, yet in all my years living there, I never once caught them in flower. For some reason, despite being one of those “bucket list” flowers that some make pilgrimages to catch a glimpse of in-situ, I always would forget to make a special trip to catch them in their full glory. This trip was going to finally be my opportunity.
Upon arriving at a backwoods creek crossing, the white flowers of at least half a dozen individuals were quite conspicuous even from our vehicles. The flowers were so large they seemed too exotic among the typical flora of the region. To truly appreciate what makes these flowers so alluring, you have to inspect their finer details up close. Approaching the rosettes of milk-white petals, the dark centers soon reveal they are composed of numerous stamens colored an intense royal purple, tipped with electric blue anthers. As a foil to this delicate art, the petals further reveal their graceful undulating margins.
Other less-showy yet nonetheless interesting plants abound in the area. An interesting Clematis species with pink flowers draped itself in the shrubbery around clearings. Though it is similar to C. reticulata , it may soon prove to be a new species following a broader study underway. In the understory, the parsley-like foliage of another plant reaches its westernmost limit, and is easily overlooked if one isn’t specifically looking for it. Yellowroot, Xanthorhiza simplicissima, is more abundant in the southern Appalachians, with a large gap between this limited population around the TX/LA border and then next closest records in eastern Mississippi.
Despite close similarities to Clematis reticulata and C. pitcheri , this may prove to be a new species pending current research
SFA Garden's Dawn Stover photographing Stewartia malacodendron
What may prove to be a previously unrecorded Texas population of big-leaf witch hazel, Hamamelis ovalis , also occurs here. This is another species documented in Alabama and Mississippi, but when not in flower it is easily confused with the common witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, that also grows in the region. It is likely that H. ovalis will prove to be more wide-ranging the more people look for it.
Adding to the theme of disjunct westernmost populations and new localized discoveries in deep east Texas, it was exciting that our next stop was to see the state’s newest documented tree species. In 2016, Rick Lewandowski was exploring a stream in Jasper County, focused more on the abundant petrified wood in the streambed. He then recognized a small tree that he was very familiar with when he lived in the northeastern U.S. but was surprised to see here. The pagoda dogwood, Cornus alternifolia , is typically found from Newfoundland down the Appalachians with a few rare populations reaching southern Mississippi and northwest Florida. Avoiding the Mississippi River valley, its range then wraps around the great lakes region to Minnesota and extends down to northern Arkansas. Therefore, Rick’s chance discovery of a small population in southeast Texas is quite curious.
I have found broken chunks of petrified wood all over eastern Texas, and we even have small pieces in the creek that runs through Peckerwood. However, the abundance of large fossil tree trunks in the cool, shallow stream we were wading through to observe the pagoda dogwoods was quite unexpected, with literal log-jams in some stretches of the stream. Some could easily be mistaken for “real” wood in color and in the detail in the grain, complete with knot holes and signs of insect activity. Others showed colorful hues of mineralization in various shades of grey, brown, black, tan and red. A few particularly large logs were 2 feet in diameter, and usually in sections less than 5 feet long.
Prized in this region is fossilized palm “wood,” which is not technically true wood. In fossil form, it preserves the bundles of rod-like structures within the palm’s stem, which in cross-section gives it a distinctive spotted appearance, often quite contrastingly colorful. In fact, fossil palm wood is the state stone of Texas.
A log jam of fossilized wood from forests that covered east Texas millions of years ago.
Texas's newest tree species record - Cornus alternifolia
Eventually we reached the first pagoda dogwood beautifully outstretched over the stream in a light gap. Lacking the large, showy white bracts of the more familiar flowering dogwood, Cornus florida , it is nonetheless attractive with its creamy white clusters of small flowers. The alternating arrangement of the prominently veined foliage is quite ornamental. Our visit was long after the spring blooms, but immature fruits were developing. Trekking further downstream, being careful not to trip on fossil logs, more trees periodically cropped up along the bank.
We returned weeks later to collect seeds and cuttings to get this population backed up at Peckerwood, SFA Gardens and to share with other conservation-oriented gardens in suitable locations. Once we have these local genetics safely represented in cultivation, we can furthermore evaluate this beautiful shrub for its adaptability to local landscape use. Northern forms commonly cultivated in those cooler regions would not likely be able to tolerate our hostile conditions, but these of Texas provenance trees should stand a better chance when sited properly. It remains an esoteric garden plant, but it can offer greater diversity to native-themed landscapes.
You might wonder if we also collected the stunning Stewartia for conservation and for its ornamental potential. Unfortunately this species is known to be highly challenging to grow. Seeds are easy to germinate and will grow well for a while in a pot, but they almost always quickly fail when transplanted into the landscape. John Fairey has tried several times to grow this species at Peckerwood Garden but so far none have survived. He once told me of his own excitement as a youngster finding this rare beauty in full bloom near his home in South Carolina and making his family come out into the woods to see it. 

On rare occasions lucky gardeners have had success, especially if they mimic the sloped, well-drained conditions and soil preferences. Further suggestions I’ve heard are to transplant without any disturbance to the root ball, sowing seeds in the ground to eliminate the transplanting process, and even mixing in some soil from the plant’s natural location with the thought that it might inoculate the growing site with the necessary mycorrhizae. One friend in Florida planted a few dozen plants in likely spots around his property, and he got one to survive.
Fossil palm frond of Sabalites sp. , ancestor to our modern Sabal species
Following the successful collection of cuttings and seeds from pagoda dogwood, we ended our day with a trek to see a complete fossil palm frond impression in a rock near another stream in Jasper County. We headed down a cleared utility right-of-way, parking above a steep ravine. During some earthmoving when utilities were installed, some Catahoula Formation sandstone boulders were dug up and cast aside, lining the edge of the clearing. Walking down the hill, rough linear impressions of fragmentary palm fronds became apparent in some of the rocks. Further down the ravine, we spotted the perfect frond splayed out on a flat rock face.
Indistinguishable from modern-day Sabal species, these fossil leaves are assigned to the extinct genus Sabalites . Though assumptions can be made that these leaves are from the same species whose trunk sections can be found in the creeks, all petrified palm stems are scientifically considered the genus Palmoxylon since, lacking intact fossilized palm trees, there is no definitive way to associate leaves with stems. After admiring the palm frond fossil, Keith pointed out its living counterpart, a dwarf palmetto, Sabal minor , growing just downslope from its distant ancestor. Since our visit, the exceptional palm leaf specimen has been relocated to a safe place with arrangements being made to put it on display in a museum.