Halesia tetraptera (Located on the Mathews Nature Trail) Halesia tetraptera, commonly called Carolina Silverbell or Mountain Silverbell, is a small deciduous understory tree with a rounded crown that is often shrubby in habit. This member of the Styracaceae (Styrax) family is native to southeastern North America and blooms with masses of showy pendulous clusters of bell-shaped white flowers in April during leaf-out. The pollinated flowers produce four-winged, brown, nut-like fruits in the fall that often persist into winter. The foliage has good early yellow fall color. Carolina Silverbell is easily grown in average to well-drained soil in full sun to part shade and is a good companion plant for azaleas. Synonymous with Halesia carolina.
Trillium grandiflorum (Located on the Mathews Nature Trail) Trillium grandiflorum, commonly known as Great White Trillium, is an herbaceous perennial from 8-18 inches tall with graceful pedunculate white flowers in April. This member of the Melanthiaceae family is endemic to Eastern North America and is often referred to as a “spring ephemeral” because the foliage will usually die to the ground by summer. It is native to rich woods and stream banks in eastern North America from Canada south to Alabama and Georgia. Each flower has three ovate, wavy-edged, white petals that are reflexed at the tips and may turn pink with age. It requires moist but well-drained soils in part shade to full shade. Trillium grandiflorum is difficult to propagate from seed and does not transplant well. It can be slow to establish, but it spreads very gradually if left undisturbed, so if you have this plant in your yard, try to leave it where it is. This is an excellent plant for naturalizing a woodland garden.
Rhododendron austrinum (Located on the Bush Azalea Trail) Rhododendron austrinum, also known as Florida Azalea or Florida Flame Azalea, is an upright, deciduous woody shrub that typically grows to 6-10 feet tall and 4-6 feet wide. This member of the Ericaceae family is native to moist woods and along streams in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. R. austrinum has yellow to orange funnel-shaped flowers in dense clusters that bloom as the foliage emerges in the spring. It is adapted to grow well in acidic, well-drained soils in part shade – preferably, a sun-dappled shade or high open part shade, and will slowly naturalize in favorable conditions. The showy, fragrant flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies. It is also rabbit and deer resistant due to the presence of andromedotoxin in all parts of the plant making it poisonous if ingested.
Illicium floridanum (Located on the Mathews Nature Trail) Illicium floridanum, commonly called Florida Anise, is a large aromatic evergreen shrub that grows to 6-10 feet tall and 4-8 feet wide. This member of the Schisandraceae family is native to wet soils in wooded ravines and stream banks in the southeastern United States and northern Mexico. The showy dark red-maroon flowers bloom April-May and have strap-shaped petals followed by attractive star-shaped fruit. The foliage has an anise-like aroma when crushed and the flower is malodorous. It requires moist soils in part – full shade, although it tolerates full sun as long as soils are kept uniformly moist, and may colonize by root suckers when conditions are favorable. Illicium floridanum is protected in Florida as a threatened species. It makes an excellent evergreen screening shrub for moist shady locations. The flowers are attractive to a variety of pollinators and are resistant to damage by deer because all parts are poisonous if ingested.
Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum (Located on the Bush Azalea Trail) Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum, commonly known as Doublefile Viburnum, is a dense, upright, multi-trunked deciduous shrub that typically grows to 8-10 feet tall and approximately 12 feet wide. This member of Adoxaceae (the moschatel family) is native to forested areas in China and Japan. The pleated leaves are attractive in spring and summer and turn a burgundy-red color in the fall. Showy, white, non-fragrant flowers in flat-topped clusters bloom in profusion in two “files” or rows along the branches in April. Pollinated flowers produce red berry-like drupes in the summer that are ornamentally attractive and a food source for birds. V. plicatum f. tomentosum is the wild form of the cultivated Snowball Viburnum that has sterile round clusters of Hydrangea-like white flowers in late April. This low maintenance shrub is easily grown in average to well-drained soil in full sun to part shade and tolerates drought well once established.
From her time in the military, Tracy Cook developed a deep appreciation for family and home, and those things which conjure a sense of place; so she started keeping plants in pots to remind her of the manicured lawns and gardens of Huntsville, Alabama. As an undergraduate, Tracy sought to learn more about flowers to understand her successes and failures with her own plants. Since the completion of her Bachelor’s degree in Ornamental Horticulture, Tracy has done landscape design, installation sales, nursery management, and landscape maintenance.
In 2011, Tracy began working at the Huntsville Botanical Garden as a Horticulture Specialist; and since 2014 she has been assisting the Curator, Mike Gibson, with accessions, plant collections, and mapping. Through involvement with the Holmes Trillium Collection and Matthews Nature Trail, Tracy has an appreciation (obsession) for spring ephemerals and one plant in particular: our own federally endangered endemic Huntsville Vase Vine (Clematis morefieldii). Mapping and plant records are a large part of her contribution to the Garden as Assistant Curator, and she recently completed a graduate degree at Alabama A&M University using mapping tools for the conservation and promotion of native plants.
This blog is intended to shed light on what goes on behind the scenes in the plant records office. What does a curator or assistant curator at a botanical garden do? How and why do we add plants to our collections? What kind of research is being done to help plant conservation in the garden? I aim to answer these questions and more!