What is your favorite plant today?
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Horticulture Stories


Stories from the park's horticulture team

What is your favorite plant today?

By Chris Gabbard, Director of Horticulture  

Spring is just around the corner and another winter is almost over. As a self-confessed plant nerd, I spent a good share of the colder months reading about new species I’ve yet to acquire, dreaming up new display ideas for the upcoming season, as well as welcoming the return of a sun hat over a wool beanie. Here at Gathering Place, the horticulture team is also approaching the end of our winter project lists which included prairie cutbacks, a fresh layer of mulch on all our perennial and woody plant beds and tree rings, cleaning up remaining fallen leaves, and finding locations to allow them to rot back into the soil as nature’s perfect fertilizer and soil amendment. Generally, the park starts coming alive in early spring, breaking dormancy and bursting with new growth. 

It is also the time when local plant clubs have started meeting to trade seeds and ideas and talk about what’s new. It was at one of these meetings where I was asked a very common question and one I often struggle with: What is your favorite plant? That is almost like asking someone: Which child is your favorite?  

My idea of a favorite plant changes quickly, not unlike Oklahoma weather. Sometimes it’s not even the individual plants themselves, but how they might complement each other in groups through bloom, texture, and shape. Sometimes it’s my appreciation of how the landscapes we create bring in wildlife and become living classrooms for ecology, the symbioses of all life, as was the case recently as cedar waxwings started appearing at Gathering Place in flocks to take advantage of our many fruit bearing plants, fulfilling their important role as seed dispersers.   

I still feel, however, that I should be able to answer this simple question but one I suggest should be reworded to: What is your favorite plant today 

That brings me to today, March 7, 2023. During my routine walk through the park creating project lists, looking at displays, and generally relishing in the fact that I have the privilege of working in a park, I was reminded of a great candidate for this question.   

Planted around the ONEOK Boathouse is a peculiar tree full of character and one of the first flowering trees at Gathering Place, which is what caught my eye. The Persian ironwood tree, Parrotia persica, is native to Northern Iran and its Latin name refers to and honors the German naturalist F.W. Parrot. Its species translates to “Persian. This tree requires one to look for the details within a landscape, and those who do will be rewarded with gorgeous wine-red flower clusters.

However, the Parrotia does not stop there when it comes to interesting features. In contrast to the small flowers, this tree just screams chaos with its undulating branches that can seem like some kind of botanical lawlessness. Where other trees seem to stand tall, straight, and proper, Persian ironwood just seems to dance to its own music.  Bringing even more interest is the smooth, grey, muscular bark covered with light green lichens, which is particularly beautiful on a cloudy day.  


Persian ironwood is related to the witch-hazels in the Hamamelidaceae family and is a pleasing medium sized specimen tree reaching 30 to 40 feet that can bring interest to the landscape when combined with contrasting shapes and textures.  

What is your favorite plant today? 

About Chris

Chris is a native Tulsan who has worked in the green industry for over 35 years with experience in aquatic gardening, arboriculture, greenhouse production, park horticulture, and zoology. He has a passion for the interface between ornamental, natural landscapes, and how they enrich the lives for those who visit them as well as the habitat they provide for wildlife. Chris is a Certified Arborist through the International Association of Arboriculture and is Tree Risk Assessment Qualified. He is excited to serve as Director of Horticulture for Gathering Place.


Posted by Sydney Brown at 12:40