Lynn R. Lowrey Biography
The arboretum was named in honor of Lynn Lowrey (1917-1997), a well known Houston horticulturalist and collector who has been described as the founder of the native plant movement in Texas. Mr. Lowrey believed that Houston, due to its location, soil types, and climate is the land of opportunity for gardeners. Indeed, Lowrey's mark on the landscape of Houston is readily apparent now, nearly 50 years after his arrival. Lowery was best noted for the use of native Mexican and Texas plants in his landscapes.
Below are two memoriams to Lynn Lowrey for the benefit of those interested in the arboretum's namesake.
Remembering Lynn Lowrey
By Dr. David Creech (from SIDA 17(4): 847. 1997., and Native Plant Society of Texas. Native Pl. Soc. Texas News 15(5), September/October 1997.)
Lynn's passing June 28, 1997, was a hard blow to the gardening world. Another mighty oak has fallen. A living legend is gone. For many of us Lynn was one of those folks you run across in life you want to end up like. I knew Lynn from the late 60s as a TAMU Horticulture major working in the fruit science end of the program and, as a graduate student at TAMU, I crossed trails with him many times in the 70s. I was then looking for various native and exotic fruits adapted to East Texas conditions (pawpaws, blueberries, hawthornes, jujubes, etc.) and Lynn was the man to see. From TAMU to SFA and then the Arboretum and suddenly Lynn's footprints and mine crossed much more often. Trips to Mexico, to the backwoods, to nurseries, to gardens or just out and about with other plant friends was part of the plan. Simply put, from the beginning, Lynn struck me as a genius with character.
For many of us, Lynn really was a legend in his own time. His impact on southern landscapes reaches almost as far as his effect on people. I could never decide if Lynn was born 100 years too late or too early. Both fit. Always a quiet reservoir of plant knowledge, always eager to learn and share, Lynn was blessed with humility and great humanity. His expertise was unquestioned; whether it was a botanist, horticulturist or adventurous landscape designer visiting the state, Lynn was always high on a list of people to see. Lynn was more a true plantsman than a true nurseryman. Hard for him to stay in one spot, hard for one to make a firm appointment with, Lynn liked to wander here and there collecting seed or plants. He enjoyed connecting with someone who knew about this or that plant or that person who was working with...
Throughout his career--and there's no point in recounting all the names and locations of Lynn's nursery haunts--Lynn brought adventure and excitement to the nursery and landscape industry in the south. The Mexico oaks are only the tip of the iceberg. Many gardens across the south are blessed with living memorials to the oh-so-many plants that Lynn showered on the world. Who can't appreciate Lynn's big leaf yaupon? The Arboretum's Lynn Lowery American Holly selections--cuttings grown from superior East Texas trees--are now robust 10' females with large berries and clean foliage.
There's that special Oakleaf hydrangea sporting large tresses and good fall color over by the perennial border; it deserves a name--collected by Lynn near Angola Prison in Louisiana. Lynn felt that the Wisteria frutescens, our native Westeria--white and blue forms--were worthy of greater use and certainly easier to manage than those rude Japanese and Chinese cousins. Hmmm...what about the soapberry with exceptionally narrow leaves? What about the Hersperaloe from Mamuluke pass? The Mahonias? For those of us who knew him, the list never ends. And that is what Lynn would want us to think about him when we thought about him--the plants.
Lynn's impact amazes many of us academic and non-academic types who write and speak for a living in the amazing gardening world of Texas. Lynn wrote little and spoke less. Yet, his followers are legion. The power of his message was more than just the plants. It was an attitude to live by. Before it was politically correct, Lynn spoke and wrote quietly on biodiversity, taking advantage of microhabitats, and understanding the importance of site preparation, plant community development, natural form in design, using superior and adapted natives and exotics. One day Lynn and I were working along a fence row south of Navasota off a red clay road, collecting seed and cutting from a bright orange-berried, deciduous holly that mixed into a swarm of native trees and shrubs and herbaceous and God knows what. Lynn said that he didn't see how you could much improve on where we were at--kind of God's design.
While Lynn was no doubt an adventurous gardener, he didn't stop there. He also became a role model to live by. I always felt that business to Lynn--even money--was just a distraction, something that had to be dealt with as little as possible. Down deep, he'd rather give away plants than sell them. Lynn's goal in life was to work at what he loved to do and share it with the world. Lynn did that better than anyone. Perhaps more important than the plants or the gardens, maybe Lynn's greatest talent was in putting people together. Whether connecting medical researchers and cancer foundations with rare cancer-fighting plants like the Happy tree of China, or locating Taxus globosa in the mountains of Mexico for the Arnold Arboretum, or hunting down a particular genotype for a botanist, or chasing down a natural hybrid between two related genera--Lynn was always there to help out--to make something happen. Amazing to me, he never thought much about all this. He seemed to think he wasn't really doing all that much, that everyone else was doing a lot of good or that others work was "really important." That's what Lynn saw in people--the good. I think all the people, the plants and gardening did that to him. Matt Welch, one of my students, gave me this quote the day after the Lowrey memorial and the message kind of stuck. "Maybe a garden is not like an artistic creation, but more like a relationship. It is not so much designed as it is nurtured and managed. Imperfections, inconsistencies, and incongruities say that the relationship has some vitality to it, and that the gardener is engaged in a dialog and doesn't need to have the last word."--Tom Little, 1996. Lynn Lowrey never even intended to have the last word; his gardens, his plants and his people will do it for him.
Lynn R. Lowrey, Plantsman
By Mary Anne Pickens
Presented at the 17th Annual Meeting of Southern Garden History Society, Houston, Texas, March 26-28, 1999.
Houston horticulture in recent years has been greatly influenced by a quiet, unassuming man, a Southern gentleman, who truly became a legend in his own time. Lynn Lowrey was a horticulturist by training, a collector by nature. He collected plants and he collected people. A mentor to many, Lowrey left a horticultural legacy to Houston and to Texas. Who was Lynn Lowrey? What did he do? He published no books and only a few articles, yet other authors acknowledged him and dedicated books to him. None of his nurseries were grand successes, yet he influenced other nurserymen in their choice of plant material. He collected and promoted many plants, yet only one rare Camptotheca tree that will probably never be seen outside China carries his name. He was the acknowledged leader in the native plant movement in Texas, yet he rarely attended the meetings of the Native Plant Society of Texas. He hated crowds, yet when he died those who attended his memorial service represented many branches of the Agricultural Extension Service, major universities, arboretums, wholesale and retail nurseries, landscape architects and landscape design companies. Each of those attendees was his friend, each had a connection and a sphere of influence in the world of horticulture and gardening, and each had been touched Lynn Lowrey.
Lowrey was born in Mansfield, Louisiana, on May 30, 1917. He graduated from Louisiana State University in 1940 with a degree in horticulture. After serving four years in the United States Army during World War II, he came to Houston in the 1950s where he took a job with Teas Nursery, an established Houston firm.
In a few years, he opened his own nursery, launching the career that would establish him as an internationally acclaimed horticulturist. Through the years his nurseries always carried unusual plant material which he deemed garden worthy. The sign in front of his first nursery on Westheimer Street in Houston advertised fruit trees, rare plants and native plants. Lowrey felt that natives were under used and were a source of readily adaptable plant material for our gardens. His first efforts at advertising native plants met with little success, however, and he recalled years later that when he put out a sign advertising wild azaleas that it must have brought in at least one car a week.1
Reflecting about people’s reluctance to use native plants, he said:
Maybe people thought that wild plants in Texas couldn’t be very good for "civilized plantings." I have heard the statement in the past, "Why that grows wild" as if that was an indictment, and it couldn't be considered for planting.2
Lowrey’s bywords were: "This is a great plant. Take it and try it." Often he would say, "This is a Very Important Plant," but then all plants were VIP to Lowrey.3 Anxious to test the limits of plants, he gave them to friends across the state. Friends who lived in San Antonio recalled Lowrey’s fascination with East Texas plants while friends who lived in East Texas recalled his fascination with South Texas plants. Lowrey was simply testing his favorites for adaptability beyond their normal range.
While others may recognize Lowrey as a pioneer in the native plant movement in Texas, he never acknowledged his role. He left it to others to do the organizational things and make the speeches to promote using native plants in the landscape. Lowrey pioneered in a unique way. He simply started using native material in his landscapes and encouraging others to do the same. He felt that formal design was inappropriate for most of our gardens and he encouraged a more natural look to soften the view of our buildings. He liked using native plants and seeing how they would perform in our gardens. Some of his first landscape jobs with their natural look raised some eyebrows. His landscaping was not always popular, but gradually he caused a shift in our collective thinking about our landscapes. Concerned that as the amount of pavement increases our natural environment decreases, Lowrey believed that through our landscaping we could improve our environment. In one of his nursery newsletters, Lowrey said:
Landscape design is usually viewed as the art of arranging lawns, trees and shrubs on a site to make it more attractive. This view is expanding to include the functions that landscape design can perform to improve the environment of a site.4
Today a garden style that is widely promoted by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is one called Wildscape which encourages using native plants in natural landscaping to provide cover and food for wildlife, particularly for birds and butterflies. That style was not widespread in the 1950s, but it was a style that Lowrey used.
At one of the first River Oaks homes he landscaped in Houston, Lowrey planted a natural looking thicket of trees and shrubs to shield the house from the busy street. The landscape must have caused quite a stir and a good bit of discussion in the neighborhood.5 Here was a landscape without neatly clipped hedges, without azaleas, and without the traditional expanse of front lawn. Driving through River Oaks today, one can see many examples of naturalistic landscaping incorporating native plants, including Lowrey’s first.
In Lynn Lowrey’s mind, Houston was the land of opportunity for gardeners. He knew that Houston could accommodate a wide range of plant material. In one of his newsletters he wrote an article which he titled "Houston: Crossroads of East and West, Temperate and Subtropics." He said:
Houston, despite soil and moisture problems is a crossroads of plant types. We can grow maples and palms, pines and acacias. The Southeastern pine forests find their southwestern limit in Houston. The western prairie with huisache and mesquite comes up to Alief on the west side of Houston. The temperate forest trees come right down to Buffalo Bayou, and the mild Gulf coast climate lets us grow bananas, cycads and oleanders. Also our different soil types: gumbo-clay, concrete hard sand-clay, and humus poor deep sand make gardening more demanding and interesting. Still we can grow such a great variety of plants that Houston can be one of the most interesting places to garden.6
In the early 1970s, Lowrey installed a commercial landscape for Clark Southline Equipment Company on Cavalcade, near I-45 in Houston. Today, nearly 30 years later, the lush landscape stands as a testimony to Lowrey and his bent towards using unusual combinations of plants. The owner of the company loved palms, and Lowrey obligingly incorporated them into the landscape, along with plants from various sites in Texas, the South, Mexico, and Asia. Garden writers Sally and Andy Wasowski describe the planting:
In the tradition of classic botanic gardens that plant according to taxonomy instead of by habitat, he also planted a few foreign versions of plants in the same family, such as Clethra macrophylla from Mexico along side Clethra alnifolia from Alabama and Berberis juliana from Asia along with agarito, Berberis trifoliata, from the Texas Hill Country.7
Many plants that seem quite common today were not being used in our Houston landscapes when Lowrey started in the nursery business. As he encouraged others to try new plants, he often gave away more plants than he sold. Arboretums and public gardens, public schools, college campuses and private gardens across the state are botanically richer today because of his gifts. The Houston Arboretum, Mercer Arboretum, The Robert A. Vines Environmental Science Center Arboretum, Bayou Bend, San Antonio Botanical Gardens, Stephen F. Austin Arboretum and many other lesser known gardens all house plants from Lowrey. Paul Cox, San Antonio Botanical Gardens, said that it wasn’t uncommon to have "mystery" plants appear at the arboretum’s doorstep and he would always know that Lowrey had been by.8
In the 1950s when most people were satisfied with clipped privet or ligustrum, Lowrey was using Wax Myrtle, Myrica cerifera and Wild Olive, Cordia boissieri. When his customers wanted nothing but the new Fashion Azalea, Lowrey would persuade them to also find a place for Parsley Hawthorn, Crataegus marshallii to provide additional spring flowers.9 He was one of the first to use Central Texas Mountain Laurels, Sophora secundiflora in Houston, as well as the rare South Texas Anacacho Orchid, Bauhinia lunarioides. In spite of liking to use native plants, Lowrey never limited himself to just natives. William C. Welch, Professor and Landscape Horticulturist, A & M Extension Service, recalled in the early 1960s when he and Lowrey were in business together, they often used Bradford Pears in their landscaping and recalls their plantings of Bradford Pears in the esplanade in the Memorial Westchester subdivision during that time. Welch pointed out that Lowrey always wanted to enlarge our plant palette and was willing to try any plant. Welch also recalled that people trusted Lowrey and were receptive to his ideas. His quiet, gentlemanly manner won him many friends, including some who were quite influential in Houston.10 Today plants all over Houston stand as silent tributes to Lowrey. A large ornamental pear tree on the grounds of St. John’s School was a gallon sized twig when Lowrey helped the neighborhood Bluebird group to plant it one Arbor Day in the 1960s.11
Lowrey’s travels and collecting in Mexico certainly enlarged our plant palette and new landscaping around Houston today reflects his influence. The Contemporary Arts Museum has recently planted a row of one of his favorites, the Mexican Sycamore, Platanus mexicana. Lowrey believed it to be a hardy sycamore, more resistant to anthracnos than our native species, more drought tolerant, and more attractive with its large, almost velvety leaves. He encouraged the use of this tree and planted several on the grounds of Festival Institute, Round Top, Texas, in the 1970s.
Perhaps the trees that are most identified with Lowrey are the Mexican Oaks: Quercus polymorpha, Q. risophylla, and Q. canbyi. All are commonly used in Houston now. In addition to providing variety for us, these oaks seem resistant to oak wilt, which has become quite a problem in many areas of the state. Through the years, Lowrey made numerous trips to Mexico to collect acorns from specimens that he considered outstanding.
Another Lowrey plant commonly used in Houston gardens is a crape myrtle hybrid named ‘Basham’s Party Pink.’ In about 1960, Lowrey obtained specimens of Lagerstroemia fauriei, a Japanese crape myrtle with attractive dark reddish brown bark, from the United States National Arboretum. L. fauriei is more resistant to powdery mildew than the traditional Lagerstroemia indica we have used for so many years. Lowrey began to grow L. fauriei and, of course, shared them with his friends. He gave one to Bill Basham, horticulturist for the city of Houston. Basham had specimens of L. indica in his garden, and eventually a seedling turned up that was a cross between the two. Lowrey collected the seedling in 1963, began propagating it, and of course, encouraged others to try it. Greg Grant, Stephen F. Austin University, believes this was the first L. fauriei hybrid introduction made anywhere.12 In 1967, the National Arboretum began using ‘Basham’s Party Pink’ in their hybridization work. They released their first hybrid, ‘Natchez’ in 1978, fifteen years after Lowrey’s introduction of ‘Bashsam’s Party Pink.’ In 1982 the National Arboretum released ‘Tuscarora,’ a coral flowered selection resulting from crossing ‘Basham’s Party Pink’ with L. indica ‘Cherokee.’ 13 Today hybrids are quite common with new introductions each year from the National Arboretum, but Lowrey had been the pioneer in the field. ‘Basham’s Party Pink’ is widely available and is marketed by Color Spot in San Antonio.
Although Lowrey’s primary interest was woody material, there are a number of perennials that are quite common now in our gardens and can be attributed to him. Ruellia brittoniana var.‘Katie’ is a popular little Ruellia with many gardeners and its popularity can be traced to Lowrey. Shortly after Lowrey sold his nursery in Conroe, Texas, to his friend Katie Fergerson, two employees, Herbert Durand and Nolan Guillot, discovered a little natural hybrid Ruellia. When it was brought to Lowrey’s attention, he began testing it, sharing it, and promoting it. Commonly called ‘Katie’ Ruellia, it is now marketed widely and provides color in our long, hot, humid Houston summers.14 In subsequent work, Greg Grant used Katie Ruellia as the female parent to cross with a standard pink Ruellia to produce the ‘Bonita Dwarf Pink Ruellia. Grant’s pink selection is sometimes called ‘Dwarf Katie Pink’ Ruellia.15
The Skullcap, Scutellaria suffrutescens is another popular Lowrey plant. David Creech, Director of Stephen F. Austin Arboretum, recalls being with Lowrey on a trip to Mexico in 1988 and asking Lowrey about the name of the plant with the red flowers. Lowrey responded, "What red flowers?" Lowrey had not seen it because he was red colorblind. At the end of the day, however, he told Creech that the Scutellaria would probably turn out to be the most important plant of the day.16 Its current popularity in many gardens supports his remarks.
When we think of the glorious days of plant collecting, we may remember Robert Fortune in China, or David Douglas in the Pacific Northwest or even Ferdinand Lindheimer in Texas. Lynn Lowrey joins their ranks as a Twentieth Century plant collector, collecting not for Kew Gardens or Asa Gray, but for us in our gardens. Although most of the plants Lowrey collected were not new to science, he always watched for the good forms: the yaupon with the slightly larger leaf, the maple with a bit brighter color, the persimmon with the attractive bark, the azalea with the best flower, or the agave with the deepest blue blade. From these, Lowrey would collect seeds or cuttings to propagate and he always shared them with his friends. He loved the "thrill of the chase" of plant collecting. He collected from the pine woods of East Texas to the limestone ledges of the Hill Country, from the brush land of South Texas on to the Big Bend and the Chihuahuahn Desert, and perhaps most importantly, into Northern Mexico and the mountains around Monterrey. In a memorial tribute to his friend Benny Simpson, Lowrey described the excitement of those collecting trips with friends:
Plant hunting with Benny, Carroll Abbott and Barton Warnock17 was like an expedition looking for gold nuggets. While a trip through an East Texas forest might be boring to some, to locate a chalk maple and validate its occurrence in Texas was a big discovery to Benny and me. To see a field of new-to-us flowering shrubs in the Brush south of Freer and realize these were the rare Coursetia axillaris (Baby Bonnets) was great excitement.18
Lowrey was fascinated with the plants in Mexico. He made his first trip to Mexico in 1937, while still a student at Louisiana State University. Through the years he made more than sixty to collect plant material. His friend Benny Simpson would never accompany him and would tell him there was enough material in Texas to occupy anyone for a lifetime.19 Collecting in Mexico became almost an obsession with Lowrey. His son-in-law, Mike Anderson, recalled that Lowrey liked to collect in the mountains around Monterrey at elevations between 3000-6000 feet because he felt these plants would adapt to Houston’s growing conditions. In elevations lower than that, the plants were more suitable for dryer climates.20
In 1988, John Fairey, owner of Peckerwood Gardens and Yucca Do Nursery near Hempstead, was one of a number of people who accompanied Lowrey to Mexico. Fairey wrote:
This first expedition with Lynn made a marked change in our lives and would forever alter the future direction of Yucca Do Nursery and Peckerwood Garden. During the next four days, we saw everything from high-altitude cloud forest to desert–an intense introduction to a new way of seeing. Searching for plants began early in the morning and often continued by flashlight, until after ten at night. Lynn is a storehouse of hard earned knowledge from decades of wide-ranging travel throughout Mexico and Texas. He generously shared ideas and information about everything, from obtaining collecting permits on both sides of the border to timesaving tips, and methods of cleaning, storing, and germinating seed. He is a master of making the exhausting work of plant hunting an adventure in learning. This memorable expedition laid the foundation for our desire to further explore Mexican flora.21
On one of his collecting trips to Mexico in 1982, Lowrey and his friends Emmett Dodd and Dr. Ray Jordan discovered a small tree that was classified later as a new legume and was named Myrospermum sousanum. A rare, usually multi-trunked small tree, M. sousanum has white pea-like flowers. Dr. Marshall Johnston and Alfonso Delgado, botanists at The University of Texas at Austin, wrote the description of the plant.22 The plant can be found in arboretums across the state. Lowrey felt that finding Myrospermum sousanum indicated the importance of looking for additional plant material in Mexico. Jerry Parsons, Professor and Horticulturist, Texas A & M University-Extension Service, remembered trying to convince Lowrey that he permit the botanists to name the new legume for him. Lowrey was most adamant in his refusal, prompting his friend Barton Warnock to tell him that it doesn’t hurt to have a plant named for you.23 Lowrey stood firm and the legume was named for Dr. Mario Sousa, an authority on the legumes of Mexico.24
Lowrey’s collecting skills were responsible for his one brief departure from his own nursery business. In the early 1980s, Joe Bradbury, President of Lone Star Growers (now Color Spot), a large wholesale nursery in San Antonio, offered Lowrey a position to collect and provide them with new plant material. Jerry Parsons recalls that Bradbury had been impressed with a large Montezuma Cypress, Taxodium mucronatum in Parson’s back yard and upon learning that Lowrey had collected and grown it, Bradbury decided to embark on a native plant venture with Lowrey as his native plant specialists. This was the first time a major Texas wholesale grower showed any interest in native plants. According to Parsons, Bradbury had not met Lowrey before he hired him, but was willing to put forth a sizable investment because of Lowrey’s reputation. Parson feels this says "quite a bit about the man (Lowrey) and his legend." 25
Mike Anderson recalls that Lone Star offered Lowrey a salary, a credit card, and a Pick-Up Truck and said, "Go Collect."26 What began as a promising partnership proved to be unsatisfactory. Lowrey’s nature did not allow him to fit into the corporate mold. Coworker Agnes Hubbard remembers Lowrey saying he did not like turning out thousands of plants "looking like little soldiers."27 He was happier doing his own collecting, sharing with his friends along the way. A few of Lowrey’s introductions are still marketed by Color Spot today, but most are available only through smaller wholesale growers who specialize in native plant material.
Although Lowrey taught many people, he did not call himself a teacher. He referred to himself as a student, saying he would be a student all his life. His careful observation and research of his beloved plants certainly made him a student, but by sharing his knowledge with so many others, he became the consummate teacher. His influence on other horticulturists, nurserymen, and landscape architects was phenomenal. Jill Nokes, author of How to Grow Native Plants, called him "a gentle guru." 28 Another friend, Agnes Hubbard, told of his teaching her to look at plants from the inside out. As they drove around, whether it was in downtown San Antonio or in the mountains of Mexico, he would quiz her about the Latin names of plants they were seeing. If she made an error in identification, he would patiently stop, point out subtleties about the plant–the color of the bark, the angle of the branches, some little something that would distinguish it from something similar. By doing this, she acknowledges, he gave her a foundation in botany that would enrich her life and her career always.29
Many other friends consider him their teacher and mentor. Sally and Andy Wasowski dedicated their book Native Texas Gardens to him, as did Mark and Mary Bowen with their book Habitat Gardening for Houston and Southeast Texas. University professors told their students about Lowrey and took them to gardens he had landscaped so they could see his work.30
Lynn Lowrey made Anderson Nursery in Houston his headquarters during the last part of his career. Owned by his son-in-law and daughter, Mike and Patsy Anderson, the nursery specializes in material of the traditional Lowrey vein: native and unusual plants, many of Mexican origin. Working primarily alone as the propagator in the nursery, Lowrey continued his associations with numerous horticulturists and nurserymen. He corresponded with many foreign horticulturists as well as those from across the United States. His daughter, Patsy Anderson, said it was not unusual for Lowrey to get calls form all over the world. Often when foreign visitors came to Washington to the United States National Arboretum, they were advised there to detour by way of Texas for a visit with Lynn Lowrey.31
In the last few years of his life, Lynn Lowrey became actively involved in growing Camptotheca acuminata trees for cancer research. Although research on Camptotheca sp. had been carried on for many years, a revival of interest in it and a shortage of available trees for research purposes prompted one researcher to call Lowrey. Until then, the only source of available trees for research purposes was California. Lowrey remembered years ago he had obtained some plants from his friend Tom Keeter, horticulturist for the city of San Antonio, and then had given one to another friend who lived north of Houston. Upon checking that tree, he found seedlings growing prolifically, so he collected some, brought them back to Anderson Nursery and began propagating them. Mike Anderson said they soon had 600 trees growing and had definitely cornered the market on Camptotheca. The trees were subsequently donated for research to the Stehlin Foundation for Cancer Research at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Houston and to Xylomed Research in Monroe, Louisiana.32
Camptotheca acuminata, called the "tree of Joy" or the "tree of Love" in China, had been introduced into the United States in 1911 by the USDA. In 1991, after Lowrey began propagating Camptotheca trees for research, he took some plants to David Creech for the Stephen F. Austin Arboretum. He gave Creech instructions to plant most of them outside but to keep a few in the greenhouse. Creech had not done anything with them when a few days later, Dr. Li Shiyou, visiting professor in the Stephen F. Austin University Department of Forestry, came knocking on his door inquiring if Creech happened to know where he could get Camptotheca trees. Creech recalled that he had helped Dr. Li previously with various materials such as mulch or extra pots, but it seemed almost ironic that Dr. Li knocked on the door at this particular time, hunting Camptothetca trees. Creech shared Lowrey’s seedlings with Dr. Li and shortly afterwards was able to introduce him to Lowrey. Through Lowrey’s contacts, Dr. Li received a grant for his research from the Houston Livestock Association, enabling him to go to China to study Camptotheca species in the wild.
Dr. Li invited David Creech to accompany him along with another friend of Lowrey’s, Katie Northrup. In December, 1996, they made a five-week tour of China, surveying existing Camptotheca trees. They found a new species in the Sichuan province which Dr. Li named Camptotheca lowreyana, thereby immortalizing Lowrey in the plant world. Camptotheca trees have now been declared endangered in China and no longer can be exported.33
In March 1995, after he became in Camptotheca propagation, Lowrey was concerned about funding for additional cancer research on the trees. He wrote in the American Nurseryman:
Camptotheca acuminata illustrated the importance of further studying plants for medicinal uses. Although much less is known about the healing properties of this plant than those of Taxus, it is one of the most promising plants in cancer research. Despite the need for evaluation of different strains and content of camptothecin in different parts of the tree, funds for this basic research have been insufficient.34
Through his skill in connecting people, Lowrey played a part in providing the funds for that research. Shortly before he died, he also took the experimental drug Camptothecin as part of his own cancer treatment.35
It seems fitting that Lowrey’s last work was such an important one. His fascination with plants had ranged from their use in landscaping to their use in medical research. His love of plants knew no boundaries, no constraints. His generosity to others continues. Even those he will never meet will benefit from his love of plants. Lowrey died on June 28, 1997.
On March 18, 1999, dedication ceremonies for the new Lynn R. Lowrey Arboretum on the campus of Rice University took place. Spearheaded by Charles Tapley, architect and landscape architect, and Jerald Mize, an attorney, businessman and plant enthusiast, the Arboretum will feature native Texas trees and shrubs. Initial plantings included two white oaks, two fringe trees, and a swamp chestnut oak. In addition to serving as a living memorial to Lowrey, the Arboretum will be used as an educational resource for Rice University.36 Lowrey’s legacy continues.
Awards Received by Lynn R. Lowrey
- Southwest Chapter ASLA Honor Award
- American Association of Nurseryman National Landscape Award to Lowrey Nursery in recognition of achievement in landscaping and beautification for North Loop Office Park.
- The Houston Botanical Society Environmental Achievement Award for personal achievement to Lynn R. Lowrey in recognition of his success in preserving endangered plant species native to Texas in city, and in propagating and establishing such plants in other suitable locations; his relentless pursuit of collecting and introducing native and other rare plants to the Houston area; his generosity in always sharing his knowledge and time with others.
- The Houston Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Municipal Art Commission presents an award of distinguished achievement to Lynn Lowery for an outstanding contribution to the environment of the city of Houston by tireless attention to natural planting throughout Houston.
- Tom Dodd, Jr., Award of Excellence Second Annual presented to Lynn Lowrey for his achievements in understanding, promoting and using native plants of North America.
- The Native Plant Society of Texas presents the Nancy Benedict Memorial Award for an act of conservation/service in the field of Native Texas Plants to Lynn Lowrey for his work on the conservation, propagation, distribution of Pistacia texana Swingle. Eighth Annual State Conference, Dallas, Texas.
- The Garden Club of America gratefully acknowledges the significant contribution to Horticulture by Lynn R. Lowrey for pioneering the use of native plants in the landscape and for generous sharing of his knowledge, time and plants. Garden Club of Houston, Zone IX.
- Sierra Club, Lone Star Chapter, Letter of Recognition for contributions to plant conservation in Texas, June 4, 1996, applauding Lowrey’s "many years of collecting, propagating, planting and promoting plants native to Texas and the Southwest … your efforts have gone a long way toward building appreciation for the value of native plants and the habitat that they provide."
- The Native Plant Society of Texas presents this Charles Leonard Weddle Memorial Award in recognition of a lifetime of service and devotion to the Texas native plants to Lynn Lowrey. Presented this 19th day of October, 1996, at the annual meeting of the Society, El Paso, Texas.
1 Lowrey, Lynn, Unpublished notes from interview with Sally Wasowski.
2 Lowrey, Lynn, Personal letter to Sally and Andy Wasowski, May, 1990.
3 Creech, David, Personal interview, Nacogdoches, Texas, December 17, 1998.
4 Lowrey, Lynn and Don Peacock, "Planting Today," Lowrey Nursery Newsletter, Conroe, Texas, undated.
5 Anderson, Mike and Patsy, Personal interviews, Houston, Texas, September 1, 1998.
6 Lowrey, Lynn, "Houston: Crossroads of East and West, Temperate and Subtopic," Lowrey Nursery Newsletter, Conroe, Texas, undated.
7 Wasowski, Sally and Andy Wasowski, Native Texas Gardens, Gulf Publishing Co., Houston, 1997, p 90.
8 Cox, Paul, Personal interview, San Antonio, Texas, January 28, 1999.
9 Fleming, Will, Personal interview, Columbus, Texas, January 29, 1999.
10 Welch, William C., Personal interview, College Station, Texas, January 18, 1999.
11 Jones, Ann, Personal interview, Houston, Texas, February 9, 1999.
12 Grant, Greg, Personal interview, Nacogdoches, Texas, December 18, 1998.
13 Egolf, Donald R., "National Arboretum introduces Lagerstroemia ‘Tuscarora’, Southern Florist & Nurseryman, June 11, 1982, p 8.
14 Lowrey, Lynn, "Ruellia brittoniana var. katie," American Nurseryman, February 1, 1991.
15 Parons, Jerry, E-mail, April, 1999.
16 Creech, 1998.
17 Benny Simpson (1928-1996), horticulturist, Texas A & M Research and Extension Center, Dallas, author of A Field Guide to Texas Trees; Carroll Abbott (1926-1984), founder of Green Horizons Seed Company, Kerrville, Texas, author of How to Know and Grow Texas Wildflowers; Barton Warnock (1911-1998), Professor Biology, Sul Ross State University, Alpine, Texas, author of Wildflowers of the Big Bend Country.
18 Lowrey, Lynn, Memorial tribute to Benny Simpson, January, 1997.
19 Creech, 1998.
20 Anderson, 1998.
21 Fairey, John G., "The Wonder and Excitement of Plant Exploration in the Mexican Sierra Madre Oriental," Proceedings: Oktober Gartenfest, 1995, University of Texas at Winedale, October 1995.
22 Lowrey, Lynn, "New tree discovered in Mexico," American Nurseryman, August 1, 1984.
23 Parsons, Jerry, Personal interview, San Antonio, Texas, January 21, 1999.
24 Lowrey, Lynn, "New tree discovered in Mexico," American Nurseryman, August 1, 1984.
25 Parsons, Jerry, E-mail, May 3, 1999.
26 Anderson, 1998.
27 Hubbard, Agnes, Personal interview, San Antonio, Texas, January 21, 1999.
28 Nokes, Jill, E-mail, Austin, Texas, January 16, 1999.
29 Hubbard, 1999.
30 Jones, 1999.
31 Anderson, 1998.
32 Anderson, 1998.
33 Creech, 1998.
34 Lowrey, Lynn, "Camptotheca acuminata," American Nurseryman, March 1, 1995.
35 Anderson, 1998.
36 Kaplan, David, "Arboretum to Showcase Area’s Beauty," Rice News, Volume 8, Number 26, March 25, 1999.