Hartman Prehistoric Garden is cycad-delic


One hundred million years ago, Austin looked a lot different. A shallow sea lapped across central Texas, and later, as the sea retreated, cycads, magnolias, ferns, reeds and other ancient plants colonized the humid marshes. A dinosaur like this one walked here, leaving behind footprints that fossilized and lay hidden in limestone until their discovery in a quarry in 1992.


Does your mind, like mine, reel at the vastness of the idea of millions of years, and the realization that landforms which seem so permanent to us are in fact quite changeable? What’s a thousand years to the earth? A mere blink of an eye.


Musing on these and other cycad-delic thoughts (sorry, couldn’t resist), I visited Austin’s unique Hartman Prehistoric Garden yesterday, located in Zilker Botanical Garden. Entering the garden is like stepping back in time. Hartman’s plants represent those that existed in the Cretaceous period during the time of the dinosaurs: “spore producing plants (ferns, horsetails and liverworts), the gymnosperms (cycads, conifers and ginkgos) and the first angiosperms (magnolias and palms).”


Water runs through the garden in canal-like streams and pools in ponds. A large waterfall cascades over the edge of a limestone outcropping.


Many varieties of magnolia are planted here, including this lovely banana magnolia (Michelia fuscata).


The flowers are much smaller than those of the massive Southern magnolia so often planted in Austin (even though we’re west of its native range, and it gets dry and chlorotic here).


I didn’t notice a banana fragrance, though online sources say it has one.


Thickets of palms and palmettos give the garden a tropical look, although everything is hardy to our zone 8b.


What’s this? A prehistoric reptile? No, just a red-eared slider basking at the edge of the pond.


The numerous cycads are recovering from last winter’s severe freeze, with fresh, green fronds emerging from the tops of the pruned-back trunks…


…as you can see here.


This pretty sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) stood clothed in new spring leaves. Perhaps this semi-evergreen lost its leaves during the cold spell? At any rate, a sweet fragrance wafted from a few flowers held high on upper branches.


Texas dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) (I think) makes a striking understory plant for bald cypress (Taxodium distichum).


If you haven’t yet visited the Hartman garden, now is a great time, before the heat and humidity of summer return and make you feel you really have stepped back in time into a prehistoric swamp.


To read about my fall 2007 visit to Hartman Prehistoric Garden, click here.

All material © 2006-2011 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

14 Responses

  1. Layanee says:

    I long for green lushness. It is snowing right now. At least I found that green here. Love your previous two posts. Congrats on the pictures in the Home version of Buffalo Spree. Great shots but then you never disappoint.

    Aw, thanks, Layanee. I’m sending warm, green thoughts your way. Let me know when you get them. —Pam

  2. Jackie says:

    Gorgeous pictures Pam that really show off the lighter and more brilliant greens of spring.

    Those green leaves were beautifully illuminated, Jackie. Just good timing on my part. —Pam

  3. Denise says:

    What a great post. And, yes, Pam, my mind does reel! (Seems more than once you’ve written a post and I’ve watched a documentary on the same subject the night before.) I smelled a Michelia figo once at the Mildred Mathias Botanical Garden, and it did smell of bananas but not sure about M. fuscata. I’m wondering if that limestone outcropping/waterfall is from quarrying operations, so I’ll check your links to find out. And congratulations on publishing your beautiful photos!

    Denise, there is a limestone cliff behind the garden and the waterfall. And I believe this part of the garden was indeed once a quarry. But I have a feeling that the waterfall’s stonework is crafted rather than leftover from quarrying. It would be interesting to know for sure. At any rate, it looks quite natural.

  4. David C. says:

    That’s it! I’m moving to Austin, to drown in BBQ, while burning up under the death star’s grip, viewing nice gardens and hearing great music. Could be a good way to go! What a nice place to visit…the waterfall is so striking. The foliage of cycads and leafy plants with those sculptures seems it would all come to life.

    Come on, David! Austin would love to claim you as one of her own. Your comment cracked me up! You are right—there are worse ways to go than sizzling under the death star while enjoying BBQ, great music, and beautiful gardens. —Pam

  5. Love love love those Cycads! Are they growing on you yet?

    Ha, you remembered. Um, no, but I do really like them in the context of this garden. —Pam

  6. i followed my nose right up to that banana magnolia! i couldnt place it right off, but as soon as i saw the name plate, it made sense. More like “Banana candy”. I was wondering if you know what the sweet smelling, blooming giant tree drooping over into the Japanese pond is? couldn’t find a tag anywhere.

    It’s a giant pittosporum of some sort, Suzie. I’ll have pictures from the Japanese garden up soon, including a closeup of the pittosporum’s flowers. They did smell sweet, and the bees loved them! —Pam

  7. Gail says:

    The age of the earth, the vastness of the universe and the diversity of plant life on this planet never fails to amaze me! Pam, this park looks like a lot of fun. My son would have loved it; like many boys he loved dinosaurs. gail

  8. Darla says:

    What a neat place…love the moss on the turtle.

    He’s not a rolling stone… —Pam

  9. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Those poor palms look like neatly stacked sticks without the fronds popping out the top. This is a beautiful garden. A nice way to go back in time.

    It is an interesting place, Lisa. Add it to your list of gardens to see when you swing through Texas again. —Pam

  10. […] For your fix of green foliage, especially all you cold-climate gardeners, here are a few more images of the cycads at Hartman Prehistoric Garden on Wednesday. […]

  11. Scott says:

    Love it! If I’m ever in your neck of the woods, I’ll definitely put this on the agenda! I wonder if I could fit that dinosaur sculpture in my garden…hmmmm ;-)

  12. Donna says:

    OMG, I love it there. I would not miss this garden for the world, thank you for giving me the preview. Your images are wonderful also; they really entice me to travel to TX. That dino statue is the coolest along with all the palms.

  13. […] recently posted about the prehistoric garden at Zilker, but an older and equally beautiful part of the botanical garden is the Taniguchi Japanese Garden. […]

  14. […] dinosaur gardens to Japanese gardens to the surprise of azaleas in Austin, Zilker Botanical Garden has something for […]

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