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Paul Cox

Paul Cox was key player at Botanical Garden in San Antonio, Texas
By John MacCormack
Published in Express-News on May 12, 2019

For Paul Cox, a man who loved plants, the sight of crape myrtles being crudely topped or utility crews pruning trees under a power line could bring tears.

“It hurt him. He’d have to look away in pain and anguish that anyone would do that to such beautiful plants,” recalled his wife, Michelle.

Once, she said, Cox was escorted out of an Earth Day event after upsetting people with a sign that read “Save a Plant, Eat an Animal.”

A longtime employee of the San Antonio Botanical Garden, Cox, 66, died May 8, 2019, after a long struggle with complications from autoimmune disease and a rare form of dementia known as frontotemporal lobar degeneration, which cut his life short. He was a well-known figure in Texas horticulture, and a botanist deeply fascinated by plant life. Always a gentle person, he was an endlessly proud father, loving husband and supportive friend.

Born on September 16, 1952, Paul grew up in Dallas, where a high-school job at the Heard Museum fostered his lifelong interest in the natural sciences and led to his earning both his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Botany from Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches. In 1977, while attending Stephen F. Austin State University, he was recruited to San Antonio for his knowledge of native Texas plants. Cox quickly proved his worth and over the next three decades served repeatedly as supervisor or interim director. He had a long and professionally satisfying career there over the next 32 years in a range of capacities before he retired in 2009.

“He was just a real selfless, hardworking and knowledgeable guy, and it never went to his head,” recalled Hall Hammond, the first president of the San Antonio Botanical Society.

“To me, over the many years, he was the most important person there. He gave it continuity, he knew where things were, and he would help anyone anytime he could,” Hammond added.

Working with Japanese gardeners and designers, Cox played a key role in the creation of the Kumamoto En Garden, a joint project with San Antonio’s sister city, Kumamoto, Japan.

Co-workers at the Botanical Garden recall his mission as an educator, his quirky sense of humor and his willingness to help others.

Horticulturalist Don Pylant, hired in 1979, described Cox as “my friend, a mentor and a horticultural partner in crime.”

“We had fun. We constantly communicated using lines from Star Wars and he was formidable when it came to Trek trivia,” he added.

When a gardener named Robert Reed, who could not hear or speak, joined the staff, Cox took action. “Paul took the trouble to learn sign language, and it spread through the staff. We had a great time at meetings, signing things across the room,” Pylant said.

After Ying Doon Moy, a refugee, was hired as a gardener, his past career as a professor and plant geneticist in China came to light. Cox and others set him up to resume his specialization, and Moy began breeding hybrid plants. “He ended up producing some fruits that can take more frost, loquats, papayas and a giant hibiscus called the “Moy Grande,” Pylant said.

Calvin Finch, longtime conservation director for the San Antonio Water System and San Antonio Express News gardening columnist, counted Cox as a friend and regularly consulted with him. “He was, in my opinion, the most skilled at identifying plants in this part of Texas. Anything we couldn’t deal with, we referred to Paul. And if he couldn’t identify it, it was time to call a conference of horticulturalists and botanists,” Finch said.

Greg Grant, County Extension Agent-Horticulture in Smith County for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service writes: “My friend Paul Cox had a brilliant botanical mind and a sharp wit. I remember a note written on the back of a used grocery list that he tucked into one of my once borrowed copies of Land of Bears and Honey-A Natural History of East Texas that said "It is sad that only your friends will steal your books or albums. Thanks Buddy O, Paul." Thank YOU Paul for always being a friend and a patient teacher, even when I was a young obnoxious county horticulturist in San Antonio.

A co-author of "Texas Trees: A Friendly Guide," which has been a popular reference book for more than 30 years and is now in its sixth printing, “Trees of Texas: A Friendly Guide,” has helped many a budding naturalist solve arboreal mysteries. Paul published and edited numerous articles and books on a variety of gardening and horticultural topics.

Always experimental, he named and released a number of new plant introductions of which he was very proud.

He was also known for his collaborations locally, working with the San Antonio Water System and the Master Gardeners to build the first xeriscape and children's gardens at the San Antonio Botanical Garden. Above all, his special sense of humor and fun-loving delight in trivia helped many visitors of all ages develop an appreciation for botany and the natural world.

Twice married and the father of six kids, Cox, after his retirement in 2009, became a full-time “Mr. Dad” to his four youngest children, taking them to school and on trips, teaching them about nature and cooking for the family.

According to those close to him, Cox’s favorite place was the East Texas Pond areas that he helped create four decades ago at the Botanical Garden. The small lake, with an authentic Fayette County log cabin nearby, is ringed by sweet gum, magnolia and loblolly pines, trees that Cox likely encountered while at college in Nacogdoches. “His soul resides at the East Texas area,” said Karen Lang, his first wife.

Paul Cox

Born: Sept. 16, 1952, Dallas

Died: May 8, 2019, San Antonio

Preceded by: His father, Robert J. Cox

Survived by: His wife, Michelle; children Amy Jurewicz, Audrey Harig, Bryan

Cox, William Cox, Laurel Cox and Crystal Cox; his mother, Doris Cox; brother Robert

Cox II; sister Melissa Wolf; and four grandchildren.

Services: A memorial service to celebrate his life on June 15, 2019 at 10 a.m. at the Auld House at the Botanical Garden at 555 Funston Place.

Gifts in his memory may be made in lieu of flowers to the San Antonio Botanical Garden.

Paul W. Cox

10303 Open G Trail
Helotes, Texas 78023
(210) 695-4409


1970 – ‘Most Talented’ Senior at McKinney High School
1977 – Bachelor of Science from Stephen F. Austin State University
1983 – Master of Science in Botany from SFASU


1975-1977 – Worked on a vegetational survey for the Stephen F. Austin Experimental Forest Study of the Trinity River Bottom, virgin forest analysis of Neches River Bottom, and Bastrop Pine Root Study
1978 – Co-author for Woody Plants of the Western Gulf Region
1988 – Senior co-author, Texas Trees-A Friendly Guide, winner of two awards, now in sixth printing
1990 – April, spent one month in Japan, as a guest of the Japanese Government, learning Japanese gardening techniques
1990 – November, article in Endangered Species Journal, Reintroduction of the Texas Snowbell, Styrax texana
1998 – Senior Editor, co-author of McMillen’s Texas Gardening Guide to Wildflowers


City of San Antonio July 1977 to 2009 as follows:
1977 - July Horticulturist II, City of San Antonio
1980 - 1988 San Antonio Botanical Center Supervisor
1988 - 1990 Botanical Center Acting Superintendent
1995 - 1998 Botanical Gardens Assistant Superintendent
1998 - 2000 Botanical Gardens Acting Superintendent
2000 - 2003 Assistant Botanical Garden Superintendent
2003 - 2005 Acting Botanical Garden Superintendent
2005 - 2009 Assistant Botanical Garden Superintendent
Some duties assigned are:
  • Develop and manage a 1.3 \ million-dollar budget
  • Supervise administration, personnel, horticultural, and all other operations of the facility
City of Alamo Heights, Arborist 2009 - 2011
SOL Center, Course Instructor 2009 - 2013
Gardening South Texas Radio Show, Guest Host 2000 - 2013
UTHSCSA, Plant Collections 2009 - 2012
‘Ask the Expert’ and Speaker at Large for SA Herb Society, SA Arborist Association, Native Plant Society, Master Naturalists, Local Garden Clubs
Botanical Consultant on two court cases, two insurance claims, weed walks for Allergy Doctors
Regularly identify plants brought to the SABG by public and peers, field Id’s on request.
1984 – Served as a plant expert with Dr. Jerry Parsons during a European Garden Tour.


1996-Present – Named and released new plant introductions: the ‘Bubba’ Desert Willow, Pyramid Bush, Silver Poney’s Foot, “Spank” Chomonque, ‘Kara’s Revlon,’ Globe Mallow, ‘Merritt’ Lantana, ‘Pink Ice’ Rose, ‘K O’ Daisy, ‘Byron’ Viburnum, ‘Sentido’ Taxodium.
1998 – Awarded for significant contribution to Horticulture by the Alamo Heights Chapter of Garden Club of America
2007 and 2009 – First place in Plant/Weed ID by Texas Recreation and Park Society
Collaborations with SAWS and Master Gardners to bring Children’s Garden and Xeriscape Gardens to SABG.

Paul Cox and Daughter making an entry
Paul Cox and Daughter making an entry
Paul Cox's Daughter with entry
Paul Cox's Daughter with entry
Cox Bottle Brush PLANT with a BABY'S BOTTLE BRUSH
Cox Bottle Brush PLANT with a BABY'S BOTTLE BRUSH
Cox Girls with Moy's Large Papayas
Cox Girls with Moy's Large Papayas
Lowerys Legacy Cenizo discovered by Paul Cox
Lowerys Legacy Cenizo discovered by Paul Cox
Paul Cox at retirement party
Paul Cox at retirement party
Paul Cox family
Paul Cox family
Paul Cox shows demonstraeten garden
Paul Cox shows demonstraeten garden
Paul Cox with Baby
Paul Cox with Baby

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