Category Archives: City of Austin Wildland Conservation Division

Citizen scientists train to hunt the top 24 invasive plants in Austin

My sketchbook of the top 24 invasive plant species in Austin, Texas

My sketchbook of the top 24 invasive plant species in Austin, Texas

As the Invasive Hunter, I always have to keep my skills sharp, so on a Saturday in May, I attended an invasive species workshop at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. This workshop was designed especially for citizen scientists who are working with the city of Austin as part of the Austin Invasive Plants Management Plan.

The city of Austin and the Invaders of Texas Program teamed up to train local volunteers how to identify and monitor invasive plants. Citizen scientists who volunteer with this program get to work side by side with city staff to develop a map of where invasive plant species are located, and the city of Austin will use this map to determine how to best treat or remove the invaders.

Learning up close how to identify invasive plants

Learning up close how to identify invasive plants

Ms. Jessica Wilson, Wildland Conservation education manager with the city of Austin, welcomed us to the workshop, and Ms. Jessica Strickland, Invasive Species Program Manager with the Wildflower Center, gave a great talk about invasive species in Texas and those around Austin, the Invaders of Texas Program, and how to report sightings of invasive species online and through the TX Invaders mobile app.

Top 24 invasive plant species in the city of Austin

Top 24 invasive plant species in the city of Austin

We learned about the top 24 invasive plant species in Austin from samples in the Wildflower Center’s library, and got to know them better by being able to see them, feel their leaves and other identifying features, and sketch samples of them to help us remember them when we’re out in the field.

A sample of kudzu, a nasty invasive species

A sample of kudzu, a nasty invasive species

The top 24 invasive plants in Austin cover herbaceous, woody, vines, and aquatic species and include my nemesis, the Giant Reed (Arundo donax)!

We practiced identifying sample invasive plants in a field outside of the Wildflower Center

We practiced identifying sample invasive plants in a field outside of the Wildflower Center

Besides polishing up my knowledge about invasive plants, I also got to spend some time with other citizen scientists (excuse me, future invasive hunters!) and staff from the city of Austin who were a lot of fun.

Commander Ben and Austin invasive species volunteers getting ready for action

Commander Ben and Austin invasive species volunteers getting ready for action

The workshop I attended was part of a series of volunteer workshops that the city of Austin and the Wildflower Center have been holding during the spring of this year.

Here is a great video all about the day created by the City of Austin:

Their goal is to train 180 citizen scientists who are willing to volunteer time during the summer monitoring season.  The next Invasive Species Identification and Monitoring workshop is coming up this weekend, June 8 and 9.  Don’t miss out because this is the last workshop for the season!

I look forward to seeing you in the hunt for invasive species! 🙂

Your friend,

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Filed under Austin Invasive Plants Management Plan, Austin Invasive Species Corps, Citizen Scientist, City of Austin, City of Austin Invaders, City of Austin Wildland Conservation Division, Giant Reed, Invaders of Texas, Invaders of Texas Citizen Science Program, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, Invasive Species Workshop, Jessica Strickland, Jessica Wilson, Kudzu, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Mobile app, Texas Invaders, Texas Invasives, TX Invaders, Wildland Conservation Division

Insurgent Chinese Privet Attempts Invasive Species Comeback

In October 2011, I had a chance to work with biologist Chis Warren and a group of Austin volunteers to help clear out Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense) from the Balcones Canyonland Preserve (BCP). I talked about our exploits last year in Titanic Struggle with Chinese Privet Ends with Their Doom.

In August 2012, I returned to the Long Canyon portion of the BCP with volunteers from the Austin Invasive Species Corps to hunt down Chinese Privet plants that were attempting a comeback, such as from the stumps that we cut down earlier or from berries that were buried underground.

It’s important to remove Chinese Privet and other invasive species from the BCP to help protect the native habitat of the endangered Golden-Cheeked Warbler.

Commander Ben and biologist Chris Warren taking a break from battling Chinese Privet.

Mr. Warren talked with me about the progress that they made since last year, and in the video from our August 2012 adventures, he describes the Chinese Privet’s distinguishing features.

For example, did you know that in Central Texas, most invasive plants have leaves and branches that are strongly opposite from each other, and many native plants have alternating leaves and branches?

Cut stump of Chinese Privet, an invasive species on the Balcones Canyonland Preserve.

In the video, you’ll also learn why invasive species have a built in advantage over natives, such as cheap, quick growth and the lack of natural predators.

Learn more about my past adventures on the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve:

The Austin Invasive Species Corps Wants You

Would you like the enjoyment…ah…satisfaction of protecting your native ecosystem and pulling an invasive plant out of the ground with a weed wrench or other nature defense weapon of your choice?

You can!

On Saturday, September 29th, join Austin Wildlands and the Austin Parks Foundation to help clear invasive species from the BCP and around Austin as part of National Public Lands Day. You can also help to restore Black-capped Vireo habitat in the BCP, help prairie seeding restoration on Water Quality Protection Lands in Northern Hays County, and many other great volunteer activities!

Update: Because of heavy rain expected on September 29, the clean up for National Public Lands Day was postponed to October 6.

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,


Filed under Austin Invasive Species Corps, Austin Parks Foundation, Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, Barton Creek Greenbelt, BCP, BCP wildland conservation, Black-capped Vireo, Chinese Privet, City of Austin, City of Austin Wildland Conservation Division, City of Austin’s Wildland Conservation Division, Endangered Species, Golden Cheeked Warbler, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, Ligustrum, Long Canyon, Mr. Chris Warren, National Public Lands Day 2012, Water Quality Protection Land, Weed wrench

Whirlpool Springs to Life in Onion Creek above Cripple Crawfish Cave

Commander Ben near the Cripple Crawfish Cave whirlpool in Onion Creek

As part of National Ground Water Awareness Week earlier this month, the City of Austin’s Wildland Conservation Division scheduled a “wonderful whirlpool” hike along Onion Creek.

What a fantastic place and what a rare treat to see so much green vegetation and water. We’ve been under a terrible drought in Texas. (The water level on Lake Travis dropped so low that I was able to walk to the sometimes islands late last year. These islands are normally submerged when the Highland Lakes are full.)

We’ve been blessed with recent rains. The rainwater has given life back to our land, lakes, and creeks. I hope that we keep getting more rain.

Karst features help recharge the Edwards Aquifer

The Orr Track on Onion Creek is part of the Barton Springs recharge segment of the Edwards Aquifer. Water that falls on the savannah and prairie land in this area flows through karst features to reach the aquifer underneath.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in the air and water (H20) combine to create carbonic acid H2CO3. This acid eats the calcite in the limestone under the soil to create the karst features, and these features consists of big and small cracks and caves under the surface.

Slowly draining karst feature near Onion Creek

Because of our recent rains, there’s water on the surface, but it’s slowly draining underground with the small cracks in this karst.

Dry karst feature with flint rocks

This karst feature has bigger cracks, which causes it to drain faster. There’s no standing water here, but there’s lots of flint. Dr. Kevin Thuesen, Environmental Conservation Program Manager, helped to lead our hike, and he said that there’s evidence of native Americas in this area who have tried out the different pieces of flint to see if any would be good to use.

(I had a chance to try out flintknapping and other great nature activities at the Wild Basin Preserve a few months ago.)

Karst feature with a huge draining crack

This karst feature has a huge crack to help water drain quickly to the aquifer. No standing water here.

Watch out for the rattlesnakes

We saw a few rattlesnakes on our hike, and Dr. Thuesen cautioned us to watch out for them. When the snake started rattling as I walked by, my heart jumped!

This one was near the karst feature with the huge crack, and it was very hard to see at first. (Can you spot the rattlesnake in this picture?)

No snake in this picture, but here’s evidence of feral hogs. They were digging for food (grubs?) in this area earlier. They’re omnivores and will eat just about anything.

Wonderful whirlpool!

Cripple Crawfish Cave Whirlpool in Onion Creek

The treat at the far end of the hike was the whirlpool that flows into Cripple Crawfish Cave (another karst feature!) in Onion Creek. They haven’t seen water in the creek for about a year, so this was a special occasion.

Dr. Thuesen said that they installed a screen over the cave opening to keep out debris and to help water flow more easily into the cave and eventually into the aquifer. Scientists have used a special dye to discover that water that flows down this whirlpool can reach Barton Springs Pool in about 22 days or so.

I’ve only seen a whirlpool in my bathtub before. It was great to see a real one in nature!

Thanks for the great hike!

Ms. Amanda Ross, Commander Ben, and Dr. Kevin Thuesen and the end of our wonderful whirlpool hike

Thank you Ms. Amanda Ross, Conservation Program Coordinator, Dr. Thuesen, and the other knowledgeable guides for the fantastic hike!

Ms. Ross has always been kind and helpful, and she had some neat posters. (I first met Ms. Ross when I learned about rare Texas plants and took a tour of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve.)

I enjoyed talking with Dr. Thuesen about the different rattlesnakes. He also knew a lot about invasive plants and talked with me about some of the ones in the area, including the Malta star-thistle and King Ranch Bluestem (KR Bluestem).

Don’t miss these wonderful hikes to learn about the native ecosystems of Central Texas. Check out the latest events on the City of Austin’s Wildland Conservation Division event page and be sure to join their email list to learn about upcoming events.

Commander Ben signing off


Filed under Austin Water Utility's Wildland Conservation Division, Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, City of Austin, City of Austin Wildland Conservation Division, City of Austin’s Wildland Conservation Division, Cripple Crawfish Cave, Dr. Kevin Thuesen, Edwards Aquifer, Flintknapping, Karst features, King Ranch Bluestem, KR Bluestem, Lake Travis, Malta star-thistle, Ms. Amanda Ross, Onion Creek, Rattlesnakes, Texas Drought, Texas Invasives, Whirlpool

Strategy and Tactics for Combatting Invasive Plant Species

Mr. Matt McCaw talks about his work, helping to manage conservation lands and improve the quality of water entering aquifers. He describes the different physical and mechanical ways to combat privets (genus Ligustrum) in Central Texas and when necessary, what types of targeted herbicides are the most effective. Learn why he likes felling Chinaberries and why Saltcedars are so difficult to take down. Mr. McCaw is a biologist in Austin, Texas.

This video is part of Commander Ben’s “Invasive Species: Secrets Revealed” series of interviews from the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference.

Commander Ben signing off…

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Aquifer, Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, Chinaberry, City of Austin, City of Austin Wildland Conservation Division, Invasive Species: Secrets Revealed, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Ligustrum, Matt McCaw, Privet, Saltcedar

Top 5 Invasive Plants Sneaking into the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve

Commander Ben and Bill Carr learn about the native and invasive plants of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve

The City of Austin’s Wildland Conservation Division offers outstanding activities to learn about the plants in our environment.

This month, I learned a lot about rare plants in Travis County with Central Texas native plant expert Bill Carr.  He led us through a presentation about the unusual plants and gave us a guided tour of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP) that surrounds Concordia University.

Mr. Carr co-authored the Rare Plants of Texas field guide from Texas A&M press, and he said that Travis County has approximately 1500 flora species with 86 being endemic to the area.  This means that the plants occur no where else but here!

A large part of Travis County is located on the Edwards Plateau. This area is a major center for plants because of its varied geology.

He also listed some of the plants with only 6-20 occurrences in Travis County:

  • Basin bellflower
  • Boerne bean
  • Canyon mock-orange
  • Corell’s false-dragonhead
  • Bracted twistflower (may be one of the first plant species to make it on the endangered species list in Travis County)

After his informative talk, we took a hike through the BCP, which borders the university.  I was so excited to find a small spring trickling down one of the small canyons.  Fantastic that we can have some water still flowing through the limestone even with this terrible drought in Texas!  Seeing the ferns was awesome! Thanks, Mr. Carr!

Rare spring flows in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve near Concorida University

We learned about the top five invasive plants trying to sneak into the BCP:

  • Ligustrum
  • Privet
  • Tree of Heaven
  • Chinaberry
  • Nandia

Fight those invasives back! 🙂

I had a great time battling back invasive plants in the BCP last month, and I captured my experience in “Titanic Struggle with Chinese Privet Ends with their Doom”.  This community volunteer effort was part of the many great activities that you can register for through the City of Austin’s Wildland Conservation Division.  (During the 2011 Texas invasives conference, I also had a chance to talk to Louise Liller, Wildland Volunteer Coordinator, who was on our squad of invasive hunters versus the Chinese Privets.)

Amanda Ross, Conservation Program Coordinator with the City of Austin, welcomed us to the lecture and hike, and she invited us (you too!) to future Wildland activities.

Commander Ben signing off


Filed under Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, City of Austin Wildland Conservation Division, City of Austin’s Wildland Conservation Division