Category Archives: Invasive Plants

An Invasive Species’ Worst Nightmare: Texas Co-Op Power Magazine and Commander Ben Team Up

Commander Ben:  An Invasive's Worst Nightmare. (Photo Credit:  Will van Derbeek)

Commander Ben: An Invasive’s Worst Nightmare. (Photo Credit: Will van Overbeek)

I have great news to share with you today!  There is a story about me in the March issue of the Texas Power Co-Op magazine and it’s titled, Commander Ben: An Invasive’s Worst Nightmare, and it was written by Texas Master Naturalist Mrs. Sheryl Smith-Rogers.

Awhile back I met Mrs. Sheryl on the telephone when she interviewed me for her article. She wanted to write about me and my fight against invasive species.   Then, when I was presenting my Invasive Hunter Academy at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Nature Nights event, she was very kind to drive up from Blanco to meet me in person!  She is so nice and a great writer.  She even invited me to speak to her Highland Lakes Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists.

Once the story was sent off to her editor, the magazine contacted me to meet with the photographer, Mr. Will van Overbeek.  We hunted down an invasion of invasive Giant Reed (Arundo donax—my arch enemy!) plants, and as I battled them, Mr. van Overbeek took my picture. (Thanks for the great picture Mr. van Overbeek!) It was a lot of fun, especially when other people walked by and stared, wondering what was going on! 🙂

Hope you enjoy the article!

Your friend,
Ben

P.S. Thanks Mrs. Sheryl! You’re a fantastic writer, and you have a great Window on a Texas Wildscape nature blog!

2 Comments

Filed under Arundo donax, Giant Reed, Highland Lakes Chapter, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Ms. Sheryl Smith-Rodgers, Nature Nights, Sheryl Smith-Rodgers, Texas Co-Op Power, Texas Master Naturalists, Wildflower Center, Will van Derbeek

Ghosts of Invasive Species Past, Present, and Future in A Christmas Carol

This Christmas Carol tale begins on Christmas Eve with Ebenezer Scrooge, a man with a stingy heart, a disdain of native plants, and a phobia of dirty feet. His former business partner, Jacob Marley warns Scrooge of visits by three spirits.

Overnight, the ghosts lead Scrooge through his innocent past, misguided present, and possible dire future overrun by invasive species. They help to transform him into a man of joy and compassion, both with the family of his impoverished clerk, Bob Cratchit, and his diverse ecosystem.

I hope you enjoy my video from last year based on Charles Dickens’ classic tale of redemption!

Merry Christmas and happy new year everyone! I look forward to more adventures with you as we learn more about invasive species, science, and dyslexia in 2013!

Your friend,
Ben

Leave a comment

Filed under A Christmas Carol, An Invasive Species Carol, Battles with Invasive Species, Bob Cratchit, Charles Dickens, Christmas, Ebenezer Scrooge, Giant Reed, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, Jacob Marley, Redtip Photinia, Texas Live Oak

Invasive Hunter Academy Thrives at UT Austin’s Hot Science – Cool Talks

Commander Ben talks with high school students about invasive species at Hot Science – Cool Talks
Photo credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute

The UT Austin Environmental Science Institute (ESI) has a great Hot Science – Cool Talks series that brings scientists from UT Austin and across the country to talk about their neat science research. Kids of all ages are invited to attend.

Mr. Geoff Hensgen, ESI Outreach Coordinator, invited me to bring my Invasive Hunter Academy to their most recent event with Dr. Jay Famiglietti, “Last Call at the Oasis: Will There be Enough Water for the 21st Century?

I was excited to, but I wanted to add more information for high school students, since I knew they enjoyed coming to the Hot Science presentations. So I researched about some of the water problems caused by invasive species.

Invasive Hunter Academy Grows

I really liked the new info that I added to the Invasive Hunter Academy. I still have the three fun original steps to becoming an invasive hunter:

  • Know your enemy – Match up pictures of native and invasive plants
  • Know your action moves – Practice the three cool taekwondo moves to take down invasive plants
  • Create your action scene – Build a great diorama to take home

For Dr. Famiglietti’s Cool Talks event, I created a new presentation for young adults with some great information about my nemesis, the Giant Reed. I talked about:

Recorded locations of the Giant Reed around Austin
Source: Texas Invasives website

(1) What invasive species are and specifically the problems of the Giant Reed (Arundo donax). I showed how easy it is to find sightings of the Giant Reed and other invasive species that citizen scientists reported around the state by using the Texas Invasives database.

Giant Reed along the Rio Grande River near Big Bend National Park
Credit: Mr. John Goolsby, USDA

(2) The EPA is considering using the Giant Reed for biofuel because it grows fast and doesn’t impact the food industry. That’s great for a biofuel plant, but the Giant Reed can easily escape into the native ecosystem and take over as an invasive species.

Scientists are concerned that the spread of the Giant Reed to could create an economic and environmental disaster, and for that reason it should not be used as a biofuel.

Giant Reed along the Rio Grande River
Photo Credit: Center for Invasive Species Research

(3) Especially for Dr. Famiglietti’s freshwater talk, I added information about how the Giant Reed is a threat to the survival of the Rio Grande River because it:

  • Reduces the available water supply
  • Chokes waterways
  • Inhibits with power generation
  • Interferes with agricultural irrigation
  • Degrades water quality
  • Threatens the of health of native plants and animals by creating a dense monoculture and crowding out native plants

QR Codes Help Presentations Jump to the Web

I added QR codes to make it easier for people to access the websites that I talk about in my poster presentation. I first added QR codes when I brought the academy to the Wildflower Center as part of Nature Nights this summer.

I saw people use their iPhones and Android phones to scan the QR codes to access my website, so I wanted to add more codes for my Hot Science presentation to help bring people to where they could get more information on the web, like to learn more about the Giant Reed.

High School Students Graduate to the Academy

One of the Invasive Hunter Academy tables before the start of Hot Science – Cool Talks at UT Austin

The audience was older than my other academy presentations. There were many students from eighth graders to high school and college students. That was neat!

I enjoy bringing the original academy activities to kids all ages, but now I especially enjoy talking to the older students and teaching them about invasive species. (In these pictures, I still have my hand in a cast from when it got broken during a taekwondo sparring match. :-()

Commander Ben motions to how high (and higher!) the Giant Reed invasive plant can grow
Photo credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute

They found my posters very helpful, because a lot of students were there with their science classes, and they had notebooks that they were writing in for extra credit. I talked with them about the problems with the Giant Reed, and they took copious notes. I hope they all got great grades! 🙂

Invasive Hunter graduate shows off her “I’m an Invasive Hunter” sticker and Wildflower Center brochure
Photo credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute

They really liked my “I’m an invasive hunter'” stickers and went to my website on their phones to watch my videos too. They put the stickers on their shirts and books, and one of the high school freshman put it on his forehead. (Not recommended.)

Battles with Invasive Species Videos

Commander Ben before the start of the Hot Science – Cool Talks prelecture fun with the Native Plant Avengers video playing in the background

Mr. Hensgen is just the best! I want to thank him for inviting me to be part of the prelecture fun and the interview with Dr. Famiglietti. He gave me the best table because it was near the entrance to the auditorium, and he gave me a projector to play my Battles with Invasive Species videos on the wall during the event.

During the event, I played two videos:

One Freshman high school girl came back another time for two reasons: she was interested to learn more about invasive species and she had also left her iPod. 🙂

It was also great to talk again with Dr. Jay Banner, Director of the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute. I saw him being filmed for the Longhorn Network during the event. Thanks, Dr. Banner, for mentioning me during your prelecture slides!

Last Call at the Oasis

Dr. Jay Famiglietti’s Last Call at the Oasis presentation at Hot Science – Cool Talks

I also had a great time chatting with Dr. Famiglietti before his talk. I wished him good luck, but he didn’t need it because he did a great job!

I found one of the reserved chairs in the auditorium. (Thanks Mr. Hensgen!) and I noticed that they were much, much more comfortable than the regular chairs. (They were the same as the other chairs, but since they were reserved, they were extra comfy!)

Dr. Famiglietti talked about the making of his video, Last Call at the Oasis. It was released on DVD on November 8th, so be sure to check it out!

At the end of his talk, he showed a funny video with Jack Black about their drinkable, treated sewage water, porcelain springs.

Learn More about Invasive Species

Ms. Jessica Strickland and Commander Ben mapping invasive species at SXSWEco

My thanks to Ms. Jessica Strickland for all her help teaching me more about invasive species on the Texas Invasives website and at SXSW Eco. (I learned about the EPA considering to use the Giant Reed as biofuel from the Texas Invasives iWire newsletter. If you don’t already receive this monthly email newsletter, be sure to subscribe to iWire today.) I also learned about the Rio Grande River’s problem with the Giant Reed from presentations during the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference.

I also want to thank Ms. Alice Nance, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Education Manager. She gave me a lot of goodies to pass out during the prelecture fun. I had Wildflower Center brochures with discount coupons and Plant Hero badges and certificates. (Kids had a lot of fun with Plant Heroes too when I brought the Invasive Hunter Academy to Nature Nights at the Wildflower Center this summer.)

Next Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation

Commander Ben and Dr. Jay Famiglietti at Hot Science - Cool Talks

Commander Ben and Dr. Jay Famiglietti wrap up Hot Science – Cool Talks on a humorous note

Thank you again Dr. Banner, Mr. Hensgen, and Dr. Famiglietti for everything! 🙂 If you missed the event, watch my video interview series with Dr. Famiglietti and check out the webcast replay of Dr Famiglietti’s presentation. (It was ESI’s 80th Hot Science – Cool Talks event!)

I had a fantastic time, and I can’t wait until the next Hot Science – Cool Talks event on November 30, “The War on Cancer: 41 Years after Nixon’s Declaration“, with Dr. Mark Clanton.

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

Leave a comment

Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Android, Arundo donax, Bastard Cabbage, Battles with Invasive Species, Big Bend National Park, Biofuel, Center for Invasive Species Research, Dr. Jay Famiglietti, Environmental, Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Science Institute, EPA, ESI, Extra credit, Geoff Hensgen, Giant Reed, High school, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, iPhone, iWire Texas Invasives Newsletter, Jay Banner, Jessica Strickland, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Last Call at the Oasis, Lights. Camera. Help., Monoculture, Ms. Alice Nance, Native ecosystem, Native Plant Avengers, Nature Nights, Plant Heroes, Porcelain springs, QR codes, Rio Grande River, Science class, Tae Kwon Do, Taekwondo, Texas, Texas Invasives, U.S. Botanic Garden, University of Texas, UT Austin, water, water conservation, water hydrology, water supply, Wildflower Center

Will There Be Enough Water for the 21st Century?

Dr. Jay Famiglietti and Commander Ben at the Environmental Science Institute at UT Austin

Today, I had a great time interviewing Dr. Jay Famiglietti. I talked with him about the potential water problems that we might face in the future. We also talked about the different ways that we can conserve water. I’ll be posting these fascinating and insightful videos soon.

I’m looking forward to Dr. Famiglietti’s talk, “Last Call at the Oasis: Will There be Enough Water for the 21st Century?“, tomorrow, Friday, October 26, 2012, at 7:00 pm CT.

Mr. Famiglietti is a Earth System Science Professor with the University of California – Irvine. His presentation is part of the great Hot Science – Cool Talks series. It’ll be in the UT Austin Student Activity Center where Dr. Andrew Howell’s talk was earlier this year.

Invasive Hunter Academy and the Giant Reed

Be sure to get there early, because I’ll bringing my Invasive Hunter Academy to the prelecture fun starting at 5:45 pm. Not only will you have a great time learning about invasive species and creating an action diorama, but you’ll also learn about the Giant Reed’s (Arundo donax) threat to our water supply, especially along the Rio Grande.

If you notice something different about me tomorrow, I broke my hand fighting the Giant Reed (again!). It was trying to stop me from presenting at Hot Science – Cool Talks, but it’ll take more than a few moves from an invasive plant (and one of the world’s top 100 worst invasive species) from stopping me.

(Well, actually, I broke it during a recent Taekwondo sparring match. Ouch! But I still have a good hand if Arundo gives me any trouble! 🙂 )

Hope to see you tomorrow. It’s going to be a boatload of fun!

Your friend,
Ben

Leave a comment

Filed under Arundo donax, Dr. Jay Famiglietti, Environmental, Environmental Science Institute, ESI, Giant Reed, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, Last Call at the Oasis, Rio Grande, Tae Kwon Do, Taekwondo, University of Texas, UT Austin, water, water conservation, water supply

Invasive Species Can’t Hide During SXSW Eco

Commander Ben and Ms. Jessica Strickland ready to hunt invasive species during SXSW Eco

I had a great adventure on Thursday when I joined Ms. Jessica Strickland, Invasive Species Program Manager at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, to help map the location of invasive plants along Waller Creek.

The special SXSW Eco “Green Army” event began at the Congress Avenue Kayaks building located at the end of Trinity Street in downtown Austin. The building is on Lady Bird Lake (Town Lake) and Waller Creek. All the participants for the event gathered here before we headed out on our adventures. Mr. Justin Murrill, Global Sustainability Manager for AMD and coordinator of the event, welcomed us all and explained the importance of volunteer efforts like this to help keep Austin beautiful.

Commander Ben and Mr. Justin Murrill, Global Sustainability Manager for AMD at SXSW Eco Green Army Event

Some people were going to clean up the trash in the creek, others were going to make seed balls (which were going to be donated to Bastrop State Park to help replant their area after last years wildfires), and others—including me—were going to identify invasive species for future removal or containment projects.

Ms. Strickland and I found many invasive plants along Waller Creek including:

Pictures from the SXSW Eco Invasive Species Mapping

Photographing invasive plants against a white background makes them easier to identify later.

A photographer from the Austin American-Statesman snaps a picture of our tactical reports.

Invasive English Ivy begins to suffocate a tree along Waller Creek.

King Ranch Bluestem (KR Bluestem) at our feet. Unfortunately, you can find them all over Texas, especially on roadsides.

A close up of KR Bluestem. Alas. Their seeds spread easily.

Can you spot the Elephant Ear on Waller Creek?

You can run Elephant Ear, but you can’t hide!

Super villian team up: Elephant Ear next to Heavenly Bamboo

Here I am mapping Johnson Grass. Humm. For amount, where can I circle “beaucoup”?

I sense a disturbance in the ecosystem. Is the Giant Reed trying to sneak up on me again?

We had a nice audience of turtles during our great day of mapping!

All in all it was a great day!

Your friend,
Ben

Leave a comment

Filed under AMD, Austin, Austin American Statesman, Bastrop State Park, Chinese Privet, Elephant Ear, English Ivy, Giant Reed, Green Army, Heavenly Bamboo, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, Jessica Strickland, Johnson Grass, Justin Murrill, King Ranch Bluestem, KR Bluestem, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Lady Bird Lake, Ligustrum, SXSW, SXSW Eco, Texas Invasives, Tree of Heaven, Waller Creek, Wildflower Center

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,
Ben

2 Comments

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