Category Archives: Power of Plants

Watch Out Invasive Species! Invasive Hunter Academy Returns to Nature Nights at Wildflower Center

Young naturalists train to be invasive hunters during last year's Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Young naturalists train to be invasive hunters during last year’s Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Nature Nights starts this Thursday, June 13, at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center from 6 to 9 p.m. The event is free and has great activities for the entire family. Get to know the difference between a root and shoot at this Thursday’s event, focusing on the power of plants.

And I have great news to share!  I’m bringing back my Invasive Hunter Academy to this Thursday’s Nature Nights, so be sure to stop by and say “Hi!”, get to know some common invasive species in Central Texas, and train to become an Invasive Hunter.  It’s lots of fun for kids of all ages!

Get to know the Invasive Hunter Academy

Commander Ben having fun with young Invasive Species Hunters last year at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Commander Ben having fun with young Invasive Species Hunters last year at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Get a free ticket for the special auditorium presentation

If you enjoyed Nature Nights during previous summers, there’s also something new happening at this year’s Nature Nights. The first 250 people who attend Nature Nights will receive a free ticket at the admissions table for the special auditorium presentation.

So in addition to enjoying all the display tables and activities (and the Invasive Hunter Academy!), be sure to get your ticket so you can get admitted into the auditorium for the special presentation that’s part of each Nature Nights event.

Summer 2013 Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Summer 2013 Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Summer 2013 Nature Nights schedule

  • June 13 – From Roots to Shoots
  • June 20 – Amphibians
  • June 27 – Insects
  • July 11 – Birds of Prey
  • July 18 – Wildlife
  • July 25 – Snakes

Learn more about Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

I look forward to seeing you there! 🙂

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under From Roots to Shoots, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Nature Nights, Power of Plants, Wildflower Center

Plants and Birds Take Flight at Nature Nights

Little Owl (Athene noctua)
Photo credit: User Stemonitis on Wikipedia

I really enjoy Nature Nights because it’s a great way to educate kids about science. There are a lot of hands-on crafts and activities and that’s a great way for kids to learn.

Last week’s nature night was on the Power of Plants. I had a great time teaching kids about invasive plants with my Invasive Hunter Academy. I look forward to joining the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center again.

Plants in the garden

I like to work with my hands in nature, especially with plants, cultivating, growing, and harvesting them. I’ve grown chili peppers and tomatoes this year.

I attempted to grow corn too, but the corn was very twisted, probably due to the heat before our recent rains. Aphids and other insects really attacked it too. So instead I composted it.

I’m looking forward to the ginger, potatoes, onions, and leaks that I’m still growing.

Birds of Prey

When I was younger, I went to a Nature Nights where they were teaching kids about birds of prey. They had a man showing a hawk there. The talons were sharp and scary, and he had to wear gloves, otherwise they would have cut up his hands.

I find raptors and owls amazing because they can spot their prey from so far way. With their huge eyes and soft feathers, owls can fly so silently that mice have no chance.

Yesterday’s nature night was also on Birds of Prey, and they had fun activities in the evening too:

Don’t miss next week’s Nature Night on Thursday, July 19, on Bats.

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Birds of Prey, Blackland Prairie Raptor Center, Earth Native Wilderness School, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Nature Nights, Power of Plants, Travis Audubon, Wildflower center

Kids Learn about Invasive Species and Become Invasive Hunters at the Wildflower Center

Commander Ben with future Invasive Hunters during Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

On July 5, I brought the Invasive Hunter Academy to the Power of Plants event during Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Here are some great pictures of the night’s event.

Pictures from the Invasive Hunter Academy

Commander Ben and Ms. Alice Nance with the Invasive Hunter Academy at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Here I am before the start of the Nature Nights event with Ms. Alice Nance, Wildflower Center Education Manager. She and Ms. Julie Graham made me feel very welcome. They gave me a great location to set up with lots of room for the future Invasive Hunters to practice their moves to take down invasives.

After the event started, there were so many kids enrolled in the academy that they had to get me another table so the kids could have room to create their action diorama.

Kids learning about Elephant Ear (Colocasia esculenta), an invasive species, with the Invasive Hunter Academy at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Here I am teaching kids about invasive species. The first part of the academy is learning about your enemy, and I’m showing a picture of Elephant Ear to this future Invasive Hunter.

Learn more about Elephant Ear with my In an Ecesis Far, Far Away video, part of the Battles with Invasive Species video series.

Kids learning how to take down the Giant Reed, an invasive species, with the Invasive Hunter Academy at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Here I’m teaching future Invasive Hunters the swallow hand stalk strike move. It’s to take down the Giant Reed (Arundo donax). As the Giant Reed attacks, block with one hand above your head and strike with the other.

Learn more about the Giant Reed with my Invasive Hunter Academy launches during National Invasive Species Awareness Week video, part of the Battles with Invasive Species video series.

Example of an action diorama that kids can create with the Invasive Hunter Academy

Here’s an example one of the action dioramas that the kids can make as part of the academy. This is a great craft 🙂 because it really gets the kids thinking about invasives as they make their action scene. They got to pick one of three invasives species to battle: Elephant Ear, English Ivy, or Giant Reed.

I noticed that when the boys made their action scene, it really looked like a real battle was going on…very messy, like my own diorama! When the girls created their dioramas, they were perfectly done. There were no scissor marks, no glue smears, and the people were perfectly drawn, but I’m sure there was a great battle against invasives going on there too!

Window on a Texas Wildscape with Mrs. Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Commander Ben and Mrs. Sheryl Smith-Rodgers and her husband James, during Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

I met Mrs. Sheryl Smith-Rodgers and her husband James at Nature Nights. They are very nice people, and they love nature. Mrs. Smith-Rodgers is a wonderful writer. Thanks for mentioning me on your great blog, Window on a Texas Wildscape.

Nature crafts with the Teenage Ecowarriors

Commander Ben and the Teenage Ecowarriors during Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

I finally got the chance to meet the Teenage Ecowarriors. They help kids create art treasures from recyclables. At the Butterflies event, they helped kids make a butterfly sock puppet. At the Power of Plants event, they helped kids make a newspaper flower. They’ll be coming back to the Bats event on July 19, so be sure to go see them when you’re there.

Wood shingles with JC Pollard

Commander Ben and Mr. JC Pollard during Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

I was happy to meet Mr. JC Pollard again at Nature Nights. I met Mr. Pollard last year for Flintknapping and Great Nature Activities at the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve.

Mr. Pollard was helping kids make wood shingles by breaking off pieces of wood from a tree ring. I didn’t get a chance to create a shingle, but it looked really fun. I saw the shingles that kids made when they came to the Invasive Hunter Academy, and one boy gave me one.

Thanks Future Invasive Hunters!

Thanks to all the enthusiastic kids who enrolled in the Invasive Hunter Academy! Together, we’re helping to stop the spread of invasives. Education and awareness is very important. I really enjoy these events, because I feel that I’m helping to give back to our community by educating people about invasive species.

I look forward to bringing the Invasive Hunter Academy to more events in the future!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Battles with Invasive Species, Elephant Ear, English Ivy, Giant Reed, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Mr. JC Pollard, Ms. Alice Nance, Ms. Julie Graham, Ms. Sheryl Smith-Rodgers, Nature Nights, Power of Plants, Teenage Ecowarriors, Wildflower center

Invasive Hunter Academy Helps Kids Learn About Invasive Species

Happy Independence Day from me and my dog, Obi-wan!

I’m looking forward to meeting kids, families, and everyone who loves nature at the Invasive Hunter Academy tomorrow during Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. This free event on Thursday, July 5, at 6:00 p.m. focuses on the “Power of Plants”.

I can’t wait to teach kids of all ages about invasive species, the problems that they cause, and what you can do about them. Learn cool combat moves and create an action diorama to take home with you.

Check out the other fun activities during the evening too:

  • Take a special behind the scenes tour of the seed lab herbarium and nursery
  • Learn about edible native plants and make rope and tools using plants
  • Hear about traditional uses of local native plants from Mark Blumenthal, Founder and Executive Director of the American Botanical Council
  • Hike the Wildflower Center gardens with experts, including Ellen Zimmerman with the Austin School of Herbal Studies, botanist Flo Oxley, and Native Plant Society of Texas members, who will teach you about how native plants can be used as medicines
  • Go on a garden scavenger hunt and make seed balls with Master Naturalists
  • Create a paper version of the Venus flytrap using recycled materials with the Teenage Ecowarriors

So be sure to come to Nature Nights and join the elite ranks of the Invasive Hunters! I can’t wait to see you tomorrow!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under American Botanical Council, Austin School of Herbal Studies, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Master naturalist, Native Plant Society of Texas, Nature Nights, Power of Plants, Wildflower center

Hummingbirds and Bees as Pollinators and the Threat of Colony Collapse Disorder

At last week’s Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, I was delighted to meet Ms. Becky Ruppel, who has done graduate work in biology and is a volunteer at the Wildflower Center.

She also studied the Yellow Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris), an invasive species from the Mediterranean that threatens the native diversity and rangeland in Colorado.

Hummingbirds see red

Ms. Ruppel talked with me about how important pollinators are to our ecosystem to help plants reproduce. Pollinators include bees, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds can see red, and that’s why they are attracted to plants with red flowers, such as Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii).

When hummingbirds go to feed on nectar, the pollen from the male part of the flower (the anther) collects on their bills. When they fly over to feed with another flower, they pass the pollen to the female part of the flower (the pistil) as part of the pollination process to help the flower form a seed.

Colony collapse disorder (CCD)

We also talked about colony collapse disorder. A few years ago, I saw a PBS Nature program, Silence of the Bees, about this tragedy affecting our honey bees who are pollinators and that live in colonies.

Beginning in 2006, for some unknown reason, honey bees from entire hives began to disappear. They just get sick and fly off to die. Since bees are a major pollinator, this puts many of our plants, especially our food crops, at risk.

Ms. Ruppel mentioned some of the factors scientists think might be causing it, such as pesticides, diseases, or mites, but she said that they haven’t been able to pinpoint one cause and be able to treat it yet. CCD may be due to many factors.

If honey bees are in decline, she said that our native solitary bees may be able to take their place as pollinators, such as mason bees. Landowners could leave areas of their property in a natural state and place ground features such as pieces of wood to help encourage the mason bees to make their homes there.

I hope they are able to help our honeybees soon!

Nature Nights: Power of Plants coming this week

Don’t forget that I’m bringing my Invasive Hunter Academy to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center as part of Nature Nights on Thursday, July 5, at 6:00 p.m.  Bring your entire family to this free event and learn more about the Power of Plants!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Bees, Colony Collapse Disorder, Hummingbirds, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Mason Bees, Ms. Becky Ruppel, Nature Nights, Pollination, Power of Plants, Wildflower center, Yellow Toadflax

Citizen scientists band together with the Invaders of Texas Program

Commander Ben with a Giant Reed at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Last weekend, I attended the Invasive Species Workshop at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Ms. Jessica Strickland, the center’s invasive species program coordinator, led the event, teaching us about invasives, especially how to map and combat them.

She talked about the Invaders of Texas program, which helps to educate citizen scientists about invasive species and how to report them to agencies that can research their locations and do something about their spread.

There were over 80 people in attendance, including many master naturalists who were very enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge about invasives with me and the other attendees. We had a full agenda!

How to become a citizen scientist

Ms. Jessica Strickland’s invasive species workshop presentation

It’s easy to become a citizen scientist for the Invaders of Texas program. You just need the knowledge and desire to take action against invasives.

To become a citizen scientist, you can join a satellite group, such as a group of master naturalists, and attend an educational workshop. The group will then report their sightings in the invasive species database.

Or you can learn about invasive species online, take a short test, and be on your way to finding and recording invasives as part of the Voyager group. I’m a Voyager, and I hope that you’ll join me too.

Equipment to record your invasive species sighting

Ms. Strickland gave us a demo of how to make an observation and enter the sighting into the Invaders of Texas database.

To record a sighting, all you need are:

  • A digital camera – Very important because Ms. Strickland will need a picture of the suspect verify your sighting. Tip: put a white piece of paper behind the leaves or distinguishing feature of the plant that you’re taking a picture of. This will help to make details visible for identification.
  • GPS device – This will help pinpoint the exact location of your find. If you don’t have one, you can use Google maps with the reporting database to get as close as you can to the area where you were.
  • Reporting form – Helps you record all the data about your sighting for entering on your computer later. You can’t fill out the web form on your smartphone now because you have to be able to upload a picture from your computer. (That will be changing soon!)
  • Knowledge about the invasive species that you’re looking for – You don’t want to report the wrong species!

Here’s a picture of my invasive hunter suit, but you don’t have to dress up for the occasion. 🙂

Commander Ben unfazed by the looming stand of Giant Reeds sneaking up on him.

Report your invasive species observation into the database

Once you have your sighting, just go to your computer, enter your data, and upload your picture. Once your species is verified, you’ll be part of a vast and powerful database that will help other citizen scientist and scientists take action against invasives.

There’s a space on the reporting form to ask for volunteer hours, and that’s important in case the Invaders of Texas program needs to apply for matching grants to help maintain or grow the program.

Android and iPhone app for Invasive Species coming soon!

Invaders of Texas Android and iPhone mobile app to report invasive species coming soon

I’m looking forward to when their Texas Invasives mobile app will come out that will allow citizen scientists to record their sightings instantly with their mobile phone. This will really help to increase sightings! They’re coming out with the Android version first. I’m really looking forward to the iPhone version.

Sentinel Pest Network

During the workshop, we learned about the Sentinel Pest Network that was created to help us watch out for deadly invasives that are in the United States, but have not been found in our state yet…but they may be marching our way.

Learning about the Emerald Ash Borer

We learned more about these other invasives, including the Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis). It’s amazing that an insect that’s smaller than a penny could do so much damage to the native ash tree population of the United States.

We also learned more about the Asian Longhorn Beetle and the Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar), which I didn’t know much about before this workshop.

Invasives at the Wildflower Center!

Ms. Strickland asked us to bring samples of different kinds of invasives species. I brought my nemesis, the Giant Reed (arundo donax). It was so tall that I had to be careful making my way through doorways and not knocking things over along the way.

Pressed sample of a Japanese Climbing Fern

It was great that so many people brought land and aquatic invasive species to share, some of which I had not seen in person before, like the Japanese Climbing Fern (Lygodium japonicum). This invasive spreads in the woods of East Texas, suffocating native trees and plants on the ground.

Other topics

Turtle in the pond at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

During our breaks, I enjoyed talking with my fellow citizen scientists and watching the magnificent turtles in the Wildflower Center’s pond. They were very friendly. I also saw a lot of cool damselflies and lots of flowers and plants.

At the workshop, we also learned about the Great Texas Tree Roundup from the “Tree Folks” and the Eradication Calculator that helps to publish and report volunteer efforts to get rid of invasive species.

Invasive Hunter Academy

Invasive Hunter Academy video screening at the workshop

Many workshop attendees had asked for educational resources and ways to help teach kids about about invasive species and the problems that they’re causing in our ecosystem.

Ms. Strickland invited me to bring my Invasive Hunter Academy to the workshops to show teachers and master naturalists about a fun way to help educate kids about invasives. This is the same academy that I created for the National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW) in Washington D.C. earlier this year.

When I first arrived in the morning, Ms. Strickland and Ms. Karen Clary provided me with a wonderful table to set up my academy, and right before the youth education session, Ms. Strickland showed my Invasive Hunter Academy preview video to the entire audience.

It was wonderful. I was so happy to hear everyone’s reactions to the video, especially all their laughter during the funny scenes. It was awesome to know that people really do enjoy my battles with invasive species videos, and they can help educate everyone about invasive species.

How to become an Invasive Hunter

Commander Ben standing at the ready in front of the Invasive Hunter Academy

During the youth education session, I talked with a group of teachers and master naturalists about the wonderful educational activities that are part of the Invasive Hunter Academy.

I described the steps for students to graduate from the academy. A few of the attendees wanted to go through the experience themselves identifying the invasives, and of course, they all succeeded!

Next, they enjoyed the action moves to take down the different invasives with a lot of laughter. Once they started showing me their their moves, I got an inkling that there may be a budding invasive hunter in them.

But they had to pass the final test, perhaps the most difficult challenge, creating their action scene. One lady picked the Giant Reed to fight against in her diorama. I asked her why, and she said that it was a big problem where she lived, and wanted to wage a battle against it.

Once they were done, I graduated them as full fledged invasive hunters, giving them a sticker, and certifying them as an official Invasive Hunter.

The master naturalists from the El Camino Real Chapter invited me to be part of their nature festival next year. It sounds like fun!

Invasive Hunter Academy at the Wildflower Center

You too can be an invasive hunter, especially if you’re in Austin, by enrolling in the Invasive Hunter Academy at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center during the Power of Plants at Nature Nights on July 5. It’s free and you’re guaranteed to have fun! You’ll have a great time becoming an invasive hunter, and you’ll make and bring home an action diorama of you protecting your native ecosystem against the invading invasives.

Fantastic invasive species workshop!

Jessica Strickland, Commander Ben, and Dr. Damon Waitt at the Invasive Hunter Academy

Ms. Strickland made me feel very welcome, and I learned so much. Thank you for inviting me to be part of your event, and thank you Dr. Damon Waitt for all your kind words and encouragement.

This was a great workshop! Ms. Strickland is giving these these workshops around the state, and you won’t want to miss attending one of these events!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Android, Asian Longhorn Beetle, Battles with Invasive Species, Citizen Scientist, Damon Waitt, El Camino Real Chapter, Emerald Ash Borer, Eradication Calculator, Giant Reed, Great Texas Tree Roundup, Gypsy Moth, Invaders of Texas, Invaders of Texas Citizen Science Program, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Invasive Species Workshop, iPhone, Japanese Climbing Fern, Jessica Strickland, Karen Clary, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Master naturalist, Mobile app, Nature Nights, NISAW, Power of Plants, Sentinel Pest Network, Texas Invasives, Tree folks, Turtle, Wildflower center

Rise of the Butterflies at Nature Nights

Nature nights starts this Thursday, June 21, at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center from 6 to 9 p.m. The event is free and is fun for the entire family. Get to know butterflies at this Thursday’s event.

As part of the evening activities, you can:

  • Watch the release of live butterflies in the courtyard by the Austin Butterfly Forum
  • Fold beautiful origami butterflies with artist Joan Son
  • Sing about the butterfly life cycle and pollination with zoologist
    Lucas Miller
  • Create a butterfly puppet with the Teenage ecowarriors
  • Walk the gardens and look for butterflies, moths, and other pollinators with nature experts

Invasive Hunter Academy and the Power of Plants

In two weeks, I’m bringing my Invasive Hunter Academy to nature nights. The July 5th event focuses on the power of plants.

As part of the academy, I look forward to teaching you about invasive species and graduating you as an Invasive Hunter.

You’ll learn how to:

  • Spot invasive species
  • Take down invasives with action moves
  • Create a fun action scene with you battling an invasive plant
    (You can take your diorama home with you!)

I’ll also have Plant Hero pins, pledges, and other fun stuff too!

I look forward to seeing you at Nature Nights!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Butterflies, Butterflies, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Moths, Nature Nights, Plant Heroes, Pollination, Power of Plants, Wildflower center