Category Archives: Wildflower center

Fun Summer Events at the Wildflower Center Culminate with a tribute to Lady Bird Johnson

Commander Ben during a Nature Nights events at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

It was a great summer of events at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center! Tomorrow brings the Lady Bird Johnson Centennial Tribute Day, and the last two Nature Nights events were held in the latter half of July.

Lady Bird Johnson Centennial Tribute Day

Tomorrow, July 29, the Wildflower Center is having a special Lady Bird Johnson Centennial Tribute Day to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Mrs. Johnson’s birth and a new exhibit on her conservation efforts.

Admission is free for the entire family, and activities include:

  • Lady Bird’s Wildflowers, a children’s play by the ZACH Theatre
  • Music with Lucas Miller, the singing zoologist
  • Storytelling, and much more!

Mrs. Johnson has done a lot for nature! In addition to my frequent visits to the Wildflower Center, I also hiked on the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Nature Trail through the California Redwoods in the Spring.

Nature Nights events

What a wonderful summer for Nature Nights at the Wildflower Center. The last two events in July focused on bats and snakes, and I had a great time earlier this month helping to teach kids about invasive species and become invasive hunters as part of my Invasive Hunter Academy during the Power of Plants event.

Bats

I learned about bats at a very young age. My kindergarten class took a field trip to the Austin American-Statesman newspaper office, and in the twilight, we watched hundreds of bats fly out from the Congress Avenue bridge. I remember using a flashlight with red cellophane over the light, so as to not disturb the bat’s night vision.

Highlights from the Nature Night’s evening on July 19 included:

Snakes

When I visited Onion Creek’s whirlpool springs earlier this year as part of a hike led by the City of Austin’s Wildland Conservation Division, I heard and saw rattlesnakes.

During the hike, someone told me that if your group is walking in a single file line, the third person in the line is the one most commonly bitten. Why? Because when the first person walks by the rattlesnake, it gets mad. When the second person walks by, it’s furious, and by the time the third person walks by, the snake can’t control itself any longer!

Is it truth, legend, or maybe a little of both?

Highlights from the Nature Night’s evening on July 26 included:

I can’t wait until the Wildflower Center’s fall events, including the wonderful Luminations celebration in December.

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Austin Water Utility's Wildland Conservation Division, Bats, Congress Avenue Bridge, Lady Bird Johnson Grove Nature Trail, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Nature Nights, Snakes, Wildflower center

Dr. Damon Waitt predicts the next big invasive species to threaten Texas rangelands

Last year, Dr. Damon Waitt predicted the onslaught of Bastard Cabbage, an invasive species with mustard flowers that overran our Texas Wildflowers. With my latest interview with Dr. Waitt, you can learn more about Yellow Star-Thistle, the next big invasive species to threaten our Texas pastures, roadsides, and rangelands.

Dr. Waitt is a Senior Botanist and Director of the Native Plant Information Network at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas.

I interviewed Dr. Waitt for this video during the Invasive Species Workshop for Citizen Scientists in June 2012 at the Wildflower Center.

It’s been only a few months, but I look much younger in my first video with Dr. Waitt, Advances in the fight against invasive species in Texas, that I filmed during the Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference in November 2011.

Learn more about the invasive species that Dr. Waitt has talked about:

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Bastard Cabbage, Citizen Scientist, Damon Waitt, Invasive Species, Invasive Species Workshop, Invasive Species: Secrets Revealed, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Wildflower center, Yellow Star-Thistle

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

Jessica Strickland talks at the Invasive Species Workshop for Citizen Scientists

Ms. Jessica Strickland talks about her background with invasive species during the Invasive Species Workshop for Citizen Scientists in June 2012.  Ms. Strickland is the Invasive Species Program Manager at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas.

Before she joined the Wildflower Center in February 2012, she worked with American Rivers on watershed protection, fish habitat, and water conservation.

She studied the invasive species Armored Catfish (Loricariidae) during snorkeling surveys.  Watch the video to find out which invasive plant species she finds the most threatening to our Texas waterways.

This video is part of my “Invasive Species: Secrets Revealed” series of interviews with scientists that I first started at the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference.

Learn how to become a citizen scientist

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under American Rivers, Armored Catfish, Citizen Scientist, Giant Reed, Giant Salvinia, Hydrilla, Invaders of Texas, Invaders of Texas Citizen Science Program, Invasive Species, Invasive Species Workshop, Invasive Species: Secrets Revealed, Jessica Strickland, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 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