Tag Archives: Austin American Statesman

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,

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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

My First Day at SXSW Eco with Foodies and Filmmakers

Commander Ben at SXSW Eco 2012

After checking in at SXSW Eco at the fantastic UT Austin AT&T Conference Center, I headed over to Rm. 103 to attend a talk titled Fighting Food Insecurity with Urban Agriculture in Austin…and guess who I got to meet? Ms. Addie Broyles, a food writer for the Austin American-Statesman!

Food in Austin

Ms. Addie Broyles and Commander Ben at SXSW Eco

It was neat to get to meet her because I have heard my Mom (the foodie in the family 🙂 ) talk a lot about her. Even though my blog isn’t about food, Ms. Broyles said she was looking forward to checking it out because she too has a budding filmmaker at home…her five year old son! 🙂

Clean energy

Ms. Griffin Gardner and Commander Ben at SXSW Eco

Next I walked over to Rm 204 to attend the Filmmakers Clean Energy Confab. I took my seat in the second row and that’s when someone in the front row turned around and said, “I know you, you’re famous!” It was Ms. Griffin Gardner, UT Austin Media Coordinator, who remembered taking a picture of me at the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute (ESI) Hot Science – Cool Talks event. I’m not sure if I’m really famous, but Ms. Gardner made my day!

Making great films for good

Mr. Steve Vogelpohl and Commander Ben at SXSW Eco

Next, as I headed out to lunch, I ran into Mr. Stephen Vogelpohl who recognized me from the Lights. Camera. Help. Focus on Good Film Festival. Mr. Vogelpohl is with Social Good TV. We talked about future projects we’re both working on, and he encouraged me to continue making great films for good.

Green army on the march

Today is the big day! As I mentioned in my earlier posts, I’ll join Ms. Jessica Strickland, Invasive Species Program Manager at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; Dr. Damon Waitt, Director Native Plant Information Network; and an elite team from the Wildflower Center and the Green Army to map invasive species as part of the conference events.

Let’s find the Giant Reed (Arundo donax), Elephant Ear (Colocasia esculenta), and all the invasive plants that may be along Waller Creek in Austin, Texas!

I hope to see you there!

Your friend,

P.S. Tomorrow’s the last day to vote! Please vote for my SXSWedu presentation, “What Invasive Species Taught Me About Dyslexia”. I’ll talk about my great experiences with the Wildflower Center and Learning Ally too. Thanks!


Filed under Addie Broyles, AT&T Conference Center, Austin, Austin American Statesman, Clean energy, Clean energy, Damon Waitt, Elephant Ear, Environmental, Environmental Science Institute, ESI, Focus on Good, Giant Reed, Green Army, Griffin Gardner, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Jessica Strickland, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Lights Camera Help Annual Nonprofit Film Festival, Lights. Camera. Help., PanelPicker, Social Good TV, Steve Vogelpohl, SXSW, SXSW Eco, SXSWedu, University of Texas, Urban Agriculture, UT Austin, Waller Creek, What Invasive Species Taught Me About Dyslexia, 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.


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:


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,

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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

Rasberry crazy ants establish beachhead in Central Texas

Rasberry crazy ant invasive species poster at the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference

In this Saturday’s Austin American Statesman newspaper, I was shocked to see that Rasberry crazy ants were found in Central Texas!

Less than six month ago, in November 2011, I interviewed Dr. Jerry Cook, Associate Vice President of Sam Houston State University, at the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference.

During the first half of my video interview with Dr. Cook, he talked about his new Institute for the Study of Invasive Species. Afterwards, I asked him to tell me about the invasive species that he found the most interesting. He said he does a lot of work on ants and that he studied the red imported fire ants, but that his current favorite to work on was the Rasberry crazy ant (Nylanderia sp. near pubens).

At the time, he said that there were no sightings of crazy ants in Central Texas, but he predicted that they would be coming.

Sadly, in the back of my mind, I knew they were on the march and would be here one day. Yet, I was still surprised that it was so soon.

Stronger than fire ants?

The newspaper article said that the crazy ants were in a condominium in Briarcliff along the shores of Lake Travis, and they probably came from gardening material from Houston, where they were first found by a pest control man, Tom Rasberry, in 2002. (They named the ant after him.)

The ant probably came to Texas from South America, and Dr. Cook said they’re called crazy ants because they move around very quickly and erratically, moving here or there.

They can take over areas from fire ants, which may sound good, but they come in such massive numbers that they can overwhelm and suffocate wildlife, damage electrical systems, and make houses unlivable.

With so many and being so fast and numerous, they are hard to eradicate.

The news of crazy ants coming to Central Texas, so close to my own home, shows the importance of educating people about invasive species and preventing their spread.

Now that they are here, they’ll be very difficult to get rid of. 😦

Your friend,
Commander Ben

P.S. Learn more about the Rasberry crazy ants:

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Austin American Statesman, Fire ants, Institute for the Study of Invasive Species (ISIS), Jerry Cook, Lake Travis, Rasberry Crazy ant, Texas Invasives