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.
An accidental encounter with a plant grafting experiment transforms a geeky biology student into the Invasive Hunter, a hero to the ecosystem’s native species.
The Invasive Hunter returns to battle King Ranch Bluestem (KR Bluestem), an invasive species overrunning roadsides and fields and stealing lunch money. His powers, however, do not go unnoticed by his cranky professor.
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!
I was happy to see Dr. Greg Clark again at this year’s Explore UT. I first met Dr. Clark with the Shadow a Scientist Program last year. This program gives middle school students the chance to go on a two hour tour with real scientists at UT Austin.
It was a fantastic experience. Dr. Clark is a research scientist with the College of Natural Sciences, and I enjoyed going around his lab and greenhouse and seeing his experiments. I remember him talking about plant mutation and showing us how normal plant roots go straight down, and how the roots of mutated plants grow wavy and crooked.
If you’re a middle school student, this is an experience not to be missed! Sign up for this great program during the summer by contacting Dr. Clark on the Shadow a Scientist site that’s part of the College of Natural Science’s Freshman Research Initiative. He would love to hear from you!
There’s more to plants than you know! At this year’s Explore UT, Dr. Jennifer Moon gave a great presentation about how plants can detect light, respond to touch, establish defenses, and communicate with their kin. Here are some highlights from her talk.
How do plants know when to germinate and grow?
Dr. Moon talked about the importance of red light and far red light for plants. If plants detect more red light, they like to grow or germinate. If there’s more far red light, like in shade, it’ll deter germination or cause the plant to grow tall or sideways to look for sunlight.
Will plants grow more if you touch them?
No. If you touch them a lot, they’ll stay short because they’re afraid that if they grow too tall, they’ll be pulled out of the ground, like from a passing animal or wind.
Do plants like to be talked to?
Yes, but it’s not because of what you say. They like the carbon dioxide (CO2) that you’re giving them.
Can a plant know which bug is eating it?
Dr. Moon described how a plant knows if you’ve cut it or if something is munching on it.
The secret is the plant’s ability to detect insect saliva.
They’re smart enough to know if you’re cutting it with scissors. If they detect that it’s a bug eating it, they’ll set up defenses.
Some plants release a protein that causes insects that are eating the plant to starve and die. They can continue to eat the plant, but they can’t digest it. They’ll die and won’t be able to lay more eggs to create a new generation of pests to attack the plant.
Other plants can release a hormone that attracts wasps that will attack the insects or lay eggs on them.
Other plant defenses
I also learned that spices and flavors are part of a plant’s defense system. They may deter insects and some animals, but they make our food very flavorful. My favorite herb is basil, and my favorite spice is cinnamon.
Venus Fly Trap
Dr. Moon showed us some great plant videos by Roger P. Hangarter from Plants-In-Motion.
Watch this video that shows why it takes more than just a brief touch to cause a Venus Fly Trap to shut. It takes energy for a plant to close it’s leaves, so it’s best to do so when you think you have prey.
Venus Fly Traps need the nitrogen from insects, since these plants typically grow in bogs that have little nitrogen available.
Dr. Moon and Explore UT
Dr. Moon is a lecturer with the School of Biological Sciences in the College of Natural Sciences at University of Texas at Austin, and she has a cool website for the botanically curious at greenseedling.com.
Each year, the University of Texas at Austin holds a campus wide event with fun activities and education for kids and prospective students of all ages. This year’s explore Explore UT event was held on March 3, 2012.