Tag Archives: plants

USDA Celebrates Commander Ben and His Invasive Hunter Academy

Thanks, Ms. Kelsey Branch, APHIS Biologist, for the fantastic blog post, “Meet USDA’s Youngest Ally in the Fight against Invasive Species: Ben Shrader, Invasive Hunter”

I had a great time with Ms. Branch in Washington D.C. during National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW) from February 26 to March 2, 2012, and during NISAW Kids’ day at the U.S. Botanic Garden, I enjoyed teaching kids about invasive species as part of my Invasive Hunter Academy.

It’ll take more than a day or week to take down these invasive species, so the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has declared April as Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month.

Learn more about invasive species:

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, APHIS, Hungry Pests, Invasive Hunter Academy, Ms. Kelsey Branch, National Invasive Species Awareness Week, NISAW, Texas Invasives, U.S. Botanic Garden, United States Department of Agriculture, USDA

The Unstoppable, Invasive Bastard Cabbage

Commander Ben gives Bastard Cabbage the business

There has been A LOT of interest in Bastard Cabbage (Rapistrum rugosum) lately.

If you travel along the roads in Central Texas and you don’t know about invasive species, you might think that the Bastard Cabbage is a nice, big wildflower on the roadsides. It’s not. It’s a terrible invasive plant that causes havoc by overrunning and towering over all the Texas wildflowers. The seedlings of the native plants don’t get light, and they die or can’t sprout and the Bastard Cabbage takes over, creating a monoculture.

Once you know what the plant looks like, you’ll see it everywhere. Instead of beautiful reds, blues, and other colors from our diverse native wildflowers, you’ll just see a suffocating blanket of yellow mustard colored flowers.

Is it unstoppable?

Dr. Damon Waitt, Senior Director and Botanist at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, had a popular interview with Mr. Jim Swift on KXAN TV last month, and during the interview, Dr. Waitt said that he was very worried that it would take over Texas roadsides and fields and overwhelm the native species.

His interview inspired me to learn more about this terrible invasive, and I wrote a blog post about it, “Bastard Cabbage Fouls Texas Bluebonnets“. I’m amazed and happy to see the heavy web traffic that I’ve received from this post. It’s great that everyone wants to learn more about this invasive plant!

Learn more about Texas invasives with the iWire newsletter

The March issue of the iWire newsletter also talks about this invasive plant with their “Hello Bastard Cabbage. Goodbye Bluebonnets.” article. You can learn what you can do to help get rid of Bastard Cabbage too.

And thank you iWire for talking about my “Invasive Hunter Academy” for Kids’ Day during National Invasive Species Awareness Week in Washington D.C. in your March 2012 and February 2012 issues!

The February issue also introduces, Ms. Jessica Strickland, the new the Invasive Species Program Coordinator at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. I was happy to meet her over Spring break. She was very nice and welcoming to me, but the invasive species better watch out!

If you don’t already get iWire, I encourage you to subscribe to this monthly e-newsletter to learn the latest news about invasive plants and pests in Texas each month.

Commander Ben…signing off

Update: See Native Plant Avengers – Ecosystem’s Mightiest Heroes – battle Bastard Cabbage

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Filed under Bastard Cabbage, Damon Waitt, Invasive Hunter Academy, iWire Texas Invasives Newsletter, Jessica Strickland, KXAN, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, National Invasive Species Awareness Week, Texas Invasives

Bastard Cabbage Fouls Texas Bluebonnets

Commander Ben beseiged by Bastard Cabbage

What a nice surprise to see Dr. Damon Waitt on TV last night! Dr. Waitt is the Senior Director and Botanist at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

He was talking about Bastard Cabbage (Rapistrum rugosum), also known as Mediterranean Mustard. It’s a terrible invasive species that is overrunning Texas wildflowers, especially our beloved Texas Bluebonnets.

I first learned about Bastard Cabbage from him last fall in my video interview with him at the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference. He said that this plant was the invasive species that really worried him.

Seeing Dr. Waitt interviewed by Mr. Jim Swift on KXAN reminded me of that plant, and I had to go out today to learn more about it.

Invasive Species Create Terrible Monocultures

Bastard Cabbage crowds out the wonderful Texas bluebonnets and creates a terrible monoculture. It towers over the bluebonnets, and the rosette at the base of the plant and long tap root steal resources that could have gone to the native Texas wildflowers.

They have a long stem and small yellow flowers. When I saw it when I was younger, I thought it was a native Texas wildflower.

Fight Back Against this Invasive Plant

In the KXAN article, Dr. Waitt said that with enough seed, Indian Blanket wildflowers might be able to compete with this invasive plant, but that’s a hard fight to win.

Bastard Cabbage overruns Texas Bluebonnets along highway 360 in Austin, Texas

Dr. Waitt said it’s best to hand pull Bastard Cabbage. I did my part pulling some up on highway 360 in Austin, and I took some down with my moves from the Invasive Hunter Academy. I also took a plant sample for my herbarium.

He said that on a 10 point worry scale, he’s at a 9.5. If Dr. Waitt’s worried about our Texas Bluebonnets, we should all be worried too!

Thanks, Dr. Waitt, and the Texas Invasives website for teaching me about this terrible invasive!

Your friend,
Commander Ben

Update: Video: See Native Plant Avengers – Ecosystem’s Mightiest Heroes – battle Bastard Cabbage

Update: Bastard Cabbage Takes Over Texas Wildflowers

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Bastard Cabbage, Damon Waitt, Herbarium, Invasive Hunter Academy, Jim Swift, KXAN, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Texas Bluebonnets, Texas Invasives

The Fascinating, Hidden World of Plants at Explore UT

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?

Importance of Red (R) Light and Far Red (FR) Light for Plants

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.

Plants can detect insect saliva

The secret is the plant’s ability to detect insect saliva.

Plants know the difference between mechanical and insect damage

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.

Plants release protease inhibitors for defense

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.

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Filed under College of Natural Sciences, Dr. Jennifer Moon, Explore UT, University of Texas

Plants, Fossils, and Gold E. Locks at Explore UT

I’m back from Washington, and I got the cast off my broken hand today. Yea! I had a wonderful time at Kids’ Day, and I’ll have a lot of neat posts and videos about the event in the coming days.

I want to write a quick post to encourage you to attend Explore UT on Saturday, March 3, at the University of Texas at Austin. It’s a fun, campus wide event for kids of all ages.

I’ve attend Explore UT in the past and remember these fun activities:

  • Searching for gold
  • Digging for fossils
  • Running across a vat of cornstarch and water (and yelling – I particularly recommend this activity)
  • Making slime
  • Handling sheep organs (yuck, but intriguing)
  • Handling and learning about marine creatures

This Saturday, I’m looking forward to:

  • Digging for more fossils
  • Learning about the fascinating, hidden world of plants
  • Participating in the Gold E. Locks Mock Trial (I’m afraid that I’ve already formed an opinion)
  • And returning to Hogwarts Jungle Potions Class!!!

Hope to see you there!

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Filed under Explore UT, University of Texas