Tag Archives: wildflower center

Austin Kids Become Invasive Hunters at the Wildflower Center

Setting up the Invasive Hunter Academy with samples of edible invasive plant species

Setting up the Invasive Hunter Academy with samples of edible invasive plant species

It was wonderful bringing the Invasive Hunter Academy to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on Thursday, June 11, 2015, to help teach kids about invasive species as part of this summer’s Nature Nights events.

I previewed the event along with some videos in my Yum! Edible Invasive Species at the Wildflower Center during Nature Nights blog post.

The Nature Nights event that I attended focused on edible plants, so naturally, I found some varieties of edible invasive plants for the kids to try:

What a hit they were! The Taro chips went fast, but many agreed that the Bamboo was an acquired taste.

Here are some pictures from the event:

Lots of plant activities for kids during Nature Nights 2015

Lots of plant activities for kids during Nature Nights 2015

The young Austin naturalists found a great spot near the academy table to sample invasive plant species and work on their Invasive Hunter action diorama.

The young Austin naturalists found a great spot near the academy table to sample invasive plant species and work on their Invasive Hunter action diorama.

Remember that to become an Invasive Hunter, you need to learn the action moves to take down your opponent.

Remember that to become an Invasive Hunter, you need to learn the action moves to take down your opponent.

I enjoyed talking with kids about invasive species as they picked the invasive plant they wanted to battle for their action diorama.

I enjoyed talking with kids about invasive species as they picked the invasive plant they wanted to battle for their action diorama.

Thanks, Ms. Julie Graham, Wildflower Center Education Specialist, for inviting me to bring my Invasive Hunter Academy back to Nature Nights this year! We had a lot of Austin kids graduate as Invasive Hunters, ready to protect their native ecosystem from non-native plants.

Nature Nights in July

There are more opportunities to enjoy the Wildflower Center this summer! Nature Nights continues with more fun, family-friendly events in July:

  • July 9 – Springs, Streams and Ponds Ecology
  • July 16 – Harnessing Fire
  • July 23 – Birds of Prey

I hope that you’re having a wonderful summer!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Elephant Ear, Golden Bamboo, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Nature Nights

Yum! Edible Invasive Species at the Wildflower Center during Nature Nights

Eating invasive species is a great way to get rid of them

Eating invasive species is a great way to get rid of them

Nature Nights returns to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center this Thursday, June 11, 2015, and I’m excited to let you know that I’ll be there with my Invasive Hunter Academy.

The Wildflower Center hosts this free, fun, and family event on Thursday nights during the summer. It’s a great opportunity for kids to enjoy learning about the plants, animals, and the ecology of Central Texas.

You’ll get the chance to create crafts, go on hikes and adventures, and listen to nature presentations. In addition to goodies that they can pick up as part of the nature night activities, kids 12 and under will also receive a free gift from the gift store.

Plants – They taste good!

This Thursday’s Nature Night is all about plants and how they taste good and can help us. We all know about fruits and vegetable plants, but what about invasive species? (Watch my video invitation to the Nature Night’s event on plants.)

Invasive species are not native to the ecosystem, and they can cause millions of dollars in damage to the environment and economy.

The best way to get rid of invasive species is to prevent their spread. If they’re already established, removal efforts can be time consuming and expensive. It may not even be feasible to get rid of them. For example, it’s not going to be possible to remove KR Bluestem from our Texas roadsides and fields, even with the Amazing Invasive Hunter Man’s help.

There is another way to get rid of invasive plant species…to eat them!

Join me at the Nature Nights event on Thursday, June 11, to learn about invasive plant species you can eat, including a variety of delicious Elephant Ear (Colocasia esculenta – also known as Taro) and Golden Bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea).

Note: Always be sure to learn about invasive plant species to see if they are edible before you decide to eat them. (Kids, always ask your parents first.) For example, don’t try eating elephant ear raw. It’s inedible, but the variety commonly known as Taro, can be boiled or cooked to make it both edible and tasty.

In addition to learning about invasive species and sampling an invasive plant as part of the Invasive Hunter Academy, you’ll also be able to take a guided tour of the gardens, enjoy story time, and go on a scavenger hunt as part of the Nature Night’s event.

That’ll build up your appetite!

Videos for your invasive plants dining

While you’re snacking on invasive plants, enjoy some of my earlier Battles with Invasive Species videos:

Still hungry?

Did invasive plants wet your appetite for more invasive species?

2015 Summer Nature Nights Schedule

Young naturalists train to be invasive hunters during a previous Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Young naturalists train to be invasive hunters during a previous Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

There are many fun Nature Nights events planned for this summer.

  • June 11 – Plants
  • June 18 – Pollinators
  • June 25 – Snakes
  • July 9 – Springs, Streams and Ponds Ecology
  • July 16 – Harnessing Fire
  • July 23 – Birds of Prey
Learn about edible plants at the Nature Nights on June 11, 2015 (Image credit: Wildflower Center)

Learn about edible plants at the Nature Nights on June 11, 2015 (Image credit: Wildflower Center)

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Nature Nights, Wildflower Center

A Salute to Justin Bush, Invasive Hunter

Commander Ben and Mr. Justin Bush show off their Invasive Hunter moves at the UT Austin Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas

Commander Ben and Mr. Justin Bush show off their Invasive Hunter moves at the UT Austin Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas

I was sad to receive an email from Mr. Justin Bush, letting me know that he will be leaving his position as Invasive Species Coordinator for Texasinvasives.org and the University of Texas at Austin, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

This month’s iWire newsletter also announced the changing of the guard and Mr. Bush’s move from Austin, Texas, to Seattle, Washington, to work for the King County Noxious Weed Control Program.

I enjoyed getting to know Mr. Bush at the 2014 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council (TIPPC) conference and later had the chance to join forces with him at last year’s Camp Mabry Muster Days.

Muster Days adventures

During our Muster Days weekend, Mr. Bush shared the Texas A&M Forest Service table with Mr. Mike Murphrey. Mr. Bush talked with attendees about the Wildflower Center and invasive species, and Mr. Murphrey talked with them about our wonderful Texas trees.

I set up my Invasive Hunter Academy nearby to recruit kids of all ages as future Invasive Hunters. We had a great time and were thrilled by the exciting activities during the Muster Days weekend.

Throughout last year, we kept in touch and he provided me with many materials about Texas wildflowers and invasive species to hand out at my Invasive Hunter Academy events.

Mr. Bush is a wonderful man. What truly amazed me about Mr. Bush was his dedication to the fight against invasive species. Mr. Bush had a gift for two of the most important skills as an invasive hunter, early detection and rapid response. He helped to detect and manage invasive species with his leadership and by participating in and leading surveys and removals.

Like Dr. Damon Waitt, Mr. Bush was a great mentor to me and really helped me to learn more about invasive species and our wonderful Texas ecosystem.

Thank you! 🙂

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Damon Waitt, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Justin Bush, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Texas Invasives

National Invasive Species Awareness Week 2015

National Invasive Species Awareness Week logo (image credit: NISAW)

National Invasive Species Awareness Week logo (image credit: NISAW)

National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW) 2015 starts today (February 22) and continues through February 28! After being absent from Washington D.C. since 2012, NISAW 2015 returns with lots of activities, including a invasive species fair and congressional reception on February 25. There are also many state activities too.

In Texas, Mr. Justin Bush, Invasive Species Coordinator for Texasinvasives.org, has special Invaders of Texas Citizen Scientist Workshops that you can join to learn how to report invasive plants and use the new Texas Invasives mobile app. (Here’s a video I made with an earlier version of the Texas Invaders iPhone App.)

Kids’ Day at National Invasive Species Awareness Week 2012

I was happy to bring my Invasive Hunter Academy to Kid’s Day at NISAW 2012 that was held at the US Botanic Garden. Here are some of my adventures teaching kids about invasive species during my 2012 trip:

What happened to National Invasive Species Awareness Week 2013 and 2014?

Sadly, the events for NISAW 2013 were cancelled because of the government sequester and the event was not rescheduled until 2015.

NISAW 2013 was special for me because the National Invasive Species Council (NISC) gave me the 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer of the Year Award. What a great honor! But I was disappointed that I couldn’t go to Washington DC that year to accept the award.

Kids’ Day at National Invasive Species Awareness Week 2015

This year’s Kid’s Day at NISAW 2015 is being held on February 28, 2015, during National Invasive Species Awareness Day at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH).

If you’re in Washington D.C., you’ll learn about invasive species from the presenters with lots of interactive activities for kids. Afterwards, be sure to visit the top five Washington DC museums for Invasive Species Hunters. (Don’t forget the International Spy Museum. It’s great! Sometimes hunting invasive species requires stealth.)

Invasive Hunter Academy at Nature Nights 2015

I have some great news to share with you! I’m excited to announce that I’ll be bringing the Invasive Hunter Academy back to Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas.

The Nature Nights plants special event on June 11 has a special theme this year. I can’t wait to share it with you in an upcoming blog post. 😉

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Invasive Species, Justin Bush, National Invasive Species Awareness Week, National Invasive Species Council, NISAW

Learning about Texas Invasive Species during Muster Days at Camp Mabry

You didn't have to walk far to find Commander Ben and the Invasive Hunter Academy during Muster Days at Camp Mabry

You didn’t have to walk far to find Commander Ben and the Invasive Hunter Academy
during Muster Days at Camp Mabry

This spring I was honored to be invited to bring my Invasive Hunter Academy to 2014 American Heroes Days at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas.

This special weekend included the Muster Days event, and the academy was part of the Texas environmental section with activities and booths for kids and attendees. In addition to the Texas ecosystem activities, there were lots of military displays and reenactments, including a WWII battle.

Here are some pictures from the event:

 Austin kids creating their invasive species action dioramas as part of the Invasive Hunter Academy at Camp Mabry


Austin kids creating their invasive species action dioramas as part of the Invasive Hunter Academy at Camp Mabry

I always enjoy teaching kids about Texas invasive species through the Invasive Hunter Academy’s fun activities. This was the third academy event that I held this spring, including taking the academy on the road to Austin school kids for Earth Day at St. Edwards University.

 Justin Bush, Commander Ben, and Mike Murphrey in front of the Texas A&M Forest Service table. I'm holding my "May the forest be with you" bookmark.


Justin Bush, Commander Ben, and Mike Murphrey in front of the Texas A&M Forest Service table. I’m holding my “May the forest be with you” bookmark.

Justin Bush talking about the Wildflower Center and Mike Murphrey talking about Texas trees at Camp Mabry

Justin Bush talking about the Wildflower Center and Mike Murphrey talking about Texas trees at Camp Mabry

Mr. Justin Bush, Invasive Species Coordinator for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and Mr. Mike Murphrey, Forester with the Texas A&M Forest Service, teamed up to talk about native Texas plants and trees.

Mr. Bush is a wonderful friend and great speaker. He has traveled across the state giving talks and workshops to train citizen scientists how to spot invasive species. He gave me a bunch of Wildflower Center and invasive species brochures to hand out at my academy events. (Thanks, Justin!) Be sure to sign up for the iWire newsletter to stay in touch with the latest Texas invasive species news.

Mr. Murphrey loves Texas trees, and it shows every time he talked with attendees at the event. He explained how trees are renewable resources and how important they are to our ecosystem and economy. He brought a large cross section of a Texas tree to show everyone the rings, the differences between heartwood and sapwood, and how xylem and phloem moved water and nutrients throughout the tree. (I learned a lot about plants in my high school freshman biology class.)

Commander Ben visiting with the Austin Zoo at Camp Mabry

Commander Ben visiting with the Austin Zoo at Camp Mabry

 Safari Greg and Commander Ben want you to hop over to the Austin Zoo


Safari Greg and Commander Ben want you to hop over to the Austin Zoo

Safari Greg with the Austin Zoo brought a lot of animals, including an adorable tortoise and this cute baby kangaroo, to show kids on Sunday. The Austin Zoo helps many animals in need, rescuing and rehabilitating them. I had fun visiting their southwest Austin location when I was younger.

Lots of goodies from Texas Military Forces to commemorate Army Earth Day

Lots of goodies from Texas Military Forces to commemorate Army Earth Day

Notice those large colored rocks to help hold down the papers in the Army Earth Day booth in case of wind. That’s a great idea! I used large binder clips to help keep my academy materials from blowing away during the 2014 Milam County Nature festival.

Petroglyphs wall activity at the beginning of the Muster Days event before kids started adding their cave drawings

Petroglyphs wall activity at the beginning of the Muster Days event before kids started adding their cave drawings

 Local Plant Source also had a booth at Camp Mabry's event


Local Plant Source also had a booth at Camp Mabry’s event

Many examples of native plants at Camp Mabry to help people avoid planting invasives

Many examples of native plants at Camp Mabry to help people avoid planting invasives

 Did you know you can fish at Camp Mabry? I didn't, but it's true!


Did you know you can fish at Camp Mabry? I didn’t, but it’s true!

The secret nature boxes activity is always a lot of fun for kids

The secret nature boxes activity is always a lot of fun for kids

Texas Military Forces: The Power of Partnerships. What an honor to be listed with a lot of great nature organizations!

Texas Military Forces: The Power of Partnerships.
What an honor to be listed with a lot of great nature organizations!

 Humvee parked outside the Texas Military Forces Museum


Humvee parked outside the Texas Military Forces Museum

You never know who might helicopter in during Muster Days

You never know who might helicopter in during Muster Days

Where did that Sherman Tank go? It was here just a minute ago.

Where did that Sherman Tank go? It was here just a minute ago.

The Sherman Tank that I took a picture with at the Texas Military Forces Museum was gone! But it wasn’t MIA. Instead, it was leading the charge during the WWII battle reenactment during Muster Days at Camp Mabry. The Axis powers were no match!

I really love dogs, so it was great to find a booth for the canine corps and the police force dogs. These dogs are great because they can enter buildings to quickly find threats or hostages. They really help to protect our soldiers, and I got a neat t-shirt from them.

Dr. Linda Brown and Commander Ben in front of the Invasive Hunter Academy at Camp Mabry

Dr. Linda Brown and Commander Ben in front of the Invasive Hunter Academy at Camp Mabry

My thanks to Dr. Linda Brown, Natural Resource Program Manager with the Texas Military Department, for inviting me to the event. I met Dr. Brown during the 2014 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest conference in Port Aransas earlier this year.

Dr. Brown made me feel at home, and we talked about our wonderful Texas ecosystem and how I’ve enjoyed visiting Camp Mabry and attending previous Muster Days since I was a young naturalist. (I guess I still am, but a little older than before!)

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under American Heroes Day, Camp Mabry, iWire Texas Invasives Newsletter, Justin Bush, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Linda Brown, Mike Murphrey, Muster Days, Texas A&M Forest Service, Texas Military Forces Museum

Wildflower Center Family Garden Welcomes Young Invasive Hunters

Young Austin naturalists train in the Invasive Hunter Academy during Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Young Austin naturalists train in the Invasive Hunter Academy during Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

This month I brought my Invasive Hunter Academy to the Plants and Play event—the first Nature Nights of the summer at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center! This was the first time that a Nature Nights event was held outdoors at the Wildflower Center’s Luci and Ian Family Garden. I had a great time and here’s a collection of pictures from that night.

Kids training to become Invasive Hunters during Nature Nights

Kids training to become Invasive Hunters during Nature Nights

Lots of great kids came to visit with me to learn how to become invasive hunters.  They especially enjoyed picking out a prize upon their “graduation” from the Academy.

Kids training in the visual identification of invasive species

Kids training in the visual identification of invasive species

It’s always so much fun to play the identification game with the kids where they have to guess whether a plant is an invasive or a native.  Many times they guess right about identifying native plants, especially when it comes to the Texas Bluebonnet!  Even the parents get involved and are often surprised that they have an invasive growing in their yard.  And it’s often Elephant Ear!

Kids practicing their invasive hunter moves

Kids practicing their invasive hunter moves

As the kids and I progress through the Academy, I teach them the Taekwondo moves that they are going to need to take down those pesky invasives.

Kids working on their invasive hunter action dioramas

Kids working on their invasive hunter action dioramas

The final step of the Academy is where the kids get to create their own action diorama with their character battling an invasive plant species.

Kids learning how to create the popup feature for their invasive hunter action dioramas

Kids learning how to create the popup feature for their invasive hunter action dioramas

As I explained to the future invasive hunters how to make the dioramas, I described the invasive hunter character as a “he”…but then one of the girls piped up…”or a she!”  How right she was.  Anyone can be an invasive hunter and her enthusiasm proved it!

Invasive Hunter graduate (yea!) points out invasive species he's seen

Invasive Hunter graduate (yea!) points out invasive species he’s seen

Thanks Mr. Justin Bush, invasive species coordinator for the Wildflower Center, for the invasive species books and brochures that I could pass out to kids. This young invasive hunter talked with me about the invasive species that he saw around Austin.

HEB volunteers couldn't resist joining the fight against invasive species

HEB volunteers couldn’t resist joining the fight against invasive species

Our HEB supermarket chain is a generous sponsor of Nature Nights and of other Austin nature events for kids, including Earth Week at St. Edwards University.

Play or hop across dinosaur creek at the Wildflower Center

Play or hop across dinosaur creek at the Wildflower Center

I loved the creek at the Wildflower Center. It’s as much fun for kids to wander along (or play in) as the water features at the Austin Nature Center.

Waterfall at the Wildflower Center's Luci and Ian Family Garden

Waterfall at the Wildflower Center’s Luci and Ian Family Garden

The waterfall in the Hill Country Grotto that’s part of the Wildflower Center’s Luci and Ian Family Garden is a great place to hide.

Coyote statues at the Wildflower Center

Coyote statues at the Wildflower Center

The bronze coyote statues were popular for kids to play on during the night. My Invasive Hunter Academy was set up near these coyotes, and I remember one boy telling his mom that Medusa was here.

I love dogs. Here’s my dog, Obi Wan.

It's fun to relax in the huge bird nests at the Wildflower Center

It’s fun to relax in the huge bird nests at the Wildflower Center

When you visit the Luci and Ian Family Garden don’t forget to visit “The Nests”.  They were one of the highlights of the new garden.

Bill Oliver and the Otter Space Band join Commander Ben to help protect our native ecosystem

Bill Oliver and the Otter Space Band join Commander Ben to help protect our native ecosystem

It was great to see Bill Oliver (“Mr. Habitat”) and his Otter Space Band performing at the Wildflower Center. I first met Mr. Habitat at this year’s Milam County Nature Festival.

Past Nature Nights at the Wildflower Center

Commander Ben and Julie Graham prepare their Invasive Hunter moves during the Wildflower Center's Nature Nights

Commander Ben and Julie Graham prepare their Invasive Hunter moves during the Wildflower Center’s Nature Nights

Thanks, Ms. Julie Graham, Education Specialist at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, for inviting me to be part of my third Nature Nights. What a wonderful honor!

Wildflower Center Nature Nights - Plant and Play event information on the web

Wildflower Center Nature Nights – Plant and Play event information on the web

Here’s my blog post previewing my 2014 visit to Nature Nights:

Wildflower Center Nature Nights - Plant and Play event sign

Wildflower Center Nature Nights – Plant and Play event sign

And here are posts from my previous Nature Nights visits:

More adventures for Austin kids this summer

There are lots more Nature Nights to enjoy this summer through July 24 (with a break for the Fourth of July week). Here’s a full list of events, including tonight’s event on water, which should be lots of fun with the waterfall and Dinosaur Creek that’s part of the Wildflower Center’s Luci and Ian Family Garden.

  • June 12: Plants and play
  • June 19: Fossils
  • June 26: Wondrous water
  • July 10: Snakes
  • July 17: Wildlife tracking
  • July 24: Birds of Prey

Hope you’re having a great summer!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Austin Nature and Science Center, Invasive Hunter Academy, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Nature Nights

Which invasive species will you battle at the Wildflower Center?

Wanted: Invasive species - Needed: Invasive Hunters to protect our native ecosystems!

Wanted: Invasive species – Needed: Invasive Hunters to protect our native ecosystems!

This week starts a summer of fun at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. On Thursday, June 12, from 5-8 p.m. the Wildflower Center kicks off the first Nature Nights of 2014 with a focus on plants and play in the new Luci and Ian Family Garden. (The garden is new to the Wildflower Center this year, and I’m looking forward to enjoying it with all the kids.)

There will be lots of free kids activities, including habitat hikes, a scavenger hunt, big bubbles (oooh! I’m liking this!), ring toss, and lots more. You’ll even meet local nature celebrities, including Bill Oliver and The Otter Space Band. (I first met Mr. Oliver at this spring’s Milam County Nature Festival.)

Invasive species at the Wildflower Center?

There are a few plants that I’m sure will not be part of the plant petting zoo during Nature Nights, and they’re all invasives!

You can do your part to help stop the spread of these non-native plant species from overrunning our native ecosystem.

As part of my Invasive Hunter Academy during Nature Nights, kids will get the chance to learn about invasive species and their impact on our environment through these fun activities:

  • Visual activities (Is that an invasive or native plant that I see?)
  • Action moves (I attended my taekwondo class last night to brush up on the moves that I’ll teach you!)
  • Creating an action diorama featuring you battling an invasive species (You can take this home along with some other surprises!)

Graduates from the academy become Invasive Hunters, ready to protect their native ecosystems. We need young naturalists (like you and kids you know!) to become guardians of our central Texas galaxy!

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Nature Nights, Wildflower Center