Harris County Precinct 4 Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Gardens
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American Treasures

  Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly
 
Spicebush Swallowtail
   

Tragic events of September 11, 2001 have consolidated national pride and promoted the need to preserve American heritage. The United States is blessed with a fabulous diversity of native wildlife, from grizzly bears and giant redwood trees to delicate winged jewels, the butterflies and moths, and myriad of wildflowers. Each of these treasures, no matter how large or how small, deserves a place in this country to enrich lives and to confirm a healthy environment for future generations of Americans.

In 1984, the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC) in St. Louis formed a network of botanical gardens throughout the United States and territories to serve as a seed bank for those native American plants under threat of extinction. In Texas, this responsibility is shared by Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Gardens, San Antonio Botanical Garden, and The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin.

The Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar  
Spicebush Swallowtail Catepillar
(Photo by Carlos Hernandez)
 
   
The work to study these plants, protect their habitats, and relocate endangered plants to secure habitats is accomplished by volunteers, landowners, colleges, universities, and government and private organizations. Funds are also provided by CPC endowments dedicated to these plants.

The rare pondberry (Lindera melissifolia), a floodplain shrub, is one of over 15 species maintained for the CPC at Mercer and only exists in the wild in a few midwest and southeast states. Mercer’s pondberry is sponsored by Alice C. Fick of Auburn, Alabama in memory of Kenneth C. Beighley and by the Edward K. Love Conservation Foundation of St. Louis.

Often it is forgetten that America’s native plants are the foundation of the food chains for native animals (and humans). Caterpillars are the immature stage of the life cycle of butterflies, and, often both require very specific plants as their food source. Pondberry and spicebush shrubs (Lindera species), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), and a few additional members of the laurel and magnolia families are native host plants for the caterpillars and native spicebush swallowtail butterfly (Papilio troilus). Spicebush swallowtails follow the ranges of the caterpillars’ native host plants from southern Canada to Florida and west to Oklahoma and Central Texas.

  White Bladderpod
 
White Bladderpod
(Photo by Greg Wieland)
 

The rare white bladderpod (Lesquerella pallida) and large-fruited sand verbena (Abronia macrocarpa) of East Texas are fully sponsored by CPC endowments by The Quaker Hill Foundation of Wayzata, Minnesota and the Houston families of Sellers J. Thomas, Frank A. Liddell, Jr., and Charles F. Squire for Mercer.

Texas trailing phlox (Phlox nivalis ssp texensis) is currently in reintroduction into its historical range, The Big Thicket National Preserve of the National Park Service (NPS) in Hardin County, Texas. The Garden Club of Houston, River Oaks Garden Club of Houston, Magnolia Garden Club of Beaumont, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, The Texas Nature Conservancy, and Sam Houston State, Lamar, and Stephen F. Austin State universities are working together with the NPS to support these reintroductions. Recently, a CPC endowment for Texas trailing phlox has been initiated by a sponsorship from longtime Mercer volunteer, Carol Kobb of Conroe, in memory of her friend, Millie Gaudino of Houston.

Over 500 species in the CPC’s National Collection of Endangered Plants, including those maintained by Mercer, may be viewed and studied at www.mobot.org/CPC. Vanishing Wildlife of Texas, by John and Gloria Tveten and published by the Endangered Species Media Project (www.vanishingwildlife.com), provides a wealth of information about endangered plant and animal treasures.

Anita A. Tiller, Botanist
Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Gardens
Adapted from Parkscape, Spring 2002