News Categories: Mercer Botanic Gardens

16 Jun
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Name That Flower: July 2020

The common name of this small, deciduous Texas native tree comes from the shape of the delicate leaves, which resemble a popular garnish on a dinner plate. The ornamental tree provides year-round interest, displaying colorful foliage and bright red fruits in the fall and winter. Dainty, white, five-petaled flowers with bright pink anthers on the stamen tips appear in the spring.

The tree is also noteworthy for its culinary and medicinal properties. The fruit can be eaten raw or made into jelly, and the leaves and fruit can be brewed into tea. Interestingly, extracts from the plant have been found to lower blood pressure.

Reveal: Parsley Hawthorn (Crataegus marshallii) in the Rosaceae family.

Did you know? The flowers from this Crataegus species are pollinator friendly and are especially beneficial for native bees and butterflies. Thorny stems prevent predators and make it a good place for birds to nest.

* The culinary and medicinal uses of plants listed here are for informational purposes only.

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15 Jun
By: Communications 0

Five Plants Perfect for Summer

Many gardeners start spring with the best of intentions, dutifully heading to the local nursery to purchase the biggest, brightest, and boldest blooms available. Yet when the heat of summer strikes, plants that once grew effortlessly struggle to produce a sprout. While the pansies, snapdragons, and lilies that filled garden beds only months before wither and die, the Bermuda grass, clovers, and sedges multiply, turning your once beautiful garden into a wasteland.

Fortunately, it’s not too late to start over. With a few well-placed plants and a little extra summer care, you can enjoy vibrant color through fall. Here are five options that you can plant now that will last all summer.

Gulf Coast Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris)

This Texas native grass seems to sparkle in the sun. With fine blades of grass topped by wispy, pink seed heads, muhly grass has an ethereal quality and can resemble pink smoke from a distance. Blooming in late summer to fall, this versatile grass grows in sun or partial shade and can reach 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Plant it in masses or incorporate it into a native landscape with coneflowers for effortless beauty.


This popular shrub produces nonstop blooms in white, pink, purple, red, orange, and yellow in a variety of color combinations from summer through frost. Because the plant is widely available and easy to grow, some gardeners find lantanas commonplace, but don’t let that deter you. Used creatively in the landscape, lantanas are far from mundane, featuring more than 150 varieties. Be careful though, Lantana camara is invasive. Choose sterile, trailing types for hanging baskets and small spaces or try Texas native lantana (Lantana horrida or Lantana urticoides) to add some pizzazz to a native plant garden. A bee and butterfly magnet, this sunny lantana features yellow to orange flowers with a spread of 3-6 feet. Lantanas thrive on neglect, but prefer full sun and well-drained soil. You can find them growing wild along trails and in forests throughout Harris County.


These plants are no shrinking violets. Salvias embrace hot, dry conditions and can grow up to 6 feet tall. With approximately 1,000 species worldwide, salvias bloom spring through fall in shades of pink, purple, blue, and red. A pollinator favorite, salvias sport tubular blooms that hummingbirds and butterflies find irresistible. Plant them in well-draining soil in an area that receives at least six hours of sunlight.

Eastern Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Another pollinator favorite, coneflowers represent Texas at its best. In the wild, the plant offers a bright pop of lavender in fields of yellow and white wildflowers. With their tough, hardy blooms, purple coneflowers can add old-fashioned charm to any garden, especially pollinator and native plant gardens. Best of all, these drought-tolerant beauties return reliably each spring and bloom all summer. When the blooms drop in winter, goldfinches hang from the plant as they feed on the seeds.
Plant them in rows or in masses behind shorter plants. They pair well with native grasses or other native flowers. Coneflowers grow 2-5 feet tall and prefer full sun to partial shade in well-draining, fertile soils.

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida “Goldsturm”)

A 1999 Perennial Plant of the Year, “Goldsturm” is a drought-tolerant perennial with large, cheerful, daisy-like blooms. They grow up to 3 feet tall in upright, rhizomatous clumps. Flowers appear to glow golden yellow in the landscape and look best planted in drifts behind shorter plants in perennial borders, cottage gardens, or meadow gardens. They pair well with native grasses, salvias, coneflowers, and wildflowers.
The plant blooms summer through fall and prefers full sun to partial shade.

Mercer Plant Sale

These are just a few of the heat-loving plants that will thrive in the summer. Stop by Mercer’s Summer Plant Sale to talk to an expert and learn more about which plants will work best in your garden. Stay tuned for updates on the Mercer Facebook page.

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12 May
By: Communications 0

Five Vacation Plant Care Tips

For most gardeners, there’s nothing worse than coming home from a relaxing vacation to a yard full of dying plants.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to protect your garden and potted plants before heading out on your great adventure. From Ziploc bags to kiddie pools to ice cubes, our experts offer a variety of vacation plant care hacks so you can focus on what really matters – quality time with family and friends.

Here’s how to get started:

1. Create a mini terrarium by storing your potted plants in a Ziploc bag. Bags come in sizes of 1 quart, 1 gallon, or 2.5 gallon, so be sure to choose a bag that completely covers your potted plant. Water the plant thoroughly. Allow the water to drain out of the pot before placing the plant completely into a Ziploc bag and sealing it. The evaporating moisture will create a high humidity environment and prevent the plant from drying out. This works especially well for plants that like high humidity such as philodendrons and other tropical plants. The plant can last for a couple of weeks inside the bag without water. Just make sure to keep it out of direct sunlight.

Ceil Dow,
Harris County Master Gardener
The Mercer Society Ginger Grower

2. Purchase an inexpensive, plastic kiddie pool. Place it in a location in your yard that is ideal for the plants you want to keep watered. Fill it with a few inches of water and place the potted plants into the pool. The water will be drawn into the soil through the holes in the pots, so the plant will stay healthy while you’re away.

Amy Conroy,
The Mercer Society Board Member
March Mart Trees & Shrubs Growing Group Chairperson

3. Move outdoor potted plants to areas where the sprinkler system reaches them. Retain water in the soil by adding soil amendments, such as polymer granules. Place water-filled saucers under your water-loving potted plants, and don’t forget to add mosquito dunks to the saucers to control mosquitoes. Add compost to garden beds to help retain moisture in the soil.

Anita Tiller,
Mercer Botanic Gardens Botanist

4. Water your plants well before leaving on vacation; then let nature do the work. Typically, Houston rainfall averages 4 inches per month, so plants should receive about 1 inch per week on average. If you have a sprinkler system, water for 30 minutes twice a week in the early morning. Make sure you’ve adjusted your sprinkler to reduce runoff. Leading up to your summer vacation, train your plants to require less water with good gardening practices. Water deeply and less frequently so garden plants send down deep roots and are resilient in times of drought. Unless you are gone for more than two weeks, most garden plants should be fine when you return.

Suzzanne Chapman,
Mercer Botanic Gardens Collections Curator

5. An easy way to ensure your family and friends don’t overwater your indoor potted plants is to instruct them to use ice cubes. For every inch in diameter of the pot, use one ice cube. So a 6-inch pot gets six ice cubes once a week. Of course, ice cubes won’t work for outdoor plants. If you don’t have an irrigation system, instruct your designated plant caretaker to follow a watering schedule. Potted plants should be watered twice a week and flower beds need to be watered once a week.

Jeff Heilers,
Mercer Botanic Gardens Horticulturist

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12 May
By: Communications 0

Rediscover Outdoor Adventure this Summer at Mercer Botanic Gardens!

By Jennifer Garrison, Mercer Botanic Gardens Education Director

“Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own.)” — Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

If you’ve ever felt stress, tension, and fatigue magically seem to fade away after stepping outside on a beautiful day, you’re not alone. Research suggests spending time outdoors comes with a variety of health benefits, especially for children. In particular, studies show children who spend more time outdoors have lower rates of childhood obesity, diabetes, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders.

Unfortunately, a loss of natural outdoor play spaces, increased time with electronic media, and even a desire to keep children safe may mean children and families are spending less time outdoors than ever before.

At Mercer Botanic Gardens, we’re dedicated to getting families outside to rediscover nature and the outdoors together. Let’s explore what outdoor activities can do for you and your family:

  • Gets You Moving. Playing outside, hiking, geocaching, gardening, biking, bird watching, and other outdoor activities keeps you fit and increases mental focus.
  • Promotes Imagination. Outdoor play allows children to freely use items in their surroundings to unlock their creativity.
  • Enhances the Senses. Exploring nature involves all the senses and activates the mind and memories. While exploring an outdoor space, families can see, hear, smell, touch, and taste (if safe to do so) what is in the environment.
  • Positive Patterns. Family outdoor adventures set up a lifetime of healthy, active, lifestyle choices. This improves a person’s psychological, social, and physical well-being.
  • Nature Appreciation. Reconnecting with nature builds an appreciation for wildlife and local plant species and forms good stewardship skills to last a lifetime.

If you’re ready to get outside and reap the benefits of nature with family and friends, join Mercer this summer for a variety of outdoor adventures. Families are invited to attend summer camps, family nights, and special Saturday events offered through the Outdoor Adventures programs. Check out the list of activities below.

Outdoor Adventures Summer Camps
Tuesdays, 9 a.m. – noon

Outdoor Adventures Summer Camp offers fun for children 6 to 11. This free camp focuses on a different nature theme each week. Registration is required!

  • Tree ID Mystery: June 9 and July 7
    “Leaf” the fun to us as we investigate trees from their roots to their tip-top branches.
  • Birds of a Feather: June 16 and July 14
    Adventure through a morning of feathered fun as we explore birds at the gardens.
  • Creature Feature: June 23 and July 21
    Investigate creatures that scamper, skitter, slither, and shuffle in the gardens.
  • Hike ‘N Hunt: June 30 and July 28
    Let’s go hunt for hidden treasures cached throughout the gardens during this geocaching adventure.

Outdoor Adventures Family Nights
Wednesdays, 4–6:30 p.m.

Mercer’s education department is extending the summer fun into the early evening hours during Outdoor Adventures Family Nights! Join Mercer on select Wednesday nights in June and July for these free drop-in events. No registration is required.

  • Micro-Mercer: June 17
    Using hand lenses and microscopes, explore the mysterious, tiny plant world at Mercer.
  • Geocaching: June 24
    Hike and explore the trails at the West Side Arboretum to find hidden geocaches. To allow for proper geocaching time, the last hunt begins at 6 p.m.
  • Critter Curiosities: July 15
    From insects and reptiles to birds and mammals, discover the animals that call Mercer home.
  • Geocaching: July 22
    Hike and explore the trails at the West Side Arboretum to find hidden geocaches. To allow for proper geocaching time, the last hunt begins at 6 p.m.

The fun continues with Hawk Talk! on Saturday, June 20, from 10 a.m. to noon. Meet Friends of Texas Wildlife Education Coordinator Cathie Coudert and her red-tailed hawk animal ambassador during this family-friendly event. Registration is required, and space is limited!

Learn about additional events on Mercer’s website and Facebook page. Visit and

Don’t miss these fun-filled opportunities to plug into the outdoors and start healthy habits. Just imagine what your family will discover and the new memories that will be made out in nature. See you in the gardens!

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21 Apr
By: Communications 0

Answers to Your FAQs: Birding at Mercer

Whether you’re looking for a solo outdoor activity or a group outing, Mercer offers plenty of birding opportunities throughout spring and early summer.

Hit the trails on your own or join Mercer’s monthly bird surveys to look for bald eagles soaring along Cypress Creek, cedar waxwings feeding on berries, and great herons visiting Mercer’s wetlands.

To help you get started, our experts answered some of your top birding questions below. Learn about birding programs at Mercer, birding hotspots, and more.

How can I participate in Mercer’s bird survey?

Mercer’s bird surveys begin on the fourth Thursday of each month, starting in May. Please note that programs may be canceled because of COVID-19. Stay tuned for details. Birders must be at least 12 years old. Wear comfortable walking shoes and weather-appropriate clothing, and make sure to bring a bird checklist. Mercer’s 1.7-mile survey loop is primarily crushed asphalt trails. Bring binoculars, water, and insect repellent. Contact Christy Jones at for more information or to request binoculars.

If you can’t join the 1.7-mile survey in person, consider signing up for our monthly bird survey email by contacting Christy Jones at You will receive a recap of the birds sighted during the monthly survey, a list of common birds to prepare for the next survey, and a link to Mercer’s eBird data.

Are there any birding groups I can join at Mercer?

The Spring Creek Circle, a birding club formed in 1982 and managed by the Pineywoods Wildlife Society, has a long history at Mercer. The club meets monthly at Mercer and Precinct 4’s Dennis Johnston Park and participates in the Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count in the gardens.

You can check out their bird-count information by visiting the Audubon Society website and entering the code “TXSC.”

Can I go birding during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Although Precinct 4 parks remain open, all our programs remain canceled through at least April 30, including the monthly birding survey. However, we welcome lone birders or families in our parks who practice social distancing. We believe exercise and time in nature is important for mental health during this crisis.

Birders are encouraged to connect with others on eBird, which is an app for birders around the world to discover new bird species and share bird sightings. With more than 100 bird species recorded at Mercer so far, it’s no wonder the gardens have become a birding hotspot.

You can help us record more species by downloading the eBird app and visiting Mercer.

All you need to get started is an account with Cornell Ornithology Lab, a smart phone, or a computer. Click here to view some of the species found at Mercer on eBird.

What birds will I see at Mercer?

Birders at Mercer can expect to see a variety of southeast Texas favorites, such as the red-bellied woodpecker, green heron, Carolina wren, and eastern bluebird, as well as opportunities to view uncommon or migrating species like the Inca dove, cliff swallow, American woodcock, and bald eagle.

Where and when can I spot birds at Mercer?  

Different types of habitats support different types of birds. Mercer has forested habitats, open land, scrub habitats, and suburban/human-populated areas like parking lots and buildings. Mercer also offers many wetland habitats, including the Hickory Bog, Cypress Swamp, Cypress Creek, and the pond in the Native Plant and Endangered Species Garden. Visit each area to find different birds. Although they may not be immediately obvious, birds can be found in trees and shrubs, on the ground, in the sky, in birdhouses or birdbaths, on electrical wires, on buildings, and in or near water.

For more information on birding programs at Mercer, visit

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