News Categories: Mercer Botanic Gardens

24 Jul
By: Communications 0

Mercer’s Seed Program

Before chain nurseries and superstores rose to prominence, gardeners relied on seed swaps to expand their gardens. The practice not only saved gardeners money, but also promoted plant diversity and preservation.

Much like the gardeners of the past, employees at Mercer Botanic Gardens also swap seeds, just on a much larger scale.

“We store surplus seeds to share or trade with other botanical institutions, gardens, and universities,” said Jacob Martin, Mercer greenhouse manager. “Sharing materials also helps preserve plants. If your only plant died, but you shared some seeds with another garden and those seeds grew, then they can send you a plant or even seeds back.”

With thousands of plants to choose from, Martin said staff members usually have their pick of the best seeds.

“We collect seeds from specimen plants first,” he said. “These plants are perfect examples of how a plant should appear, so we want to preserve them.”

Staff also look for seeds from annuals that perform well or feature beneficial mutations. Over the years, staff can make selections for these odd traits and create a new strain unavailable in stores.

“We try and save those seeds for further research,” he said. “We also try to pick seeds from most plants in the garden because you never know when something could happen and you lose that plant.”

When Martin cannot source a seed from a partner organization, he sometimes goes on seed hunting trips to exotic locations around the world.

“We have plant hunting lists,” he said. “We’re always looking for new plant varieties to try in the gardens.”

Once the seeds are collected, Mercer staff and volunteers clean and dry the seeds before storing them in labeled envelopes and refrigerating them.

“We have a database that we enter the name, date, and where the seed was collected, and special notes such as germination requirements or special storing instructions,” said Martin.

Although fall is usually a good time to harvest seedlings, Martin notes that seeds ripen at different times, so seed harvesting is a year-round process.

“We always need volunteers to help with seed collecting, seed research, and seed cleaning,” he said. For more information about becoming a volunteer, contact Volunteer Coordinator Jamie Hartwell at jhartwell@hcp4.net or mercerbotanicgardens@hcp4.net.

 

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24 Jul
By: Communications 0

Fall Plant Sale and Pollinator Festival Volunteers Needed

Volunteer opportunities are available for anyone who would like to assist during Mercer’s specialty plant sales on Saturday, Sept. 7 and Saturday, Nov. 23. Volunteers will also have opportunities to be greeters, cashiers, ticket writers, Mercer Café staff, wagon wranglers and more for the Pollinator Festival on Saturday, Oct. 5. Volunteers ages 16 and older are invited to apply. For more information, call or email Mercer Volunteer Coordinator Jamie Hartwell at 713-274-4160 or mercerbotanicgardens@hcp4.net.

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23 Jul
By: Communications 0

Dancing Lady Ginger

The petite, elegant flowers of this plant seem to dance as they gold on to reed-like stems. The delicate flowers bloom in summer and last for weeks in the garden.

Dancing lady gingers bring color and beauty to any shade garden. The flowers bloom throughout the summer and are perfect for brightening up a room! Simply cut the flowers and bring indoors for weeks of color.

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23 Jul
By: Communications 0

Ben Milam Legacy Tree

When Texas Revolution hero Benjamin Milam rallied the troops for an assault on the Mexican-held city of San Antonio, he asked a famous question: “Who will go with old Ben Milam into San Antonio?”

The impassioned plea struck a chord with 300 volunteers whose assault on San Antonio on Dec. 5, 1835, led to the surrender of the Mexican army.

The siege ended on Dec. 9 and, in less than three months, Texas was declared independent. However, Milam did not live long enough to see this victory. During the battle, he was shot from a cypress tree. That cypress tree, along with several public schools and a county, was later named in his honor.

Today, history lovers can view the Ben Milam tree along the river walk in San Antonio as part of the city’s riverboat tours. Arborist Laura Medick with Precinct 4’s Legacy Tree Project has also cultivated descendants of the tree to grow in Precinct 4 parks and to donate to schools and nonprofits. Anyone who would like to foster a Ben Milam tree can contact Precinct 4’s Legacy Tree Project at legacytrees@hcp4.net.

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23 Jul
By: Communications 0

Behind the Scenes at Mercer

Most park visitors come to Mercer to enjoy the diverse plant life, themed gardens, and extensive walking trails. But Mercer is more than just a pretty face. Behind the scenes, Mercer staff and volunteers manage a 4,100-square-foot research facility on Titleist Drive at Aldine Westfield called Mercer Botanical Center.

Check out more about what goes on behind the scenes at Mercer Botanical Center, below.

Mercer Botanical Center

As Mercer’s research hub, Mercer Botanical Center features a library, herbarium, seed bank, botanical art collection, and plant collections database. Plant researchers can access 2,400 pen and ink botanical drawings, approximately 4,400 reference books, and more than 50,000 preserved plant specimens. Using these preserved plants, drawings, and reference books, researchers can record changes to plant life and uncover important information about the region.

The center also includes an educational sign engraving machine that produces 500 to 1,000 informational signs annually.

Plant Database

With thousands of plants to track, Mercer relies on a plant database of more than 33,000 plant names, including the 6,000 plants growing at Mercer. Thanks to this database, botanical center staff can explore herbarium records or check plant inventories with a few clicks. As a member of Botanic Gardens Conservation International, a nonprofit dedicated to plant conservation in botanic gardens, Mercer Botanic Gardens shares these plant records with national and international botanic gardens conducting plant studies. After natural disasters, the database can also help Mercer document and recover damaged or lost plants.

Preserving Native Plants

Mercer works with the Center for Plant Conservation to preserve rare native plant species and to maintain a seed bank for the CPC’s National Collection of Endangered Plants. Plants are grown at Mercer and reintroduced into the wild in partnership with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Mercer also manages the Harris County Precinct 4 Prairie Dawn Preserve, home to four naturally occurring rare prairie plants. Registered as a heritage prairie with the Native Prairies Association of Texas, this small preserve is home to nearly 200 native plant species.

Mercer also recently joined the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Genome Initiative, a program in which organisms are frozen to preserve their DNA. Botanists with the initiative collected samples of 17 of 120 priority species at Mercer to preserve. Since most of the Earth’s plants remain unexamined, these samples provide the highest quality cryo-preserved material for genetic studies.

Team Effort

Despite the size of the facility, Mercer maintains a small group of dedicated staff members.

Twenty weekly volunteers, three summer interns, and four full-time employees staff the botanical center while a team of 30 manages the Harris County Precinct 4 Prairie Dawn Preserve and Mercer Botanic Gardens. Assisting these staff members is a team of volunteers, who contributed more than 16,000 hours last year.

For more information, visit http://www.hcp4.net/community/parks/mercer.

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