News Categories: Parks & Trails

19 Feb
By: Communications 0

Trapping: A Short-Term Solution to a Long-Term Problem

Raccoons, squirrels, opossums, bats, and snakes – they’re the animals homeowners love to hate. These adaptable species often invade homes in search of food and shelter. Left unchecked, they can cause thousands of dollars in damage.

Although wildlife relocation may seem like a humane option, the practice can be costly, ineffective, and detrimental to animals. Frustrated homeowners often turn to pest-control companies for wildlife removal, only to discover their services are ineffective.

Short-Term Solution

In most cases, relocated animals cannot adapt to their new surroundings, no matter how lush their new home appears. Species that stockpile large quantities of food, such as squirrels, are especially prone to starvation if moved too far away from their food source. According to a 2004 study by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, 97 percent of gray squirrels relocated to a forest either died or disappeared from their release site within three months. Other times, these newcomers are killed by rival animals defending their territory or by speeding vehicles.

The animals that survive relocation often come back to haunt well-meaning homeowners. Because Texas law requires some species to be released within 10 miles of their trap site, many relocated animals return home within a few days of being released. Mothers who are separated from their babies are especially determined to return to the nesting site. In fact, it’s not uncommon for homeowners to pay a pest-control company to relocate an animal multiple times, not realizing that the same animal has returned. The best option is to keep animals within their native habitat to maintain balance in the area.

The data-supported reason for this is found in the adage: nature abhors a vacuum. Relocate 100 raccoons, and 102 will move back. When animals are removed from their territory, it’s like putting up a flashing vacancy sign. If a species’ population drops below a critical level, females will have more litters per year, and the litter size increases accordingly.

How to Protect Your Home

Animals target homes with accessible outdoor food and damaged exteriors. Once an animal enters your home, you need to decide the seriousness of the situation. Is it simply a bird’s nest on your porch or a rat’s nest in your walls? If you can’t wait for the animal to leave, act fast! Ridding a home of animals in the winter and fall is much easier than in the spring and summer when babies are likely involved.

First, locate all possible entry points for wildlife. To monitor the movement of wildlife within your home, you can stuff entry points with balled-up paper or plastic grocery bags. If the material hasn’t been moved in three to four days, it’s safe to repair the area. If you discover an area in use by wildlife, experts recommend making the area uncomfortable so the animal will leave.

Non-lethal methods, such as bright lights, loud music, Cayenne pepper, and mothballs, can turn a quiet den perfect for nesting into an undesirable location. If these methods work, the animal may decide to leave temporarily for a more comfortable den. To ensure these animals don’t return, repair all entry points and remove all food sources.

Unfortunately, most wildlife-removal techniques are costly and rarely work once you develop an infestation. That’s why the best tactic is always prevention. You can make your home less attractive to wildlife by making the following improvements:

  • Don’t leave pet food and water outside (If you feed strays, only set food out at certain times and remove it promptly afterward).
  • Ensure trash can lids are secure. To prevent determined visitors, secure trash lids with cords. Keep firewood and logs at least 2 feet above the ground.
  • Make sure branches do not extend over or near your roof (Keep in mind squirrels can jump 9 feet horizontally).
  • Repair any holes or weak points in the siding. Look for entry points near exhaust fan openings, kitchen and bathroom vents, chimneys, and above gutters.

By following these tips, homeowners can save money and address the cause of an animal invasion rather than treating the symptom.

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19 Feb
By: Communications 0

Humble ISD’s Mosaic Program Adopts Trail

Students with Humble ISD’s Mosaic program recently traveled to Jones Park to officially kick off their participation in the park’s Adopt-A-Trail Program. As part of their commitment, students will dedicate at least one year to removing invasive species and clearing the area along Jones Park’s River Birch Trail.

The Mosaic program, which serves special education students over 18, provides learning and recreational opportunities for program participants transitioning into adulthood. Students practice independent living and social skills, gain real-world job experience, and volunteer in the community. Tim Craig, a paraeducator with the Mosaic Program, selected Jones Park’s Adopt-A-Trail Program to fulfill the volunteering component of the program.

“The outdoors has always brought me so much joy, and I wanted to share that passion with our Mosaic students,” said Craig. “Volunteering in the community is something our students can take ownership in, inspiring stewardship and service.”

Jones Park’s Adopt-A-Trail Program is an opportunity for groups of all sizes and types to sponsor a section of Jones Park’s extensive trail system. Sponsoring groups commit to maintaining a trail by controlling invasive, non-native plants and conducting selective vegetation management. The initial workday begins with a short training session in invasive-plant identification and removal. Each group dedicates a minimum of one year to maintaining their trail by conducting a 3- to 4-hour volunteer workday approximately every three months.

“The trail adoption program is a great opportunity for those who are trying to get outdoors more,” said Jones Park Volunteer Coordinator Kim Hammond. “The students will be helping improve the park for both guests and native wildlife.”

Any organization or group can adopt a trail, including scouts, schools, churches, home-school groups, conservation organizations, and companies in need of volunteer hours for its employees. There is no maximum or minimum size group, as each is assigned a section of Jones Park’s trail system based on the number of participants.

If your organization or group is interested in adopting a trail, contact Jones Park staff at 281-446-8588 or at jjp@hcp4.net.

Jones Park staff wishes to thank all the groups that take part in our Adopt-A-Trail program, including Holy Trinity Episcopal School, Jesse Jones Park Volunteers, Robbins Chevrolet & Nissan, and YES Prep. Your commitment helps Jones Park remain in a natural and native state for the benefit of wildlife and park visitors.

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04 Feb
By: Communications 0

Find Rare and Unusual Plants at March March

Planning a lush landscape makeover? While major retail garden centers may seem like a good place to start, they often offer a limited variety of plants. Make your yard stand out by heading to Mercer Botanic Gardens for the annual March Mart Plant Sale Friday, March 15, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday, March 16, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Early shopping is available for The Mercer Society (TMS) members Friday, March 15, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and for TMS members with VIP Early Access Thursday, March 14, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Shoppers will discover a variety of hard-to-find plants, flowers, and trees that thrive in sun or shade, winter or summer. Whether you are looking for ornamental trees or rare plants, March Mart offers a plethora of botanical gems.

Ready to start shopping? Get a sneak peek of some of March Mart’s top plants below.

The Purple Ghost Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) is a new introduction to March Mart with intense red-purple leaves and black veins during the spring. The new leaves almost glow before they age to red in the summer and orange in autumn. This small but spectacular tree is ideal for gardens limited in size, wooded areas, courtyards, and containers.

The Sunsation Magnolia (Magnolia X) blooms in late-spring with lovely 6- to 7-inch lemon-yellow flowers with a blush of purple at the base. Blooming from a very young age, usually by the second year if not sooner, this trouble-free, quick-growing plant matures to about 25 to 30 feet tall and 8 to 30 feet wide. Thriving in full sun to partial shade, Sunsation is a perfectly-shaped tree you will treasure as a specimen, foundation plant, or focal point of a border.

A jewel of the shade garden is the rare and unusual ginger, Kaempferia Red Leaf. Gingers are so versatile that they can be grown in sun or shade. This Peacock Ginger grows round, red, 12-inch leaves that dramatically hug the ground or curl around edges and borders. Fat, white flowers with purple lips appear in its crown all summer. It is an ideal specimen for a shady pocket in the garden or planted en masse for a truly striking effect.

The butterfly ginger (Hedychium ‘Pink V’) is the star of the hot summer show. This heat-tolerant ginger loves to bloom when the temperatures rise to 95 degrees and higher! Tall, 12-inch flower heads bear white, butterfly-shaped blossoms with a coral-pink “V” in its center that emits a sweet citrus fragrance. This 6-foot ginger is easy to grow in a sunny garden bed.

Mercer Blue Thunbergia (Thunbergia battiscombei), with its brilliant blue, trumpet-shaped flowers and yellow throat in the spring and summer, is a stunning addition to any landscape. Its vine-like growth tends to drape so it does extremely well in hanging baskets or on an arbor or trellis. Light frost kills it, but the plant returns in the spring. This plant grows in part shade or part sun.

Rose lovers will find over 40 varieties of ungrafted roses, including 10 varieties of Texas A&M’s Earth Kind Roses, such as Belinda’s Dream and Carefree Beauty. These beautiful pink roses are fragrant and grow very well in the Houston area.

 

The cigar plant (Cuphea ignea) produces a profusion of scarlet blooms tipped in yellow from late-spring until frost. These delicate, tubular flowers are sure to attract hummingbirds to your yard all season long. Plant this easy-to-grow perennial for a tough addition to your garden that can survive even the coldest winters.

 

If you are looking for a stunning, smaller plant that can withstand the Houston heat, try Fuzzy Bolivian Sage (Salvia oxyphora). This tall, sun-loving salvia consistently draws “oohs and ahhs” at Mercer. Plant this pollinator magnet along a border or at the back of your garden and watch as its big, bold, fuzzy, fuchsia-colored blooms attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds all season long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you have a shady spot in your garden to fill, consider planting ribbon bush or tapeworm plant (Homalocladium platycadum) for its unusual flattened stems and upright growth habit. Long wands of flat, jointed, and leafless half-inch wide stems make this an interesting specimen for large pots in a lightly shaded area. It is somewhat drought tolerant but loves humidity – a perfect plant for Houston!

 

Aquatic milkweed (Asclepias perennis), a Harris County native plant, is unlikely to be found at garden centers or big box stores. The aquatic milkweed at Mercer is grown from seeds collected within the county and perfectly adapted to growing in this area. The aquatic milkweed generally grows to about 12 inches, with a comparable spread. It will easily withstand a light freeze and can be rooted from cuttings, if you want to expand your milkweed population. Preferred by the monarch butterfly, this native milkweed features tender leaves perfect for feeding young caterpillars. In our area, the queen butterfly will also use the aquatic milkweed as a caterpillar host plant.

 

For the vegetable lover, heirloom tomato varieties offer incomparable eating quality and flavor that has led seed savers to collect and pass them down through generations of growers. Many heirloom tomatoes are sweeter and lack a genetic mutation that gives tomatoes a uniform red color at the cost of the fruit’s taste. While the flavor of heirlooms surpasses many modern varieties, they do require more attention from the grower. Heirloom tomato varieties offered at March Mart include Amish Paste, Black Krim, Brandywine; Cherokee Green, Cherokee Purple, German Johnson, Glacier, Green Zebra, Japanese Black Trifele, Matt’s Wild Cherry, Nepal, Red Pear Piriform, San Marzano, Striped German, and Yellow Pear.

 

 

 

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04 Feb
By: Communications 0

Name That Plant: Tapeworm Plant

The tapeworm plant, or ribbon bush (Homalocladium platycadum), is a shade-loving plant perfect in a pot or growing in the ground. Although it is somewhat drought tolerant, it thrives in high humidity. It is a hardy evergreen to about 25 degrees and typically will come back from the roots in the spring. You can find this plant at the March Mart Plant Sale Friday, March 15, and Saturday, March 16!

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04 Feb
By: Communications 0

Meet Mercer Volunteer Tina Davies

Get Tina Davies talking, and there’s no telling what you’ll learn. Before becoming a Mercer volunteer, this educator studied everything from mushroom taxonomy to music.

Growing up in Lubbock, Texas, Davies always had an interest in the natural world. After graduating from the University of Texas in Austin with a degree in botany and liberal arts, Davies taught high school biology and physical science for two years before traveling to Michigan to earn a degree in mushroom taxonomy.

“I’ve always had an interest in mushrooms,” she says. “But it turned out that a master’s degree in fungi won’t take you very far in the corporate world, especially in Michigan!”

Washington, D.C., was the next stop, and Davies sought work at Hood College. Davies assured the administration with confidence that she could teach anything, and she ended up teaching Embryology and Comparative Anatomy for four years.

A turning point for Davies came when she met the man who would later become her husband. After giving her husband an Appalachian lap dulcimer as a wedding gift, the two bonded over their love of the instrument and eventually formed a band.

“We met another couple at a dulcimer festival, and now we perform as the Dulcimer Doins,” she says. “We’ve performed at the Jesse Jones Pioneer Festivals and for kindergartens and churches.”

Soon after marrying, Davies and her husband began traveling the world together, living in Jerusalem, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia before settling in Montgomery County.

“We purchased some acreage in Montgomery County, and I began teaching biology at the John Cooper School in The Woodlands,” she says. “I became the chair of the science department and was there for 17 years.”

After moving to Montgomery County, Davies took up an old hobby. An admitted insect enthusiast who likes spiders and snakes, Tina completed the Texas Master Naturalist Program and became a volunteer at the Mercer Botanical Center (MBC) at Mercer Botanic Gardens.

Today, Davies works to update the MBC’s herbarium database, a process that can be both painstaking and rewarding.

“Just getting the Latin names spelled correctly can be a challenge,” says Anita Tiller, Mercer botanist.
“Tina does an exceptional job not only capturing the information but carefully handling each specimen.”

The MBC has more than 55,000 plant specimens, each with its own unique species and family. Davies carefully transfers information from the specimen documents into the database, which takes great attention to detail. Although the process can be challenging, Davies is proud to help preserve scientific knowledge.

“Tina has a wealth of knowledge, is passionate about plant life, and is full of adventure and fun,” says Tiller. “We are incredibly blessed to have her at Mercer!”

Fun facts about Tina:

  • She cringes at bad grammar. “I used to edit books in the Middle East.”
  • Madame Alexander dolls are her favorite childhood toy.
  • She enjoys Scottish dancing and would live in Britain if given the opportunity.
  • If she were to pursue another career, she’d study molecular biology – genetics – using DNA sequencing for disease prevention and cures.
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