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20 Apr
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Herbarium Provides Glimpse into the Past

Did you know that Mercer Botanic Gardens offers more than stunning garden views? Behind the scenes, Mercer has a thriving research center boasting a growing collection of pressed and dried plant samples, known to botanists as a herbarium.

Mercer’s herbarium collection started in 1986 and is now located at the Mercer Botanical Center on Titlelist Drive just across Cypress Creek. As of this year, Mercer’s herbarium includes more than 50,000 plant specimens on long-term loan from the Spring Branch ISD Science Center (SBSC).

Dr. Larry Brown, a local botanist, was instrumental in expanding both collections over the years and transferring the SBSC collection to Mercer. This combined collection specializes in Houston metropolitan flora and particularly rare flora from unique saline prairies found in Harris County and other parts of East Texas.

In many ways, a herbarium is like a history book. Each specimen can last indefinitely after it is pressed, dried, and mounted on acid-free paper in climate- and pest-controlled conditions. Researchers can use these preserved plant specimens to reference extinct species or document when plants hybridize and create new genetic lines. While living plants may be short-lived, properly preserved herbarium specimens offer a permanent record that can last for centuries. One of the oldest herbarium collections dates back to 1532!

A herbarium is a critical component in identifying a plant’s geographic location and environment at the time it was collected. Over time, this information can show how plant populations shift as the climate changes. Other entries may show when seeds can be harvested, making this a valuable resource for stocking seed conservation banks.

Taxonomists often extract and study DNA from specimens to determine plant similarities on a genetic level. DNA analysis can reveal relationships between plants not visible under microscopes. Botanical artists and researchers also use herbarium specimens as reference material for identifying plants and creating botanical illustrations.

Maintaining these samples for future generations is a full-time job. Fortunately, Mercer has skilled botanists and a team of dedicated interns and volunteers who carry out this important work. Thank you to all the volunteers who are helping develop and maintain Mercer’s collection!

15 Mar
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Trash Bash at Collins Park

Join the Texas Conservation Fund Saturday, March 24 at 9 a.m. for its 25th annual trash bash at 14 locations in the Galveston Bay Watershed, including Precinct 4’s Collins Park!

Collins Park volunteers will clean 6.5 miles of waterways, including Cypress Creek, Dry Gulley, Pillot Gully, Spring Gully, and adjacent areas. This will include Kickerillo-Mischer Nature Preserve, Cypress Creek Greenway, Meyer Park, Cypress Creek, YMCA, and Collins Park.

“It’s a great opportunity for residents, students, and businesses to get hands-on experience about the effects of littering and learn about simple ways to reduce water pollution at home through interactive educational exhibits,” said Lori Traweek, president of the Texas Conservation Fund.

Parking is located near the pavilion at Collins Park and behind Barbara Bush Library. Registration begins at 8 a.m. at the pavilion. Cleanup is between 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. followed by a free lunch for volunteers.

Trash Bash is the largest single-day waterway cleanup in Texas. In 2017, more than 3000 volunteers collected 52 tons of trash, 1.5 tons for recycling, and 574 tires, while cleaning 150 miles of shoreline. Nearly 1 of every 5 volunteers was a Trash Bash participant, cleaning 28 percent of the total waterway miles, and collecting one quarter of all the trash.

The cleanup promotes environmental stewardship of the watershed through public education by utilizing hands-on educational tools and developing partnerships between environmental, governmental and private organizations.

For more information, visit www.TrashBash.org, call 281-486-9500, or email WaterResources@h-gac.com.

15 Mar
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Mercer Botanic Gardens Celebrates Grand Reopening

Missing Mercer? Get a firsthand look at the newly restored Mercer Botanic Gardens during its grand reopening Saturday, March 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The public is invited to browse Mercer’s East Side Gardens, which have been closed nearly seven months due to damage from Hurricane Harvey.

The event coincides with March Mart, Mercer’s largest plant sale of the year. Funds from the event will help support Mercer’s recovery.

“Mercer staff have worked hard to recover plants in preparation for March Mart and our grand reopening,” said Mercer Interim Director Jim Nutter. “Even if you’re not in the market for new plants, we encourage you to see how renovations are progressing.”

With hundreds of plants to explore, this premier event offers tax-free shopping with no admission charge. Featured items include vibrant tropical gingers, special selections of Mercer-grown plants, Gulf Coast natives, and monarch butterfly host plants, such as native and tropical milkweed. Plants will be organized throughout Mercer in the following groups: annuals and perennials, gingers, native plants, herbs and vegetables, trees and shrubs, and shade plants. Vendors with tropicals, ferns, and carnivorous plants will also be on site.

March Mart began in 1974 as a fundraiser featuring plants donated by local garden club members in old coffee cans and milk cartons. Since then, it has grown into one of the largest plant sales in the Gulf Coast region. March Mart now offers nearly 1,200 species of plants on a site spanning several acres. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own wagons to transport purchases, as only a limited number of wagons are available for use on a first-come, first-served basis. A large plant holding area will be available to allow multiple wagon loads.

The sale is sponsored by TMS, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, and is operated by more than 150 volunteers, many of whom work year-round on plant committees to research, propagate, and care for the plants sold at March Mart. Purchase a TMS membership to gain VIP early access to the sale Friday, March 16 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. or Saturday, March 17 from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Visit www.themercersociety.org to learn more about becoming a TMS member and the various membership benefits. Mercer Botanic Gardens is located one mile north of FM 1960 at 22306 Aldine Westfield Road in Humble, 77338. For more information, contact Mercer at 713-274-4160 or visit www.hcp4.net/community/parks/mercer.

26 Feb
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Mercer Botanic Gardens Celebrates Grand Reopening During March Mart Plant Sale

Celebrate the grand reopening of Mercer Botanic Gardens and browse a variety of hard-to-find plants during the annual March Mart Plant Sale Saturday, March 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Mercer Botanic Gardens.

Purchase a TMS membership to gain VIP early access to the sale Friday, March 16 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. or Saturday, March 17 from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Visit www.themercersociety.org to learn more about becoming a TMS member and the various membership benefits.

“Mercer staff have worked hard to recover plants in preparation for our grand reopening,” said Mercer Interim Director Jim Nutter. “Even if you’re not in the market for new plants, we encourage you to see how renovations are progressing.”

The event marks the first time Mercer’s East Side Gardens have opened to the public since Hurricane Harvey. With hundreds of plants to explore, this premier event offers tax-free shopping with no admission charge. Featured items include vibrant tropical gingers, special selections of Mercer-grown plants, Gulf Coast natives, and monarch butterfly host plants, such as native and tropical milkweed.

Plants will be organized throughout Mercer in the following groups: annuals and perennials, gingers, native plants, herbs and vegetables, trees and shrubs, and shade plants. Vendors with tropicals, ferns, and carnivorous plants will also be on site.

March Mart began in 1974 as a fundraiser featuring plants donated by local garden club members in old coffee cans and milk cartons. Since then, it has grown into one of the largest plant sales in the Gulf Coast region. March Mart now offers nearly 1,200 species of plants on a site spanning several acres. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own wagons to transport purchases, as only a limited number of wagons are available for use on a first-come, first-served basis. A large plant holding area will be available to allow multiple wagon loads.

The sale is sponsored by TMS, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, and is operated by more than 150 volunteers, many of whom work year-round on plant committees to research, propagate, and care for the plants sold at March Mart.

Interested in learning about the volunteer opportunities at Mercer? Discover the many ways to offer your time and talent by visiting www.hcp4.net/community/parks/mercer/volunteering.

With leadership from Commissioner R. Jack Cagle, Mercer Botanic Gardens is a Harris County Precinct 4 Parks facility located one mile north of FM 1960 at 22306 Aldine Westfield Road in Humble, 77338. For more information, contact Mercer at 713-274-4160 or visit www.hcp4.net/community/parks/mercer.

21 Feb
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Wetlands at Jones Park Help Control Flooding

While flood control has become a major priority in recent months, Jones Park has long preserved one of the area’s original flood control systems: wetlands.

In the Houston area, rainwater runoff is channeled through a system of streams and tributaries east into the San Jacinto River and finally south to Galveston Bay. Some of this rain collects in wetlands, which support a variety of plant and animal species.

Located along Spring and Cypress creeks and near the West Fork of the San Jacinto River, Jones Park features an extensive wetland system of floodplain forests, cypress ponds, swamps, and creeks.

These wetlands act as a buffer for surrounding neighborhoods and help slow and filter floodwaters. Areas near these wetlands may benefit from natural flood mitigation and erosion control, which can significantly prevent property damage and even save lives.

Wetlands at Jones Park

While devastating to homes, vehicles, and businesses, floods can be beneficial in the right environment. In nature, floodwaters can revitalize existing wetlands, reshape the land, and create new habitats. Even now, the natural process of flooding and erosion continues to change the land physically and environmentally, although abundant vegetation can help stabilize creek banks and slow this process.

For example, Jones Park’s popular cypress bogs, originally part of Spring Creek, formed over thousands of years of flooding, erosion, and other wind and weather events. As the land changed, plant and animal life suited to soggy conditions moved into the area.

Today, visitors can access the bogs at Jones Park through an elevated boardwalk system, where they can view 400-year-old cypress trees, protruding cypress knees, and a variety of plant and animal life. Bald cypress trees are one of the few trees that can grow year-round in standing water. These “knees” are an adaptation that helps it survive in its watery habitat.

Plants and animals commonly found along the Boardwalk Trail include turtles, frogs, snakes, waterfowl, fish, and mammals. After a heavy rain, visitors can spot these creatures in abundance. Migrating birds also visit wetlands to rest and feed during their cross-continental journeys and as nesting sites.

Often called nurseries of life, wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems. According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, up to 90 percent of Texas’ saltwater and freshwater fish species depend on wetlands for food, spawning, and nursery grounds.

Recreation 

Not only are wetlands beneficial, but they can also be recreational. They are great locations for fishing, canoeing, hiking, and bird-watching, and they make wonderful outdoor classrooms for people of all ages. They provide recreation to area residents and habitat to native wildlife.

Want to help Jones Park maintain this beautiful area? Contact Debbie Banfield at 281-446-8588 or dbanfield@hcp4.net for more information on volunteer opportunities at the park.

21 Feb
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Jones Park Nature Center Renovations Begin

By Darlene Conley Hostetler,
Jones Park director

August 2017 was a month many Texans will never forget. Hurricane Harvey brought approximately 38 inches of rainfall over a five-day period to the Humble and Kingwood area and up to 50 inches of rain over the entire region. The San Jacinto River at Highway 59 crested at more than 69 feet, the highest in recent history. Flood waters overwhelmed the park up to the front entrance gate, measuring 6 feet 4 inches in the Nature Center – two feet higher than the 1994 flood event when the Nature Center flooded for the first time.

Despite damage to the Nature Center and our educational materials, we opened the park three weeks after Harvey and successfully hosted all three fall events, including Tricks & Treats Among the Trees, Pioneer Day, and Old-Fashioned Christmas. We owe a huge thank you to the many faithful volunteers who pitched in before, during, and after the flood with tasks like sorting, moving, cleaning, and washing. Also, just seeing their smiling faces right after the storm lifted our spirits! They worked in uncomfortable and unpleasant conditions, and we couldn’t have done it without them.

Renovation of the Nature Center is underway and major portions are expected to be complete in May. We still have months of recovery ahead, but with such dedicated staff and volunteers, we’ll pull through and come out stronger than before!

29 Jan
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Nursery Bounces Back in Time for Winter

For decades, Mercer Botanic Gardens served as a sanctuary for all varieties of plants. When Hurricane Harvey struck, floodwaters up to 8 feet high swept through the greenhouses, overturning tables and displacing hundreds of plants.

When news of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction broke, botanic gardens from across the country contacted Mercer to offer help and botanical specimens. Now, Mercer staff and volunteers are determined to rebuild stronger than before.

Missouri Botanical Garden sent horticulturists, laborers, and a truck packed with donated materials, including a new chainsaw and a power washer. The horticulturists worked for three to four days with Mercer’s Greenhouse Manager Jacob Martin to help save plants in Mercer’s living collection, which includes camellias, cycads, conifers, and daylilies. After arriving, they helped scour the area for lost plants that floated out of the nursery. Plants were found deposited throughout the property in trees and in the woods. Work also involved staking fallen trees, digging up mud-covered plants, pressure washing the greenhouses, and helping pull plants out of sink holes. They also rebuilt a stairway to Mercer’s two-story staff building destroyed by a fallen tree.

With all the help and hard work over the past months, Martin said plants are starting to green up and recover.

“The nursery is pretty much back to normal,” said Martin. “We are starting to rebuild the collections. All the greenhouses are back up and running.” Martin has also started making improvements to the existing greenhouses that will fortify them against future floods.

“My goal is to collect cuttings or seeds off all the plants that have any chance of being damaged this winter, so our collections do not take another hit,” he said. “We also need to build higher shelves that will not flood and develop a better anchoring system for some of the hard-to-find collections to ensure there is no way they can float away. “The nurseries are doing well, they are filling up with lots of material for spring planting. The next wave of winter color is going to be planted soon, as well as a large crop of bluebonnets that we are anxious to get in the ground. The cold weather is here so all the greenhouses are full to the brim with tropical and cold tender plants.”

29 Jan
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Saving Rare and Endangered Species

When Mercer Botanic Gardens joined the Center for Plant Conservation (CPC) in 1989, it made a pledge to protect some of the country’s most imperiled plants. In late August, Hurricane Harvey put that pledge to the test.

At the time, Mercer maintained about 30 plant species for the CPC’s National Collection of Endangered Plants. Many of these plants are grown in Mercer’s Conservation Nursery, Endangered Species and Native Plant Garden, and Prairie Dawn Preserve, while their seed is preserved at Mercer Botanical Center. When Harvey hit, more than 10 feet of water overwhelmed the Conservation Nursery, one of Mercer’s hardest hit locations. Even after the storm, much of Mercer’s CPC collection was underwater for five days before staff could begin cleanup.

Despite the damage, staff recovered most plant stock and all identification tags. With cleaning and pruning, endangered species such as the Neches River rose-mallow (Hibiscus dasycalyx), trailing phlox (Phlox nivalis), scarlet catchfly (Silene subciliata), and false dragonhead (Physostegia correllii) showed new growth and some even bloomed. Only two out of nine Brazos River yucca (Yucca necopina) seedlings in the Conservation Nursery were lost.

“Mercer’s conservation staff, fortunately or unfortunately, have much experience with pre-hurricane, flood, and wind disaster maintenance strategies for CPC collections,” said Precinct 4 Botanist and Conservation Manager Anita Tiller. “Thus, the conservation collection suffered minimal loss due to our maintenance protocols and diligent post-flood cleanup of nursery stock. Plus, most of our plants are flood resilient!”

Some of Mercer’s most devastating losses were to its garden display collections, said Tiller.

“Mercer maintains and displays an impressive collection of palms and cycads native to subtropical and tropical regions of the Americas and the Old World,” she said. “Mercer lost some palm and cycad specimens as result of the Hurricane Harvey flood. Other specimens have lost their leaves. For those, our horticulturists must wait until spring and check for regrowth to determine whether specimens survived flooding. We are hopeful, as many palm and cycad species are adapted to floodplain habitats.” Although the Mercer Botanical Center building only received eight inches of water, it contains fragile specimens that must be kept in a cool, dry environment, including a herbarium and frozen seed bank for the National Collection of Endangered Plants. Fortunately, the building’s standby generator kicked before the building lost power, leaving Mercer’s seed bank undamaged.

By design, Mercer Botanical Center’s most valuable equipment and specimens are located on the second floor. Mercer’s MERCA and SBSC herbarium collections, which are necessary for documenting Mercer’s rare plant collection, also survived the flood. Losses include a few books in the botanic library that served as reference material for the seed bank and herbarium.

Tiller attributes the botanical center’s recovery to the quick work of Precinct 4 employees and volunteers. “Within two days of the water receding, staff repaired the damaged A/C unit, removed the drywall, and relocated office equipment upstairs,” said Tiller. “Mercer volunteers also assisted staff soon after the flood with cleanup, boxing and moving the library collection upstairs, and Conservation Nursery cleanup and inventory.” Other areas were mostly spared from the worst of the flooding. The Precinct 4 Prairie Dawn Preserve suffered minor erosion along the fence line and continues to serve as a valuable resource for seed collection.

In October and November, Mercer staff surveyed plants and collected seedlings at the preserve from plants including Bracted Gayfeather (Liatris bracteata), Houston Daisy (Rayjacksonia aurea), and Texas Windmill Grass (Chloris texensis). The seeds were then banked at Mercer and at Mercer’s partner location, the USDA National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Preservation (NLGRP) in Fort Collins, Colo, for the National Collection of Endangered Plants. “Volunteers continue to assist us at the Prairie Dawn Preserve, Mercer’s Botanical Center, and the Conservation Nursery with flood recovery and routine maintenance for the collections,” said Tiller.

29 Jan
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Mercer Arborist Helps Bring Monarchs to the Greenway

Mercer volunteer Fred Camarillo didn’t set out to be the butterfly man. He picked up the moniker one day while giving a presentation to students in Spring ISD.

“All of a sudden, a kid yelled out, ‘It’s the butterfly man!’ It wasn’t my favorite name at first,” he said. “But, if that’s what it takes to make a difference, I’ll be the butterfly man.”

The name is fitting. As president of the Spring Creek Education Society, Camarillo now spends his free time advocating for the dwindling monarch butterfly population. The statistics are troubling. Every year, fewer butterflies complete the migration cycle from the United States and Canada into Mexico and California. In the last 10 years, overwintering monarch populations have been the lowest on record, according to Monarch Watch, a nonprofit that focuses on the monarch butterflies, their habitats, and their migration. Summer breeding grounds are also being lost at a rate of 2.2 million acres per year, the organization reports.

To combat the decline, Monarch Watch started the Monarch Waystation Program in 2005, which is a grassroots effort to expand monarch habitats throughout the nation. So far, individuals, schools, and organizations have created more than 5,000 certified monarch waystations in home gardens, schoolyards, parks, and commercial landscaping. “In the spring, monarchs begin migrating back to the United States, laying hundreds of eggs along the way,” said Camarillo. “The habitats Monarch Watch participants create along the way ensure the butterflies have somewhere to lay their eggs.”

In 2014, the nonprofit Spring Creek Education Society opened the first monarch waystation in what was formerly an empty ditch at Precinct 4’s Dennis Johnston Park. Dubbed the Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden, the waystation required more than 300 volunteer hours to build.

“No one knew if the garden would survive considering that area was prone to flooding,” said Camarillo. The nonprofit got its answer in 2016 after the garden survived two devastating floods. When 75 percent of the plants bounced back on their own, Camarillo knew the project was a success.

Now, the organization has a more ambitious plan to simultaneously create a butterfly habitat along the 40-mile Spring Creek Greenway and stabilize the creek banks. Since milkweed is the monarch’s primary food source, Camarillo needed a type of milkweed hardy enough to survive frequent flooding.

“Zizotes milkweed (Asclepias oenotheroides) have a 15-foot taproot that will anchor the plant to the ground and prevent erosion during floods,” he said. “They also tolerate the high soil pH level, which is common along the banks of Spring Creek.”

Soon after choosing the perfect variety of milkweed, Camarillo ran into problems. To cover such a wide area along the greenway, he would need helpers. When Camarillo found out about Precinct 4’s tree planting program along the greenway, he contacted Mercer Arborist Laura Carlton and the two came up with a solution that would benefit both organizations.

“Commissioner Cagle had already tasked us with planting fruit and nut trees along the greenway,” said Carlton. “When we learned of the Spring Creek Education Society’s plan to plant milkweed in the same areas, we decided to combine the two projects. Now, we can both cover more ground together.

Already, the team has planted milkweed at Mercer Botanic Gardens and along Spring Creek Greenway near Highway 59 and Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center. “It was pleasant to see some of it come up already,” said Carlton. “The plan is to continue planting various milkweed species along the trail.”

With Zizotes milkweed priced at $5 per seed packet, funding was also a challenge. To make the operation more sustainable, Precinct 4 built a greenhouse at Dennis Johnston Park for the organization to grow its own milkweed.

“We’re now producing our own native plants at the greenhouse,” Camarillo said. “Not only does milkweed help monarchs, but it also helps people. It can improve drainage channels and help prevent erosion.”

For more information about the Spring Creek Education Society, visit springcreekeducationsociety.wordpress.com.

18 Jan
By: HCP4 Admin 0

Grant Benefits Mercer Botanic Gardens

Volunteers at Mercer Botanic Gardens have a new tool to help prepare for Mercer’s largest plant sale of the year.

In January, Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust awarded The Mercer Society (TMS) the Metal to the Petal Utility Vehicle grant to replace a utility vehicle damaged during Hurricane Harvey.

“The vehicle will help our volunteers transport plants from our greenhouses to March Mart and the Gift and Plant Shoppe,” said TMS President Maryanne Esser. “This grant will help us get back on track after floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey damaged our tools, greenhouses, and plants.”

Every year, TMS hosts a garden-wide plant sale benefitting Precinct 4’s Mercer Botanic Gardens. After Hurricane Harvey devastated the gardens, many volunteers believed they would have to cancel the plant sale.

Instead, Mercer staff and volunteers rallied after the storm and recovered most of the TMS plant stock. With repairs at the park also progressing, TMS planned the plant sale to coincide with the reopening of Mercer Botanic Gardens’ East Side Gardens, which has been closed since sustaining major flood damage in late August.

March Mart shopping hours are now scheduled for Saturday, March 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the East Side Gardens. Early shopping for TMS members with VIP access starts Friday, March 16 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and for TMS members Saturday, March 17 from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Early shoppers have the best chance of taking home some of Mercer’s rarest plants not available at local nurseries. Shoppers who would like to participate in March Mart early shopping can visit the TMS website to purchase a membership or upgrade their membership level for VIP access.

In the meantime, TMS volunteers are making do without proper equipment to provide a quality plant sale like the one’s held in previous years.

“Plants are currently moved by our volunteers on hand carts. Plants are transported from one greenhouse to another and ultimately to the Gift Shoppe or March Mart for sale,” said Esser.

“The existing carts can only transport 32 one-gallon pots at a time, whereas the utility vehicle can hold 80 one-gallon pots. This improved efficiency will allow volunteers to accomplish more in less time and work in inclement weather.”

Visit themercersociety.org for more information on TMS.