Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Photo Credit: Rachel Tyler | Daily Texan Staff

A fall project at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is encouraging homeowners and businesses to plant milkweed to serve as monarch caterpillar nurseries in the spring. 

In June 2015, the Wildflower Center, using funds from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, founded Project Milkweed in order to promote planting milkweed in Central Texas.

Every October, North American monarch butterflies migrate south, traveling up to 3,000 miles in search of warmth, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. When they return north in the spring, monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed, which later serves as the caterpillars’ sole source of food.

According to Wildflower Center plant conservationist Minnette Marr, habitat fragmentation poses a major threat to monarch butterflies. Partly because of herbicides, milkweed populations across Texas have dwindled. 

“The main goal was to improve habitat for monarch butterflies during their migration through Texas,” Marr said. “This particular project focused on increasing the availability of milkweed seeds for commercial and volunteer growers in four eco-regions in North Central Texas.” 

The project targeted four species of milkweed: antelope horns, green milkweed, green comet milkweed and zizotes. 

“With the help of volunteers throughout the four ecoregions, we packaged about 200,000 seeds for commercial and volunteer growers,” Marr said. “For three of the four target species, we have already distributed all of the seeds that were collected … Antelopehorn seeds are still being disseminated.” 

It’s difficult to determine the effect of Project Milkweed, according to Marr, who said she has to wait a long time for grower feedback. Project Milkweed will start analyzing the data from milkweed growers in 2018 and 2019. 

In the meantime, Marr is researching talayote, another larval host for monarchs in South Texas. Her team collected talayote seeds from Historic Stagecoach Park in Buda and is sharing the seeds with volunteers to test talayote as a larval host.

“The vine is more tolerant of dappled shade than most species of milkweed,” Marr said. “If we can determine that talayote is a larval host in Central Texas, we could make seeds or plants available for people with shady patios and balconies.”

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the College of Natural Sciences are working toward their goal of landscape sustainability with the use of a new landscape construction rating system that prioritizes the environment.

SITES v2, developed by the Sustainable Sites Initiative, is a collaboration between the center, the United States Botanical Garden and the American Society of Landscape Architects for implementation in building projects that allows engineers, architects and landscapers to work efficiently without sacrificing the sustainability of the environment.

The program is completely voluntary, and so far more than 100 sites across the nation have taken up the initiative, 30 of which have qualified for a rating, including a site at UT Arlington.

“If projects follow and implement SITES v2, these built landscapes create ecologically resilient communities better able to withstand and recover from episodic floods, droughts, wildfires and other catastrophic events,” said Danielle Pieranunzi, Sustainable Sites Initiative program director. “They benefit the environment, property owners, and local and regional communities and economies.”

SITES offers a reference guide, which provides information about environmentally friendly building practices, to project developers who wish to qualify for a SITES rating. The provided guide includes tips on water resources, soil and vegetation, building materials and human health.

SITES consulted technical experts in fields such as hydrology, botany, engineering and landscaping to design the v2 rating system, said Susan Rieff, Wildflower Center executive director.

Modeled after LEED, a rating system used for the construction of environmentally safe buildings, SITES v2 is intended to ensure that landscapes — in places such as natural parks, corporate campuses, residences and waterways — are environmentally sound as well.  This is done by first evaluating the natural ecosystem of a particular site, to check for the presence of local flora and fauna, sources of naturally occurring water and possible soil erosion, Rieff said.

“[After evaluating the site,] you can design, so nature’s working with you and not against you,” Rieff said.

Under the SITES v2 system, projects receive points based on the sustainability and ability to protect and restore ecosystems, Pieranunzi said. If the project reaches the minimum number of points and meets specific prerequisites, SITES will give it a “Certified,” “Silver,” “Gold” or “Platinum” certification based on the number of points received. The Sustainability Sites Initiative is currently negotiating with the Green Building Certification Institute to provide SITES v2 certifications.

Aesthetic form and beauty are no longer the only criteria that are considered in the construction of landscapes, said architecture professor Steven Moore.  Environmental and social conditions have played an increasingly important role for architects and landscape designers in recent years as well, according to Moore.

“SITES v2 is enormously important in helping our ‘building culture’ to transform design and construction practices that do harm to those that might actually contribute to the urban ecosystem,” Moore said in an email.

The Luci and Ian Family Garden will hold its grand opening Sunday. The garden provides multiple interactive educational areas for children, such as a maze made of shrubs.

Photo Credit: Miriam Rousseau | Daily Texan Staff

Visitors can dig in fake dinosaur tracks, build teepees out of bamboo and explore a spiral hedge maze at the opening of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s new family garden Sunday.

The center has been constructing the $5 million Luci and Ian Family Garden since May 2013. According to Samantha Elkinton, senior horticulturist at the center, the 4.5 acre garden added a dirt dig and nature build area this year.

“The dirt dig will allow kids to get their hands dirty and dig around in the dirt and sand,” Elkinton said. “At the nature build area, we’ll have different materials like hay and bamboo sticks so kids can build things — teepees, buildings, gnome trails — whatever they want.”

The garden’s other features also include a grotto with caves and a waterfall, 10-foot-wide bird nests and a wildlife blind. Elkinton said she hopes the new garden will attract more visitors over the
summer months.

“We hope to attract more families, and since summer is the perfect time for kids to be outside, hopefully we’ll see an increase in visitors,” Elkinton said.

The garden will hold a special preview day only open to members of the center on Saturday. Both the preview and the opening day will include live music, food carts and activities on the children’s play lawn from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Elkinton said she expects between one-third and one-half of the center’s 10,000 members to attend.

According to senior associate Ronnie Stafford, who worked with the architecture firm TBG to plan the garden, native plants were chosen specifically to align with SITES standards, which are international parameters that promote sustainable land development. 

Emily Mixon, environmental science senior and campus environmental center director, who has partnered with the wildflower center, said the garden could be a good site for student learning and relaxation.

“It’d be great for students to see the integrated approaches in the garden and think about what they’ve seen around campus in terms of our main campus irrigation innovations and energy efficiency,” Mixon said. “Plus, I think visiting the garden could be a really cool study break for students.”

Elkinton said feedback on the garden has been positive.

“We had kids come in for a photo shoot, and they were all excited about the features,” Elkinton said. “There was one girl who liked playing in the dirt dig so much that she wouldn’t get out of it.”

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Thousands of pine seedlings grown at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas are being packed up and shipped for planting in Bastrop County.

There, they'll replace trees lost in a disastrous wildfire nearly two years ago.

The Austin wildflower center is among tree growers contracted with the Texas Forest Service's reforestation program for the Central Texas county. Some 6 million trees are to be planted over the next several years.

The 2011 fire destroyed 1,691 homes and burned 33,000 acres.

The trees being organized Thursday by wildflower center staff and volunteers will be used for planting events this weekend. The center itself is nearly doubling its size to handle its portion of the Bastrop tree project.