This October, Celebrate at HMNS Sugar Land

Birthday Cake
Birthday Cake by Theresa Thompson on Flickr.

October is going to be a seriously exciting time at HMNS Sugar Land so I want to personally invite you to come and join in the festivities with us!

OCTOBER 2ND  11am – 5pm

This time last year people from every department were working around the clock to get HMNS at Sugar Land ready for it’s October 3rd Grand Opening – and open we did!  We are now 1 year old!  In the past year we have had changing exhibits like Narnia the Exhibition, Bob Pack’s Birds, and now Robots the Interactive Exhibition.

We have also seen the creation of our weekly story time program, docent led tours, and Second Saturday family day program.   So this Saturday October 2nd come join us for our first birthday party in conjunction with the Telfair Music Festival from 11-5.  Hear good music, purchase yummy international foods, and party with us as we kick off another great year.

OCTOBER 9TH  10am – 2 pm
For this month’s Second Saturday event at HMNS-SL we will be learning all about Pirates to celebrate the opening of our newest traveling exhibition downtown Real Pirates.  There will be face painting, story time, coloring stations, and arts and crafts!  You can even go on a museum wide scavenger hunt to search for treasure!  And we hgope that you will totally get into the fun and come dressed up as a pirate yourself!  (Free with museum admission.)

Pirate's Gold
Pirate’s Gold by Mykl Rovertine on Flickr.

OCTOBER 31ST  1 – 4pm
Gather your littlest ghosts and goblins to celebrate Halloween at Sugar Land’s very own dinosaur bone yard!  You will meet mad scientists, creepy chemists, terrorizing taxidermists and a mysterious magician.  Discover the spooky side of science!  DON’T FORGET TO WEAR YOUR HALLOWEEN COSTUME!  (Members, $5; Adults $12, Kids $9)

Halloween - Pumpkins
Halloween – Pumpkins by YAXZONE on Flickr.

TONIGHT: Can the Gulf Survive? [National Geographic]

I like National Geographic. I enjoy reading their magazine and watching their TV channel. Whenever I go to a place with cable, I locate where the National Geographic, History, and Discovery channels are.  Yes Virginia, I am a museum geek.  But because I am also into energy, I was excited to hear about National Geographic Explorer’s new show on the Deep Water Horizon oil spill.

The new documentary, Can the Gulf Survive?, by National Geographic is about an hour long. If you want to watch something that will give you a very quick overview of the Deepwater Horizon spill, I recommended this. National Geographic does get to take their cameras to places others have not gone.  The go into one of the region command centers where the clean up and containment of the spill was being directed. They also get to go on the NOAAS Thomas Jefferson (more about that later).

Controlled Burn June 9
Controlled Burn June 9 by Deepwater Horizon Response on Flickr.

National Geographic does a good job of balancing the show.  They get the point of view and input from all the different organizations and companies involved.  We get to hear from BP, the Coast Guard, what was Mineral Management, NOAA, and even a journalist.

The show begins with the final capping of the well, then goes back to the beginning of the oil spill and takes you through a timeline of events.  The documentary does not cover the cause of the blow out, just the steps that were taken to stop the crude oil from flowing and what was done to disperse it.

You  see a boat’s eye view of the oil being lit on fire and a planes eye view of using the dispersants.  At the end they talk a little about the future of the ecosystem with all the added chemicals.  Even though the oil is dispersed, it does not mean it has suddenly disappeared.  It means that instead of clumped together and visible, it has been broken up into quantities too small to see.  Also, an unprecedented amount of dispersants were used and those chemicals are now in the ocean.  It will be interesting to see what the long term consequence of all those chemicals will be.

Now back to my favorite part – the NOAAS Thomas Jefferson.  Unbeknownst to most people (or at least to me until last year) the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration operates a commissioned officer core.  This means that there is a branch of the uniformed services (Army, Navy, Marines, etc) that is charged with gathering scientific data (hydrological, geological, atmospheric, etc) and doing research.  So this show was the first time I’ve gotten to see video from a NOAA ship.  I’m sure more is out there, but outside of running across it on the History, Discovery, or the NatGeo (National Geographic) channels, I may not see more of it.

The documentary is a good quick overview of the Deep Water Horizon spill cleanup.  It covers the major attempt to try to stop the oil from coming up into the ocean as well as the steps to disperse what made it to the surface.  It even talks about how the spill will effect the future of the gulf. I recommend watching this.  It premieres tonight on NatGeo – check your local listing for the time.

Plant Sale: This Saturday

Today’s post was written by Soni, horticulturalist for our Butterfly Center. She and the other employees are hard at word preparing for our upcoming Plant Sale on October 2.

I’m sure not very many of you are thinking of rolling up your sleeves and heading into the blazing heat of summer to do a little gardening. What you should do is start thinking ahead to fall, planning your garden for when the weather cools off and you can once again step outside of the air conditioning without having a heat stroke. If your garden needs a perk up after this summer, you should head over to the Cockrell Butterfly Center’s Fall Plant Sale which will be this Saturday, October 2, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., on the 7th level of the parking garage at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Bouquet of Coneflowers
Creative Commons License photo credit: Randy Son Of Robert

Twice a year we have a sale where we carefully select just the right plants for you to put in your garden to attract butterflies and their offspring. How do you go about attracting butterflies and their offspring? Well, first of all, you need lots and lots of nectar plants, the more variety the better. The best nectar plants are those with small tubular flowers arranged in clusters, sometimes with brightly colored petals that serve as a target to alert the butterflies that, “Hey! There’s food over here!” Butterflies survive on a liquid diet because of their specialized mouthparts, collectively called a proboscis. It looks like a coiled straw which they unravel to poke down inside flowers and consume the sugary liquid. Some examples of excellent nectar plants are Coneflower (Echinacea sp.), Black and Brown Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia sp.), Native Gayflower (Liatris sp.), Lantana, Verbena, Porterweed (Stachytarpheta sp.), Salvia, Heliotrope, Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia) and many, many more.

Did you think I forgot to mention their offspring? Of course not, that is my favorite part of butterfly gardening! Let’s back up for a minute so you can see the big picture. A butterfly’s life is comprised of four stages. In each stage the creature looks totally different. The whole lifecycle is called complete metamorphosis (meta means change, and morph means form). The first stage is the egg, which was laid by its thoughtful mother on a very important plant called a host plant. (Did you know butterflies are really good botanists? The story gets even weirder. They can tell plants apart by tasting them with their feet!) When the egg hatches, a caterpillar (otherwise known as a larva) crawls out and immediately eats the egg shell. Then, the caterpillar looks around and wonders, “What else is there to eat around here?” Well, little friend, you are sitting right on top of it. The host plant is the food, the life support, for the caterpillar. Without host plants we would not have butterflies!

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) monarch-butterfly_2
Monarch Butterfly
Creative Commons License photo credit: mikebaird

Each type of butterfly corresponds to a different type of host plant. For example, the well known Monarch butterfly only lays its eggs on the Milkweed plant (Asclepias sp.). The Monarch caterpillars will not eat Parsley or Dill, but you know who will? The Black Swallowtail, that’s who. Other host plants that attract our native butterflies are: citrus species, rue (Ruta graveolens), and wafer ash (Ptelea trifoliate) for the Giant Swallowtail; Dutchman’s pipevine (Aristolochia fimbriata and A. elegans) for Pipevine and Polydamas Swallowtails; spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and sassafras (Sassafras albidum) for the Spicebush Swallowtail; sennas (Cassia sp.) and partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculate) for Sulphurs; and passionvines (Passiflora sp.) for the Gulf Fritillary.

The third stage of metamorphosis is the chrysalis (or pupa), which is what the adult butterfly (the fourth and final stage) emerges out of.

When you combine nectar and host plants in your landscape you will not only increase your chances of seeing butterflies, but you can also have the experience of witnessing the amazing process of metamorphosis first hand. If you don’t want to see plants that are chewed up, you can omit the host plants, or place them behind other plants, however, watching a butterfly lay eggs and watching caterpillars grow is pretty cool.

We will have the majority of the plants mentioned above at the plant sale, plus many more (a “complete” list is on the website). The selections we have made are for growing in Houston and the surrounding areas, a lot being native plants. You can also learn about gardening for butterflies at the sale from our knowledgeable staff and volunteers. Hope to see you there!

Here are some tips for attending the plant sale:
1. Get there early. Don’t wait and expect to have a lot to choose from an hour before we close.
2. We will have wagons for customers to cart their plants to their cars, but if you have your own, bring it.
3. We take cash, check and credit cards.
4. The lines are long, but look at it as a time to make new friends or learn something new.   

HMNS @ Sugar Land – A History of Two Camp

The Houston Museum of Natural Science recently opened a new satellite museum in Sugar Land, Texas in a historic prison called Two Camp which was a part of the Central State Prison Farm.  Denise, one of our wonderful volunteers compiled a history of our new (but really old) building and describes what it was like for those who lived there.

The Building

The building that now houses the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land was formerly the dormitory of the Central State Prison Farm, Camp Two. The Central State Prison Farm was the first industrialized prison farm in the state, providing goods and supplies for the prison system and other state agencies. This building and the adjacent Camp One unit north of US-90 marked a shift in Texas prison construction from wood to brick structures.  

The construction of the facility lasted from February 1938 until August 1939 and was funded by the Texas Legislature for $73,000. (The 2003-09 renovation of the building has cost over 100 times this amount.)  Prisoners fired the red bricks for Two Camp at the nearby Jester Unit (formerly the Harlem State Prison Farm) brick plant. All construction, including flourishes and the rounded edges of the brick is the work of prison inmates. 

Over the years the interior of the building has been altered with many of the original features of the prison removed. The recent renovation has carefully retained the building’s unique architectural elements where they remained. Evidence of the bars and tank layout are still visible in areas.


In Texas during the 19th and early 20th centuries, public sentiment largely supported a self-sufficient prison system to avoid creating a financial burden for the citizens. From 1871 until 1910 convicts were leased by the state to private individuals and businesses. Prisoners worked in railroad construction, lumber, mining, but most often in agriculture.  

Huddie Ledbetter (better known as Lead Belly) was incarcerated in the wooden structures at the Imperial Prison Farm, until his pardon in 1925. The train from Houston to San Antonio would arrive in Sugar Land at about midnight with its light shining brightly. Lead Belly’s words to “Midnight Special” reflected on his experience in Sugar Land.  

After a series of prison reforms aimed at industrializing operations and improving convict living conditions, the farm was renamed to the Central State Prison Farm in 1930.  Construction of the first modern brick structures in the Texas prison system began shortly after. When Camp Two opened for operation in 1939, the facility was nicknamed “Two Camp” by residents and staff.

Between 1939 and 1968 Two Camp housed African-American inmates. After the desegregation of the Central State Farm in 1968, the Main Unit of Two Camp was converted into a warehouse and operated as such until 1999.

In 2008 Sugar Land entered into a 50-year lease agreement with Houston Museum of Natural Science and HMNS at Sugar Land opened on October 3, 2009.

Interior Layout

The Main Unit of Two Camp was an operational prison containing various security features, administrative offices, lodging for guards, food service, and laundry facilities for both officers and inmates. The Main Unit also included a small infirmary, a schoolroom, and a multi-purpose recreational area with an auditorium and stage.

Visitors to the Main Unit entered through the front porch of the South Tower into the central hallway of the administrative area. This area housed the offices of the warden and staff, the mail room, the officer’s lounge and the non-contact visitation room. Prisoners entered and exited the facility from the east side of the building through the Turn-out Gate and Assembly Hall close to what is now the Museum’s Main entrance.

Two Camp’s dormitories for convicts and officers alike were called “tanks.” Each tank contained bunks, sinks, toilets, urinals, and a single barber’s chair. Tanks 1-4 were on the first floor and Tanks 5-7 on the second floor. These tanks are now the Museum’s main exhibition galleries. The guards’ quarters were on the second and third floors of the South Tower and were called Tanks 8 and 9. The inmates slept in double bunks with a maximum of 80 people to a tank. The interior tank wall was a low wall of lockers with bars above, extending to the ceiling. This arrangement permitted inmates of one tank to see the neighboring tank and any inmate being punished in solitary confinement in the third level of the interior picket.

The interior picket was a three story square structure that stood in the atrium where Stan, the T-Rex, now reigns. This structure controlled the movement within the prison and contained a caged observation platform situated at a height that that allowed the guards to view Tanks 1-7, the Assembly Room, Dining Hall and Recreation Hall.

The second floor contained the Recreation Hall which was a long, narrow auditorium with a sloping open seating area leading to a stage. The open seating area contained a projection booth for showing films and a large retractable projection screen was above the stage. A series of mesh screens in the Recreation Hall subdivided the space for the schoolhouse and the officers’ laundry.  

Life at Two Camp

Life at the camp was not easy; inmates worked everyday of the week, often outdoots. An inmate recalled that upon arriving at Two Camp in 1960 he was immediately ushered out into the fields to pick cotton –  the main field crop on the farm at the time. Convicts were generally organized into work parties called “squads” that consisted of no more than 20 convicts. Squads were taken to the fields by “gypsy” wagons pulled by mules (or tractors after WWII). Armed guards mounted on horseback watched over the convicts while they worked the fields.

Prison guards worked the same type of schedule as the prisoners. Interior picket guards only got a day off during bad weather when field guards could relieve them. Normally guards worked six days a week and on alternate Sundays to help with visitation.

Saturdays at Two Camp included school in the School Room, movies and talent shows in the Recreation Hall, and outside activities such as boxing training and baseball. Sundays were visitation days and the work was reduced. Visitors met with inmates in the visitation room near the front entrance. Sunday church services were also commonly held in the auditorium.

Now that you know more about the museum’s new historic home you should come in to experience it for what it has become as well as see if you can find remnants of its past in the forms of hand made bricks and iron bars. Check out what is on display and what special events are upcoming online.