About Vincent

Vincent is the Copywriter at HMNS.

Sunday Funday comes to HMNS with Mixers & Elixirs Pluto Pity Party

Extend your Sunday Funday to the Houston Museum of Natural Science August 24 and raise a glass to the infamously demoted Pluto at our Pluto Pity Party!

Come to Mixers & Elixirs and remember the good ol’ days when we had nine planets as you enjoy live music from the Space Rockers and drinks at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Planet or not – Pluto, you’ve stolen our hearts.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a… DWARF PLANET?!

Eight years later, the news of Pluto’s status downgrade from planet to dwarf planet still stings. We have an emotional connection to our solar system — as we should! This is our “cosmic neighborhood” and we are rightly very attached to our neighbors, all orbiting the same brilliant star.

But let’s look at it a different way, shall we?

Maybe this change for Pluto provides for us a way to celebrate how big and diverse our solar system really is! Not only do we have planets — big and small, gaseous and rocky — we have moons, rings, asteroids, comets, and yes, dwarf planets. So it’s not that Pluto isn’t a part of our solar system, it’s just in the outer reaches of the sun’s great gravity.

It’s like we thought Pluto lived in the heights, but then we found out it’s actually living outside the loop… It’s still a part of our community, just a little further away.

So no worries, folks, let’s keep our attachment to Pluto! It’s still cool (literally) and a testament to how much we can learn about our place in the cosmos.

 In that spirit, come down to HMNS Sunday, August 24 and celebrate Pluto!

Pluto’s demotion has been great for one thing though: the internet

 

And if you want some Pluto swag for the party, you’re all set with the Museum Store

Shark Week: Of Fins and Fiction

At the risk of sounding obvious — it’s Shark Week, the Discovery Channel’s annual plug for the much maligned (but secretly awesome) top predators of the deep!

Started in 1988, as a way for the station to capitalize on the lack of summer competition for programming while aiding conservation efforts for the infamously finned and fanged fellows, the sharks and Discovery Channel have had what you may call a symbiotic relationship. Sharks get the station viewers and the viewers provide better ratings for the station while becoming better educated about sharks and the need for strong conservation efforts. Win/win/win.

Well, at least that’s how Shark Week started…

Lately, Shark Week has, well, it’s been a little disappointing — at least from a scientific standpoint. 

Most of the programming is seemingly centered on making the public at large even more afraid of sharks than they already are (even while these fears are generally not grounded in fact). They’re hyping up fears of getting eaten by one while making the shark from Jaws look comparable to a goldfish you’d take home in a plastic bag.

Here I’m talking about the megalodon, or Carcharodon megalodon

While it’s incredible that this positively massive species of shark ever existed (let alone that we now have the capabilities to find and date their fossils to between 28 and 2 million years ago) the folks with Shark Week have decided that the species wasn’t interesting enough on its own merit. Instead, they’ve now made two completely un-scientific “documentaries” about “scientists” “searching” for it (Click here for an in depth review of actual scientific theories surrounding megalodon).

You may also have heard that some restaurants have tried to capitalize on Shark week this year by serving shark meat on their menus. Really.It’s getting pretty clear at this point that the programming is seriously diluting the conservation message that Shark Week was originally meant to convey.

In a conversation on all things Shark Week with the International Business Times, Sonja Fordham, a marine biologist and founder of Shark Advocates International was asked about the positive and negative effects of Shark Week on the public’s perception of sharks. On this point she said:

“Well, it’s really hard to tell. There’s good things and bad things,Talking about sharks, providing all types of people and interest groups to get out their messages tied to this global event — one time a year we’re all focused on sharks — so that can be very positive if we capitalize on that. But then of course the negative image, the perpetuation of the fear of sharks, does not help shark conservation. It’s a pretty outdated view to see sharks as killing machines or serious threats to beach goers. That negative imagery doesn’t help in help of advancing shark conservation policies.” 

So it’s a mixed bag. But we can use the hype of Shark Week to start conversations about conservation, the need to protect sharks and ways change our perceptions of them.

It might be an uphill battle, but we’re still making progress.

If you have the desire to learn more about sharks (including the extinct megalodon) make sure you come to HMNS for our SHARK! exhibit, opening August 29.

Horticulturalist Zac Stayton bids a fond farewell to HMNS

Editor’s Note: After four and a half years, Zac Stayton, Horticulturist for the Cockrell Butterfly Center, is leaving HMNS for a new job as a Project Manager for the grower Color Spot. I sat down with him this week to discuss his time at HMNS, his favorite projects and what he’ll be up to next.

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Vincent Covatto: So Zac, we’re very excited for you about your new prospects, but sad that you’ll be leaving. Could you tell us a little about what your job has entailed here at HMNS?

Zac Stayton: Basically, the beautification and upkeep of the Butterfly Center itself, from making sure all the plants are blooming, which ends up feeding the butterflies, to maintaining the tropical fruits, pollinating the chocolate trees and the coffee. Pretty much everything that goes into the conservatory itself, from irrigation and upkeep of the waterfall to electrical and everything in between.

VC: So we’ve essentially been running you ragged for the last five years.

ZS: [laughing] You could almost make it a job for a team of four.

VC: Or one Zac.

ZS: [laughing] Yeah, yeah.

VC: What are some of your favorite things that you’ve worked on in your time here?

ZS: Of course Lois and some of the tropical flowers that you wouldn’t normally get to encounter here in the Houston climate. There are some crazy orchids that we’ve got in there. We’ve got one in particular that’s endangered, and almost went extinct when the Japanese invaded a small island off the coast of Taiwan, so it’s very, very rare. Just getting to see some those plants bloom, I mean I’m one of the few people that ever gets to grow these plants, is really a great experience.

Also being able to grow coffee and chocolate, pineapples and vanilla — which you wouldn’t get to do outside of the glassed-in enclosure there in the conservatory.

VC: I remember this past winter we had had a coffee tasting in the conservatory. Was that sort of your own pet project?

ZS: Yeah, that coffee tree was actually kind of a fluke, we call it a volunteer. We took an old [tree] out when I first started and it dropped one single seed and it ended up growing into this tree that we didn’t even mean to plant there. And so, I guess it was maybe last September, October, I looked at it and it was just covered in berries, and it was like, well we’d better do something with all this coffee, rather than just letting it all go to waste.

So I went through and kind of studied how to do it and there’s not a lot of — like a lot of things in the Butterfly Center… you can’t just google these plants and see what to do. So I had to do a lot of calling around.

Here in Houston there’s plenty of coffee shops that will roast the beans for you, but we had undried beans. And it was like, ok how do we get these to the point where we can roast them. So we really had to break it down step by step and do some trial and error, with the whole process — from cracking the beans and drying them and roasting them and then finally grinding them and finally drinking them. It was pretty eye opening to see what actually goes into your daily cup of coffee.

VC: [laughing] Or four…

ZS: [laughing] Yeah depending on the day. Two for me at least. Minimum.

VC: Well I bet that was your favorite cup — the best coffee you’d ever had.

ZS: Definitely. Definitely, yeah, I mean I think everybody in the Butterfly Center got blisters on their fingers just having to — there’s what’s called parchment coffee and you basically have to take this thin layer of parchment off of each of the several thousand beans that we had. And they have machines for that for that kind of stuff in the tropics, but I couldn’t find one, at least in the area. I think the closest one was in Hawaii or Coast Rica, so we had to do it all by hand. And so you definitely get a new appreciation for coffee.

VC: Do you have a favorite plant, either inside the conservatory itself or something you’re really interested in?

ZS: I have a favorite plant family. I like bromeliads. So everything related to — the closest relative would be pineapples, but they also include Spanish moss [so there’s a big range]. I actually grew these in Hawaii before I came here so that’s kind of been my expertise, if you will, I’ve channeled myself into those a little bit more than some of the other plant species.

VC: So what is your new job?

ZS: [I’ll be working for] Color Spot the largest grower in the U.S. right now, and they have several locations — I thinking six or seven in Texas — but the branch that I’ll be at is in Huntsville. And I’ll be the production manager, making sure the timing goes through. Most the plants there are bedding plants, they’re seasonal.

For example, when Christmas time rolls around it’s going to be my job to make sure that all the poinsettias and mums and things like that are all ready, that they’re nice and red and at a specific time are on the shelves ready for people to buy.

VC: So you’ll be making sure that everything is timed right.

ZS: Exactly.

VC: So you determine when things are planted, when they’re harvested?

ZS: Exactly. There are a couple teams of growers, so I’ll be the Production Manager, from the time the plant gets put in the soil, until the time it gets on a truck headed to the main customers — I make sure it’s all on schedule.

If you’ve ever bought a plant from Walmart or Home Depot, or Lowes or Kroger, any of those big box stores, especially here in Texas, it’s come from Color Spot. Also smaller nurseries around town will buy their plants.

VC: So would you say this job is a continuation of the sort of work you’ve done for the museum or is it more of a fresh start?

ZS: It’s kind of a fresh start. It’s changing gears from tropicals to basically what grows well around here. A big part of it though will be — working here I learned a lot of the butterfly attractants for our area, although I work with tropicals on a daily basis there are a lot of calls asking “well what can I plant in my backyard?” So learned a lot about our native butterflies here and what plants attract them, and what plants you can put in your garden. And that’s a big part of what I’m going to be growing at Color Spot — butterfly attractants, nectar plants — so there is an overlap there.

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VC:  And you have the different pollinators to take into account with that as well?

ZS: Yes, exactly. Everything about pollination and pollinators I learned here firsthand. When I first started I didn’t know much about butterflies — I knew the monarch, the one that everybody knows, and other than that I didn’t know that there were 15 other species of butterflies that are native here, to Houston. That is something I’ve definitely gained from my time here.

VC: Is there anything that you’re really excited about growing or working on at Color Spot?

ZS: There are a lot of new bulbs, tulips and things like that, that we get to do trials with. Before they even hit the market we get to take some of these bulbs that these growers bring from the Netherlands and get to try them out, test them out, in our greenhouses. We get to be on the front line before anyone else [in the area] knows about them — that’s something I’m really excited about.

VC: I’ve been reading through some archival press from when Lois was blooming, and I saw a couple of places where you’d been quoted. I think that’s how some of our Houston audience got to know you — through that experience. Can we count on you to come back down the next time she’s in bloom?

ZS: Oh yeah definitely. I’ll be here of course, I wouldn’t miss it.

VC: Do you think you’ll become pen pals with her?

ZS: [laughing] Oh no, I don’t think so. No more anthropomorphizing Lois, although that was funny and clever when that happened.

The people though, that’s what made Lois what she was. Lois was just a flower, and people would probably gasp hearing me say that, but it was the whole community rallying around Lois that was the coolest part of the whole thing.

Zac Blog 5

80,000 plus people coming out, plus the people —you know, we had people in Australia saying “get out of the way! We can’t see Lois on the webcam!” So just the fact that it was everybody at the same time, seeing the same thing and it just blew up on social media. And that’s what I though was so cool, everybody so in synch, waiting, just to see what would happen with Lois.

As a horticulturist it was really cool to see just everyone getting around it and thinking it was as cool as I did. Normally, you know I’ll be like “ooo look at this cool plant!” and people couldn’t care less, but to see everyone else sharing that passion — that was the best part about it.

Zac Blog 4

 

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VC: Is there anything else you’d like to say or share with our readers on the blog?

ZS: It’s been a fantastic four and a half years here, and honestly all of the events that we did, it wouldn’t have been possible without people getting as geeky about plants as me.

From the miracle fruit tasting, and the chocolate and the coffee — to see everybody getting around it, that was the best.

Lois, kind of spurred everybody on to find this new kind of passion in horticulture. There were a lot of parents that came up to me and said “I asked my kid what they want to do and now they all want to be a horticulturist.” And that’s the best thing that could come from it, I think, is a whole new generation of people that find plants as interesting as I do.

 

From MI6: Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to see Magna Carta before it leaves Houston

Editor’s Note: This document has been intercepted from MI6. We have taken it upon ourselves to charge you with 007′s mission (he’s on summer vacation).

Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to visit the famed 800-year-old document now on display at HMNS. This special document (Magna Carta) is on borrowed time… and is soon leaving Houston forever (August 17), after which it returns to its original home at Hereford Cathedral.

The Magna Carta serves as the basis for Common Law as we know it. Besides creating limited royal authority for the first time in history, this document has provided inspiration to millions, including the founding fathers of the United States of America. 

Your task is to gain admittance to the exhibit, explore life in the Middle Ages and then finally, gaze reverently on this rare piece of history. Once your mission is complete, feel free to check out the rest of the museum (we’ve got some pretty neat stuff here).

As 007′s replacement, you must maintain a very low profile for this mission. First go to the Houston Museum of Natural Science and pre-order a ticket for the exhibit (they’ll never see that coming). 

After entering the exhibition, you’ll first pass through a medieval village. At the kiosk, there is an interactive station where you’ll be assigned a medieval profession — you’ll need this to blend in. 

Proceed through the village in your new guise to the area filled with medieval weaponry, including a jousting spear, suit of armor and swords. Take note that should you be intercepted by the enemy, they will be using these against you, so observe the mechanics of them well. 

Proceed into the next chamber. A family tree will greet you here. Take time to peruse the historical players who were instrumental in the creation of the Magna Carta — be on the lookout for King John.

Next you’ll find a quilted tapestry (this doesn’t have much to do with your mission, but it’s still awesome.

Get back on track. The final portion of your quest is nigh. At the rear of the illuminated chamber lies the Magna Carta and a copy of the King’s Writ… observe and marvel for as long as you need to. Remember this special moment, because after August 17 this once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the Magna Carta in Houston will be gone for good.

This message will now self destruct.