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Press Releases

The communications office of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin provides media with timely, accurate information about the Wildflower Center. Below are recent press releases related to Center events and to staff expertise on conservation practices, native plant gardening, nature education, and native plant resources and research findings. For more information or photos beyond those on the newsroom site, please contact:

    Media Manager
Barbra Rodriguez

February 22, 2006

Distinguished Lecturers Series: Plants that Changed the World

Throughout history, plants have influenced and shaped economies, politics and social structures of every country in the world. They have created some of the best and yet some of the worst periods in the history of humankind. The Botanical Research Institute of Texas and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center are sponsoring a Distinguished Lecturer series that looks at ordinary plants that have changed lives and created wealth, dominion and poverty. The lectures begin at 7 p.m. following a 6 p.m.reception. They are free to the public.

Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World
Mark Pendergrast, Freelance Author

Wednesday, 8 March - Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin Thursday, 9 March - Leonhardt Auditorium, Deborah Beggs Moncrief Center, Fort Worth Botanic Garden

From its discovery on an ancient Ethiopian hillside to its role as millennial elixir in the Age of Starbucks, coffee has dominated and molded the economies, politics, and social structures of entire countries. The second most valuable exported legal commodity on earth, coffee delivers the largest jolt of the world's most widely taken psychoactive drug. Revolutions have been planned, romances sparked, business deals sealed, novels written, and friendships cemented over this potent brew.

Uncommon Grounds unfolds a panoramic story of epic proportions, a tale of how coffee trees came to girdle the globe between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Grown on tropical mountainsides by poor laborers, coffee beans travel halfway around the world to the coffee bars of the United States, Europe, and Japan, where cosmopolitan consumers pay half a day's Third World wages for a good cup of coffee. An uncommon brew, Uncommon Grounds offers a coffee-flavored history of the modern world.

Author Mark Pendergrast was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He earned a B.A. in English literature from Harvard, taught high school and elementary school, then earned a masters in library science and worked as an academic librarian - all the while writing freelance articles for newspapers and magazines. In 1991, he began writing books full time. He resides in Essex Junction, VT.

Grapevine Rootstocks: Savior of the World's Vineyards and Wines
Roy Renfro, Ph.D., Executive Director, T.V. Munson Viticulture Enology Center

Wednesday, 5 April - Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin Thursday, 6 April - Leonhardt Auditorium, Deborah Beggs Moncrief Center, Fort Worth Botanic Garden

From its earliest production in 5,500 BC as a trade commodity, wine has shaped history and influenced every culture of the world. In ancient Egypt, wine was an essential provision for the "afterlife" and has been used in religious and ceremonial traditions throughout millennia. Today, of the 13 largest wine exporting nations, France produces more than any other and some of the most expensive and valued wines in the world from places like its Bordeaux region. This statistic might be quite different were it not for the influence of a man from Texas.

The legacy of the "Grape Man of Texas," Thomas Volney Munson (1843-1913) evokes the grandeur of an early Texas pioneer who was dedicated to a plant, the grapevine, to improve the livelihood of mankind through genetics, botany, and the application of primary research. Munson's research showed that native Texas grapevines were immune to a particular root louse, Phylloxera vastatrix, which was devastating the vineyards of the European continent in the mid 1800s. With Munson's assistance, Texas grapevine rootstocks were grafted to European grapes (Vitis vinifera) thus saving the economy of the grape growing regions of Europe. Even today, when you savor the wonderful wines of the world, you are tasting the nectar created through grapevine genes originally from Texas. Munson hybridized and introduced over 300 American varieties of disease resistant grapes during his lifetime, which are still being used today by plant breeders and winegrowers.

Author Roy Renfro is executive director of the T. V. Munson Memorial Vineyard and Viticulture Enology Center in Denison, TX, the site of Munson's lifetime of horticultural achievement. Renfro established the Grayson County College's Viticulture and Enology degree program and has authored six books and booklets as well as numerous scientific articles. He was founding member and president of the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association and two-term chairman of the Winegrape Growers of America, Washington, D.C. His latest honor was the John E. Crosby, Jr. Texas Wine and Grape Industry Achievement Award. Dr. Renfro received his B.S., M.Ed., and Ph.D. from Texas A&M University-Commerce and did Post-Doctoral work at the University of Texas, Austin and the University of California at Davis in Viticulture Enology.

The Chocolate Tree: A Natural History of Cacao
Allen M. Young, Ph.D., Milwaukee Public Museum

Wednesday, 3 May - Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin Thursday, 4 May - Leonhardt Auditorium, Deborah Beggs Moncrief Center, Fort Worth Botanic Garden

"The Chocolate Tree: A Natural History of Cacao" traces fascinating aspects of the journey of the chocolate tree, Theobroma cacao Linnaeus, from its origins in tropical equatorial nature, its association with prehistoric people, western contact, and eventual pantropical distribution. In his talk, Dr. Young will connect the ecology of the tropical rain forest to the plant that was begun in cultivation some 2,600 years ago by the Mayans. Because of the author's extensive research on cacao tree pollination, the talk will explore the natural history of the plant, "machete technology", and current research on sustainable ways to grow cacao that balance economic benefits for small farmers and biological conservation in the lowland tropics.

Dr. Allen Young, curator emeritus and former Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Milwaukee Public Museum, draws heavily upon his 27 years of researching the cacao tree, not as a botanist, but as a zoologist and insect ecologist. The author's most recent and current research is collaborative with scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. All of his research in Costa Rica has been funded by the American Cocoa Research Institute and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Author of more than 300 scientific and 200 popular published articles, Allen Young has received numerous grants and awards for research and exhibit projects, including the exhibit Rain Forest, opened in 1998. Young received a B.A. in biology from State University of New York at New Paltz and a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Chicago.

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