Monday, September 7, 2009

Hike through Mercer Botanical Gardens and Arboretum

This is a terrific 300 acre park located within easy and quick reach of The Woodlands Texas. It is situated along the southern bank of Cypress Creek in Precinct 4 of Harris County. The Mercers first planted their 13.8 acre garden in the late 1940's. It was expanded in size by three purchases in the 1980's and 1990's and developed by Precinct 4. Click here for additional history. It took me less than 30 minutes to get there, going south on I-45 to Louetta, turning left on to Louetta, then right on Aldine Westfield Rd and traveling a few minutes to Cypress Creek bridge.  After passing over the bridge you can turn left into the botanical gardens for parking or to the right for the picnic, playground and arboretum parking areas. Just follow the signs. There are plenty of trails on both sides of the road for hiking.  Map.

My hike was very slow since I decided to do some photography in the gardens first. My first task was to photograph butterflies, then some flowers and finally some of the gardens. It was a gorgeous day with a little sun and a lot of moisture from the rain the night before as you will notice on many of the photographs. I will provide many additional photographs in a link below but for now will lead you on a short tour of the facility and explain what I saw.

On passing through the entrance, immediately to the right is the Mercer Center.  To your left will be the Water Lilies pond and the main entrance garden. It is here you will sign the visitor's book and if appropriate, the professional photographer's book. Reference books are available to purchase if you need a field guide; bottled drinks can be also purchased, and a map of the premises is provided free (you may need one). Click here for their online brochure.  It is a nice place to stop for a rest - air conditioning!  In the immediate area, you will be able to observe water  plants and various other plants where butterflies, bees and birds hang out.

Briskly walk the paths in the area and you will observe all sorts of creatures and plants. Most people stop along the way and take a close look. At this time of the year, the water lilies are in full bloom in the pond near the entrance to the Central Gardens. The Central Gardens is the large area in front of the center and gets lots of sunlight. It is kept planted with the varieties of the season, season by season.

I found bumble bees very interesting in the striking colors of the various flowers. With the great variety of blooming flowers, one also sees a variety of bees. And they are busy!!
Then the butterflies -  Sulfurs, Swallowtails, Skippers and more are easily viewed  among the assorted species of plants.  A Ruby Throated Hummingbird expressed an interest in what I was doing as he hovered less than three feet from my eyes in one garden on one occasion.

Here is a familiar butterfly to everyone - the   Monarch. It is easy to get the Monarch confused with a few others in the Arboretum, but at this time of the year, this is the dominant species among about three similar butterflies. A checklist of butterflies normally seen at Mercer is provided by Mercer Arboretum. Click here. Take the list and a butterfly field guide with you (or purchase one there) and you will be able identify many species.

The Sulfur Butterfly family is a special favorite of mine. If you have ever handled one of these, their outer covering comes off in your hands and looks like yellow sulfur, thus the name.
Or you might prefer to search out the Pipevine Swallowtail.

Or the male Pipevine Swallowtail may be your choice. You can feast your eyes on these beautiful creatures on beautiful plants until your eyes become tired of brilliance. For me, after a few more varieties, I was ready for the trail again. 

The botanical gardens are great, so as I trekked out towards the east to find the Bamboo Gardens and its pond, stopping when finding  some unusual flowers like this one, moist from the earlier rains and looking like wet paper.

And this plant. The "flower" of the various Ginger plant species has two types of blooms.
There is a Volunteer Center for those who  help with various projects and maintenance of the grounds. Click here for more information.

As I continue to hike to the right side of the gardens, following the brick path, I come to a place where I can veer off onto a gravel road. This will lead me to the Bamboo Gardens. I pass by the Salvia  and the Endangered Species Gardens, and through the Perennial and Rock Gardens - lots of butterflies and hummingbirds.
Finally we arrive at the Bamboo Gardens. This is truly a beautiful place with the Lily Pond, which was renovated after the storm, next to it. The Botanical Gardens is still recovering from the storm Ike, but hopefully the Japanese Tea room will be reconstructed soon to complete the renovation.   
Now we proceed into the primitive loop. There are several routes to enjoy. On this day, there is only one person on the path, jogging. I see many animal tracks in the wet earth - deer and raccoon, as well as a White Tailed Rabbit.  A weary person like myself can sit down on one of the many benches for a short breather all along these trails and walkways.

There are benches in several small gardens where one can sit and meditate or just read.

I pass by the pond again on the way back towards the center and on through the Lily Garden.  This takes me through the Prehistoric Garden, passing by a bog and through the Shade Bog Garden and Boardwalk (photo right).

Now we leave the botanical gardens and go to the arboretum, picnic grounds and nature trails across the street on the west side of the main road. This area also follows Cypress Creek but towards the west. Here I realize how big this place really is! There is no way to cover it all in one day - not for me on this day. I am carrying a backpack and heavy camera with the temperature about 92 degrees.

I park in the arboretum parking lot and start the trek along the creek. The path takes me through the Jake Roberts Maple Collection. Since I love trees, this area strikes me as especially great! Maple trees lined both sides of the pathway!

Now we head into the trail loops to see a variety of bogs, a swamp and various natural forest areas. An impressive dried up swamp of Cypress trees are in the Bald Cypress Pond (right).
A large pavilion can be rented for Bar-B-Ques.This is located of course in the picnic area, near the children playground equipment. There is parking here also.

There are picnic tables close to the playground equipment with nearby grills. This family park is well equipped and well kept.

Additional Photos click here - I recommend viewing them as a slide show using the full screen option

Mercer Gardens website

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