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Meet the plant guru at Moody Gardens - The Galveston County Daily News : Columns

November 27, 2014

Potpourri Meet the plant guru at Moody Gardens

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Posted: Monday, March 17, 2014 12:00 am

Donita Brannon is the plant guru for the Rainforest Pyramid at Moody Gardens. But she is more like a mother to the thousands of plants that dwell therein.

She took all the members of the Texas City Civic Club on a tour of the facility via a video, which began with us all climbing the stairs to the upper level, a relatively new addition to the pyramid, which takes us 300 feet above the floor, looking down on the canopy of trees.

Looking at the relative ages of the club members, she noted there was also an elevator to the top area. She also said that footsteps in the hallway trigger all kinds of animal noises — croaks and peeps and chirps — that get all the children to listen. And slow down a bit.

Most of the trees are from the original pyramid, but, sighing with regret, she tells about of a lot of them that had to be cut down to make rooms for holes, 15 by 15 feet, that anchor the concrete supports for the upper level. 

She remembers how they destroyed “my trees.” She used the “my tree” a lot when describing palms, of which there are hundreds.

Many of them are threatened or almost extinct in the wild, so Moody Gardens serves a dual purpose — a place to preserve the rare and a gorgeous place for people to visit.

Except for the coconut palm that hangs over the water, she has to keep coconuts cut off the trees so one won’t accidentally fall on a customer.

There’s a traveler tree, whose fronts grow east and west and also store water, so that lost people cannot only get a drink, but also get directions.

The pyramid is full of fauna, as well as flora. There are 27 species of free flight birds — meaning they are flying around loose.

There are also beautiful macaws trained to stay on perches, because they are so destructive if they get loose and start eating things.

There are fairy bluebirds and 17 scarlet ibises. The ibises all have babies every year, so Moody Gardens trades animals and birds with other facilities regularly.

There’s a special enclosure that’s a home to butterflies. There are caterpillars, and butterfly weed to feed them.

There are cages hidden all through the pyramid so all the animals are used to them. That way, the animals can be caged and removed in case of a hurricane.

That would include monkeys, iguanas, Mandarin ducks, Komodo dragons, bats, poisonous frogs, river otters, freshwater stingrays — you just can’t imagine all the wildlife in this beautiful place.

Added to all this beauty is a corpse flower, which may or may not bloom once a year. If it does, it gives off a smell described by its name.

Donita, who has a degree from Texas State Technical Institute in floral culture and ornamental horticulture, proudly vowed she had never used any kind of pesticide with her “children.”

In addition to all the other fauna, she releases ladybugs and other “bug eating bugs” to take care of any problems.