Texas Fiesta

There is nothing like a Texas Fiesta to put a smile on one’s face. On a visit to the South Texas Botanical Gardens, you can see one up close!

In this case it’s a species of plumeria, one of several that are on abundant outdoor display right now. There is a large Plumeria Society here in Corpus Christi (3.5 hours south of Austin on the Gulf coast), and they take care of the flowering plants that surround an outdoor gazebo.

Big Bang

Orchids can also be found here, in their own greenhouse. Shown at left is The Big Bang orchid. Not sure if the creator of this one is a physicist, or just a fan of the TV show. In any case, it is a beauty. Visitors are welcome to smell the orchids. For quite a few years new varieties were created for the prime purpose of being beautiful, but one thing that was lost along the way was odour. About a decade ago, people were complaining that the flowers had no scent, so breeders ever since has been doing their best to make sure everyone can ‘smell the roses,’ or, in this case, orchids.

I spoke with Dr. Michael Womack, executive director of the Botanical Gardens for the past 15 years, on a tour last week when the humidex was a mere 105 degrees. He introduced me to one resident of the gardens who did not mind the heat. Ivan, a green iguana, was clearly in his element. It’s not certain how old Ivan is, but a guess is 13 years. Be sure to say hello.

One delightful aspect of a tour through the grounds are some 70 birdhouses, each unique. Thanks to a grant from the city’s Arts & Cultural Commission, the call went out to the community earlier this year to create birdhouses. Carpenter Clifford Mann crafted three styles of bare wood birdhouses, which artisans could decorate as they desired. There was also an open competition for those who wanted to build their own. The top three in each category won a cash prize.

One birdhouse was created because of an unusual artform in Port Aransas that caught the eye of Womack. Port Aransas is the barrier island just on the other side of the bay from Corpus Christi. “The bollards out by the beach in Port Aransas have figures on them, and each one is a different character. You may see an elephant, or a cowboy, or a cactus. I said why don’t you do one for one of the bird houses?: and here it is, a beautiful craft piece. It’s just a different form of art; people don’t always think of crochet or quilting as art.”  The birdhouses will remain on display till late September, but there is great interest in hosting the project once again in 2024.

Dr. Womack with the crochet birdhouse

Womack told me that “Birding is very popular here.” For the past 6 years Corpus Christi has hosted the Birdiest Festival in America. Most recently it attracted 239 participants from 30 states. They sighted 267 species of birds, making a total over the years of 329 species. The next will be held in late April 2024. Details on this can be found at Birdiestfestival.org

The grounds are graced by a bronze cast by Brent Ullberg. A native of Sweden, “He actually has a home here in Corpus Christi; one of our board members purchased this one for us.” Ullberg’s work is known worldwide, with large installations such as a bison here in Corpus Christi; dinosaur sculptures at the Philadelphia Museum of Natural History; a 36-foot-tall sailfish in Orlando; and a blue heron at the municipal art museum in Luxembourg.

Bronze by Ullberg

The Gardens hosts a series of events throughout the year. The next big one is a fundraiser, Moonlight in the Gardens, set for Oct. 27. Last year 600 people attended, raising more than $200,000 for the Gardens! From late November the gardens are decorated for Christmas; last year a 20-foot fir tree created from 3,000 recycled plastic bottles was a big hit. It was done by environmental artist Sheila Rogers.

There is much else to see and do here on a daily basis. In addition to getting acquainted with a parrot, kids can also have some personal time with reptiles and visit the butterfly house. There are several field trip options for kids from Pre-K to grade 12.

The Botanical Gardens are a treasure, and a must-see for anyone visiting Corpus Christi.

Tiny portulaca decorates a big butterfly!


For more info, visit their website: www.stxbot.org


For more on Ullberg, read this 2019 article in Texas Highways:


The Plumeria Society is having a seminar and sale in late July. Details at this link:


Lead Photo: Texas Fiesta, with a sweet and spicy fragrance, by Elizabeth Thornton Cultivar. It features clusters of pink with yellow and orange centre.

Texas Fiesta

By Dr. Cliff Cunningham

Dr. Cliff Cunningham is a planetary scientist, the acknowledged expert on the 19th century study of asteroids. He is a Research Fellow at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia. He serves as Editor of the History & Cultural Astronomy book series published by Springer; and Associate Editor of the Journal of Astronomical History & Heritage. Asteroid 4276 in space was named in his honour by the International Astronomical Union based in the recommendation of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Dr. Cunningham has written or edited 15 books. His PhD is in the History of Astronomy, and he also holds a BA in Classical Studies.