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The Dallas Arboretum's Winfrey Point-Attacking Botanist Had a Rough Weekend

Late on Friday, we passed along a letter from the Dallas Arboretum celebrating an agreement with White Rock Lake neighbors that allows the city to turn the grasslands of Winfrey Point into a temporary parking lot.

It was a strange missive to begin with -- a botanical garden celebrating its ability to mow through plants for parking? -- but one part stood out so much it required bolding. It came in response to neighbors' claim that Winfrey Point was "an endangered ecosystem in that it contains pristine, native grasses."

And it came from a botanist with one of those impressive PhDs in his title.

This claim could not be further from the truth. Almost all of the grasses observed at Winfrey Point are non-native, invasive species. I identified 15 species of non-native grasses, some of which are very aggressive," said Dr. Robert O'Kennon, Ph.D. "These non-native grasses and plants at Winfrey Point need to be kept under control and appropriately mowed or eradicated to attempt to prevent their spread to and the destruction of the other regions of White Rock Lake Park with native flora. Furthermore, 'Blackland Prairie' is a soil type; it does not refer to what grows on it. There are 12 million acres of 'Blackland Prairie' in North Texas."

The questions immediately started to rain down in the comments: Who is this guy, and does he know what he's talking about? (I left a message at O'Kennon's home but have yet to hear back.)

The folks at Save Winfrey Point took a stab at that second question on their web site, where they took apart the Arboretum's press release 'graph by 'graph, including O'Kennon's appearance:

- We are not claiming that Winfrey Point is home to 100% pristine, native plant species. The message we are trying to convey is that we find the current state of Winfrey to be worth preserving and promoting, as it is aesthetically appealing in situ, and does contain a great many native species. Groups such as The Healthy Habitat Prairie Restoration Project at St. John's Episcopal School are working in these areas to control the invasive species and promote the propogation of the native ones ...

- The ratio of native to invasive species is not the subject of debate in this issue. As previously noted, Winfrey supporters are well aware of the various plant species in place. What the Arboretum release doesn't mention, however, is that the prairie areas at Winfrey are home to Redtail Fox, Bobcat, Rabbit, and many bird species that are uncommon in the rest of the Dallas area.

- The claim that there are 12 million acres of blackland prairie currently is false. There were 12 million acres a century or more ago, but there are scarcely 3,000 acres in place today. Many of the species in the remaining areas are threatened or endangered.

So what kind of botanist gets so easily dismissed by a pack of plant-lovers? A "self-taught" one, apparently. That's how the News described O'Kennon in Saturday's paper. It followed over the weekend with an item pointing out that O'Kennon didn't, in fact, have a PhD, forcing the Arboretum to re-issue its press release.

(That's right: Shaq is more of a doctor than this guy.)

(Alternate joke: Unless that PhD's actually a Plant-hating Degree.)

The point is moot for now. The city can now mow the point the point and re-plant it with cars as it pleases. But as the fight escalates (there were protesters at the Point over the weekend) -- and if the city does, in fact, pursue a parking garage on the spot (it says it won't, but a consultant's report suggests otherwise) -- you can bet the Arboretum will find a new go-to botanist. But where would an arboretum find one of those?


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