Public Notice: Useful Wild Scooter

How Aug. 4 became Scooter Cheatham and Useful Wild Plants Day in Austin

Public Notice

Just over 30 years ago, the Chronicle, fleeing its second straight renovated-out-from-under-us office space in two years, landed in a small West Campus office building, and we found ourselves sharing space with a peculiar outfit called Useful Wild Plants of Tex­as. Scooter Cheatham and Lynn Marshall ran Weedfeed trips, where they'd take people out to forage for edible plants in the wild, along with a range of other educational programs, and they were in the home stretch of compiling the first volume of something unique: a comprehensive encyclopedia of all the Useful Wild Plants of Texas, the Southeast­ern and Southwestern United States, the Southern Plains, and Northern Mexico.

For someone used to putting out a new product every week, this business of an encyclopedia was fascinating – literally thousands of photos, illustrations, descriptions, and citations that all had to be fact-checked, proofread, correlated, and designed – all carried out with physical materials, in the era before computer-aided design. It was a dizzying feat of organization and devotion.

At some point, the monumental opus was finished and sent off to the printer, and celebrations were held. And I remember thinking that those celebrations seemed a bit subdued, given that they had been working on this one book for about 10 years, but then realizing the reason: that Volume 1 had taken the project only from Abronia through Arundo (the giant cane). So, back to work.

And indeed, Scooter and Lynn (and the shadowy Mar­shall C. Johnston) have continued working ever since, while carrying on their guerrilla campaign of horticultural education and research into the properties and uses of some 4,000 species of native and naturalized plants from this region that are a part of the UWP Project. As their website notes: "Less than 1% of the world's plants have been thoroughly investigated. That means that thousands of possible food, medicine, and commodity crops lie dormant. But first these resources must be recognized and inventoried for their immense potential."

This spring, UWP got Vol­ume 4 back from the printer (now complete up through Convol­vu­lus, the morning glory), and Scooter received an unexpected award from the Garden Club of Amer­ica: their Horticul­ture Commend­a­tion, awarded to nonmembers who have made a significant contribution to horticulture. The club cited his "extensive research, writing, and illustrations on the usefulness of plants and the importance of conserving and protecting these natural resources," and called the Useful Wild Plants Project "the first comprehensive economic botany study for a major world region. ... As a prototype, the project is the first step in producing a global-scale information base on the world's plants. ... It will be of extreme importance as we try to feed the world."

Today, the Austin City Council and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo are proclaiming Thurs­day, Aug. 4, as Scooter Cheatham and Useful Wild Plants Day. The proclamation will take place at City Hall, 301 W. Second, during the 5:30 break in the meeting. See for (so much) more.

Bite to the Beat: First Friday Wine & Food Tasting This musical performance by Anthropos kids is a back-to-school fundraiser for Anthropos Arts, a really great local organization that connects at-risk youth with professional musicians, educators, and performance opportunities. It's this Friday, Aug. 5, at 5:30-8pm at the Whole Foods Market in the Domain. Tickets are $10 in advance (see or $15 at the door. The Anthropos kids are also playing at Whole Foods on Lamar at 3pm this Sunday, Aug. 7, and at the Whole Foods Bee Cave location next Sunday, Aug. 14, at 4:30pm. And if you can't make it to any of those, buy a bag of Rhythm Superfoods; they'll donate 50¢ per bag for every snack (Kale Chips, Broccoli Bites, Beet Chips) sold at Whole Foods through Aug. 23.

City housing staff will host a second community meeting to present the draft Austin Strategic Housing Plan to the public, and collect feedback: 6-7:30pm, Wed., Aug. 10, at ACC South Austin, 1820 W. Stassney. Or you can weigh in online, through Aug. 10, at

Confidential to Godot: Still waiting. I hear there will be news tomorrow. Others say, no, not until next week. Meanwhile, the heat.

Send gossip, dirt, innuendo, rumors, and other useful grist to

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Scooter Cheatham, Useful Wild Plants

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