Editor’s note: In 300 words or fewer, this series spotlights people in our community whose stories typically go untold.
Mick Vann still remembers the sweet smell of honeysuckles growing on his family’s property from his childhood. Vann, now a staff horticulturist for the College of Natural Sciences, said these early memories helped him begin a lifelong botanical journey.
For more than two decades, Vann has been in charge of UT’s biological greenhouse. His responsibilities include giving tours to various groups and
He said the most enjoyable part of his job is showing young minds how fascinating plants can be. He often tells the story of the 10-year-old Madagascarian slave who created the modern vanilla industry.
“Vanilla plants can only be pollinated by a certain insect in its native region of Popotla, Mexico,” Vann said. “But this 10-year-old slave figured out he could pollinate them with a paintbrush. Now almost all vanilla plants are pollinated by hand, which just blows my mind.”
Vann said his specialty is finding exotic seeds for curious faculty members and plant enthusiasts.
“The Internet makes that a lot easier,” Vann said. “The world is full of wackos who are tuned into just a small part of this huge planet of plants. They hold these first-come-first-serve auctions, and my job is to track them down.”
After graduating from UT, Vann became a dishwasher at a friend’s restaurant and eventually helped open several eateries in Austin and San Antonio. After tiring of the restaurant industry, Vann worked as an organic farmer at a friend’s plant nursery before finally being hired at UT.
Vann, who is also a restaurant consultant and a food writer for the Austin Chronicle, said despite his many ventures and 23-year tenure at UT, life at the greenhouse remains interesting.
“Right now, I’ve got a Boophone disticha coming in from South Africa that’s got the most incredible flower you’ll ever see,” Vann said. “There’s always something new blooming here.”