Howdy, Hello & Aloha! My name is Matthew Gaston, and I am the author of TropPlants. I am the Education Director at Zilker Botanical Garden in Austin, Texas. I was previously a doctoral candidate at the University of Hawaii-Manoa in Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences, but realized I loved teaching much more and left the program to help folks learn about plants! My interests are summarized by stating that I like plants. More specifically some of the categories interests fall into include plant physiology, plant-stress responses, plant production, plant-human interactions, urban agriculture, sustainability, science education, and outreach.

     Originally from San Antonio, Texas, I grew up enjoying superb Tex-Mex food, hot summers, brisk winters, and a good amount of pleasant chaparral plants. I have always liked plants: their growth, their diversity, their uses, and their interactions with other plants and animals. Plants were a key part of my childhood from birthday parties at the San Antonio Botanical Garden to growing plants in my backyard. My interest sparked from my grandparents in Houston, whose lush, subtropical garden captivated my youthful mind.

Sitting outside after school. From Left to Right: Matthew Gaston, Katherine Gaston, Meaghan Flanagan, TJ Flanagan.

   I attended Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Selma, Texas from pre-k4 to 8th grade.
Two teachers were very influencial and dear to my heart, Mrs. Tackett and Mrs. Sharp. Not only were they excellent math and science teachers, but they allowed curiosity to guide learning.

Eager to begin growing plants in my backyard in San Antonio, Texas (2000s)

   While at OLPH, My friends and I created a club called SPSGTMRC, being Sergeant Pepper's Super Groovy Technically Mechanical Robotics Club, in which we built things and learned the basics of electronics.

TJ Flanagan and I after building an amphibious remote control vehicle for OLPH's SPSGTMRC (Sergeant Pepper's Super Groovy Technically Mechanical Robotics Club) (2010)

   I attended Central Catholic High School in downtown SA. A good time with many great influences including an Ecology Class on Central Texas ecosystems. I was involved in JROTC, Student Council, and sports including track and football. These were tremendously fun, but occupied time that could very well have been used looking at plants. I did have enough time to go to school early to learn about amateur radio (a new interest of mine) from Brother Burkholder. I had wanted to establish a radio station at Central. Unfortunately, the Federal Communications Commission has rules against such activities. 

I am the person in blue diving. This photo was used by the local news as the cover photo of how we lost to our rival. Victory was just out of reach. (early 2014)

   Wanting to learn about the great unseen aspect of plants, genetics, I attended the University of California, Berkeley to study genetics and plant biology. My first year was sensational. Not because I enjoyed base level calculus, but because of my suitemates in the dorm. We called ourselves the Berkeley Intelligence Agency (BIA). 

Every Saturday, I would put the Jepson Manual (CA Flora) in my backpack and run up a hill to the 37-inch cyclotron and enjoy of the smell of Eucalyptus. (late 2014)

The Berkeley Intelligence Agency annual photo: Year 1. (The local Eucalyptus were recently cut, so naturally we carried the logs up five floors into our suite. (2015)

   BIA decided to live together the remaining three years. BIAHQ, as our apartment was known, resided inconspicuously above a printing company hosting eight of its nine members. Adorned with cameras, speakers, random photos, plants, an app-driven smart door, and seemingly misplaced accouterments, BIAHQ was never boring.

"For a brief 1 minute and 56 seconds, deep into the Oregon Cascade Range, we witnessed perhaps the most spectacular phenomenon known in the cosmos—a total solar eclipse creating an indescribable daytime darkness, with the moon covering all but the sun's surrounding corona." Excerpt from Nicholas Persky, BIA Member
From left to right: Hunter Noble, Yash Shah, Erik Ortega, Matthew Liu, Tyler Sano, Nicholas Persky, Matthew Gaston, Bradley Afzali. (2017)

   I realized I am passionate about sharing the wonders of plants (and all science in fact) with others. Naturally, this passion translated into an interest in teaching. The CalTeach program (a science and math education program for undergraduates) intrigued me. After student teaching in one course in the program, I was hooked and continued through the program. Helping others think critically and understand the natural world is something I wish to continue.

Teaching ecology at high school in Oakland, CA. (2017)

   Wanting to further study plants in a tropical region (because I despise cold weather), I applied to the University of Hawaii, Manoa. My friend's father (Matthew Liu's dad) said "I am a fish in water here." Below are snippets of fun and work in Hawaii:

Shave Ice time! (Left to Right: Matthew Liu, Tyler Sano, Nicholas Persky, Matthew Gaston, Brad Afzali) (2019)

Completed construction of our weather station at the Tropical Landscape & Human Interaction Lab's Tropical Green Roof and Living Wall Research Center. (Left to Right: Noah Burr, Matthew Gaston, Justin Wong) (2019)

Research on tree root infrastructure damage mitigation with Dr. Andy Kaufman at UH Manoa (2019) This video was created to promote the project and to remind us of the protocol when we return to excavate more trees.

After completing my doctoral written and oral exams, all I had left was the years of finishing my research. This was unappealing to me as I had loved teaching so much, so I decided to head back to my home country and help folks learn! I was fortune to be invited into the Zilker Botanical Garden family to organize educational activities, events, and programs. Come by the garden and say Hello!

Links to My Social Media & More


Most Popular Plants

Graptophyllum pictum (Caricature Plant)

Bucida buceras 'Variegated' (Dwarf Variegated Geometry Tree)

Pseuderanthemum carruthersii var. carruthersii (Variegated False Eranthemum)

Ficus microcarpa var. crassifolia (Wax Fig)

Jatropha integerrima (Peregrina)

Breynia disticha (Snow Bush)