Botanical Research Center Opens in Fort Worth

May 21, 10:15 PM

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

I've just returned from the grand opening of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) in Fort Worth. What a celebration!

BRIT is a very low profile organization that is garnering a lot of needed publicity with this new location. Although they ostensibly focus on native Texas plants, their herbarium contains species from all over the world, including a number of specimens that are hundreds of years old, some dating back to the 16th century. The herbarium was built upon their inheritance of the enormous Vanderbilt collection, as well as the now defunct Southern Methodist University herbarium. A number of private herbariums and smaller universities also contributed to BRIT's collection.

Recognizing that all plant life is interconnected, the Institute also maintains a research station in the Amazonian rainforest of Peru. Employees and interns rotate in and out of the station, which focuses on conservation, ethnobotany and biodiversity research. Additionally, BRIT conducts ongoing projects in Europe and New Guinea. Back home in Texas, they host short courses for botanically inclined adults and have a very active community outreach program for elementary schoolchildren and teachers.

The new facility is adjacent to the Fort Worth Botanical Garden, across town from BRIT's former location in a dim, cramped, moldy warehouse. Their huge, eco-friendly digs feature extensive educational facilities and gardens. The entire Institute is heated and cooled by a state-of-the-art geothermal system, with a gigantic rooftop solar array providing electricity for the rest of their needs. A significant section of the roof is occupied by a garden composed of Texas prairie plants that survive low water, thin soil conditions. The rooftop plantings serve to insulate the building and provide an area for ongoing research projects. The big disappointment: BRIT's "living roof" is not accessible to the public.

A series of xeriscaped gardens guide visitors from the parking area to the main entrance. Gravel, brick and concrete pathways weave through the planting beds, which are laid out in a pattern of interlocking leaves. Since the weather has been relatively cool and wet this May, most plants are still in full bloom.

If you'd like to experience this beautiful facility firsthand, BRIT is beginning scheduled public tours next week.

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