Botanical Research Institute of Texas

On Friday, October 28, members of the Arlis Texas-Mexico Chapter gathered at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas for a tour with Gary Jennings, Librarian of the BRIT. Located in the Fort Worth Cultural District not far from the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens with its beautiful Japanese Garden, the Botanical Research Institute moved into its remarkable 70,000 square foot LEED Green Building in February 2011. In 1987 BRIT was established as a non-profit organization to house the Southern Methodist University Herbarium, consisting of 450,000 specimens, and its botanical library with 75,000 volumes from the personal collections of Lloyd H. Shinners, one of the most influential Texas botanists of the 20th century. Today the Herbarium houses over 1,050,000 plant specimens and the BRIT Library has over 125,000 volumes of books and journals.

During the tour, Gary Jennings pointed out the use of recycled steel and rubber, use of daylighting, low energy fixtures, wool and linen furnishings, and explained the complex “living roof” and mentioned other innovations such as the storm water management system. In addition to the building’s design which reduces energy and water consumption, the BRIT has reintroduced two native ecosystems, Fort Worth Prairie Barrens and mid-grass prairie, to the land surrounding the institute. Botanists identified over 250 specific species which they anticipate will survive the drought to bring life to the fields in the spring.

Among the tour highlights were Gary’s explanation of what a herbarium encompasses as we viewed through large windows the workspace for the botanists cataloging specimens. The tour ended with a walk into the large space housing rows of compact shelving for the herbarium collection of over one million plant specimens which are arranged by species subdivided by color coded geographic locations.

Located on the 2nd floor, the Library primarily supports the taxonomic research done by BRIT botanists, but also serves visiting researchers, and supports educational programs provided by the BRIT. It is one of the largest and finest collections of botanical literature in the southwestern United States. Exhibit cases welcome the visitor before the library space divides into a periodical reading area and a separate extensive reference collection room to the right. Wonderful books were displayed in the exhibit cases including the oldest book in the BRIT Library: a 1549 edition of De Materia Medica, written by Discorides, a Greek physician in the first century A.D. Gary also had on display for us a number of very beautiful illustrated botanical volumes from the 18th and 19th centuries. As impressive these rooms were, their holdings were just samples of the treasures of the library. Gary ushered us into a closed stack, high density shelving space for the rest of the collection. Gary also pointed out a collection of BRIT Press publications, explaining that the Institute ships a free copy of its publications to all major herbariums and botanical research institutes worldwide regardless of size or expense. In return, the Library receives complimentary publications from these institutes. Although we did not see the collection, another gem for the BRIT library is a rare collection of children’s books on botany and natural history, a gift in 1997 from William R. Burk, Biology Librarian at the John. N. Couch Biology Library at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Submitted by Jet Prendeville