Phytophilia

Holiday Botany: Poinsettia

The poinsettia is a quintessential part of typical holiday decor. Its bright red, burgundy, or white foliage are common sights in locations both private and public throughout the winter months, from apartment balconies and church altars to bank lobbies and coffeehouses. And as you can see in the specimen image below, not even time can wipe away the bright colors on the bracts, still distinguishable after 22 years in a cabinet. But do you know the history of poinsettias, the namesake of this most festive member of the Spurge Family? Before they were known as poinsettias, Euphorbia pulcherrima was known as cuitlaxochitlI to the Aztecs, who used the plant as a source for dyes and fever-reducing medicine. Following the arrival of Spanish influence in Mexico and Guatemala, the red blooms became...
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My Summer Education: The Microscopic World

BRIT has been amazing – a catalyst that has unlocked the doors to the natural world and shown me wonders that I had never fully appreciated. I have always loved hiking, climbing trees, being outside in general, but my connection to the surrounding plant-life was distant, similar to the relationship between a homeowner and the trees that form the hardwood floors. I appreciated plants’ beauty and enjoyed the shade, but now there is a definite connection between my (limited) scientific knowledge and the physical plants. It means so much more to know the scientific name of a tree you just ran past, or to recognize Vitis mustangensis and know that you can eat the wild grapes growing on the vines. Perhaps most exciting thing to me is this: the further realization that the microscopic world is bu...
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The Legacy of Alexander von Humboldt

How much do you know about Alexander von Humboldt, one of the most influential naturalists in history? More species and plants are named after him than after any other human being, but in the last 150 years he's been nearly forgotten. Let's change that.
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The New Zealand Kauri

The New Zealand Kauri – Agathis australis – is a truly magnificent tree, revered in New Zealand by the native Maori and Europeans alike. The Kauri’s ancestors lived over 130 million years ago – making it one of the most ancient trees in the world! And the gargantuan trees can reach heights of over 160 feet tall and a diameter of over 66 feet across. The ancient Maori (native people of New Zealand) used Kauri wood to build boats, make carvings, weapons, and jewelry, and to build houses and public structures. The gum was used for many purposes as well, and the felling of one of these magnificent giants was usually accompanied by rituals. Having lived in New Zealand briefly, I was thrilled to discover that BRIT’s own herbarium has a specimen of one of these amazing trees! The specimen was col...
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The Unusual Binding of “Flora Sibirica”

As you look through the shelves in our rare book room, you see rows and rows of beautifully-bound books. They have bindings of leather and vellum, ornate embossed and gilded decorations on the covers and spines. Two volumes stand out: Flora Sibirca.
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Botanical Specimens with a Mysterious Past!

“Wow!” is the most frequent comment from visitors viewing the two oldest plant specimens in the BRIT Herbarium, both of which were collected by Dr. Thaddeus Haenke in 1791.
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Alexander von Humboldt and the Scientific Discovery of America

The work of one of the most important scientific explorers you've never heard of.
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Recycling Rocks!

Mixed-stream recycling is pretty amazing. We get to throw all of our recyclables into one bin, and then — POOF! — they magically get taken away and sorted elsewhere. No more icky sorting of paper from soda cans, milk jugs from mason jars! But have you ever wondered how the sorting ACTUALLY HAPPENS and WHO DOES IT?
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A Trip to Seville Farms

A couple of weeks ago, over half of the BRIT building was eerily empty for a day as the whole research department set off for a tour of Seville Farms, which is owned and operated by one of our board members, Billy Brentlinger. Seville Farms is a large-scale plant nursery providing annuals, perennials, and ground covers to numerous garden centers across Texas. The farms have five facilities containing over three million square feet! On this trip we visited the headquarters in Mansfield, Texas, and Billy and his right-hand-man John gave us an in-depth tour of the operations, start to finish.
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Frontera, Texas

It's 1852 in the newly-formed Republic of Texas. A devoted botanist collects a Cryptantha oblata specimen in the forgotten town of Frontera...
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