Phytophilia

Phytophilia

Official blog of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas.

Phytophilia = Love of Plants. BRIT's mission is to conserve our natural heritage by deepening our knowledge of the plant world and achieving public understanding of the value plants bring to life.

Recent Articles

All Sealed Up

One of the first steps in curating the NLU collection is ensuring its security. Herbarium specimens are vulnerable to damage from light, bugs, rodents, dust, and water. The metal cabinets used to store herbarium specimens are designed to protect from these damaging elements conveniently and easily – but only if they are in good shape and sealed airtight. Each cabinet of the 336 total we received from the university was inspected to confirm that it was performing its job. Of the 336, there were 156 cabinets with seals that appeared damaged or deteriorated. We decided to make a plan to fix this problem before moving forward with the curation process. Adhesive turned out to be a lot trickier to remove than anticipated! Trying to just peel it off with fingers was frustrating and, frankly, woul...
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Curating the NLU Collection

The R. Dale Thomas Collection (NLU) officially completed its journey to BRIT in August 2017. However, this was only the beginning! Follow the NLU rescue team for the next year as they work to make this priceless collection secure and accessible to researchers and the public. Prior to its move to BRIT, the R. Dale Thomas Collection (NLU) was housed at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. The herbarium acronym NLU comes from the University’s previous name—Northeast Louisiana University—when Dr. R. Dale Thomas took the collection from 250 specimens to over 400,000. Today, the NLU herbarium contains an estimated 472,000 specimens of vascular and nonvascular plants collected across the globe. The NLU collection has strengths in Louisiana flora and in the daisy family, Asteraceae. Left: The he...
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Bringing NLU to BRIT

In March 2017, the scientific community was ablaze with the news that the University of Louisiana at Monroe would no longer be able to care for its natural history collection, including a significant fish collection and 470,000 herbarium specimens. The issue made national headlines as well, inspiring articles from the likes of Smithsonian Magazine , The Washington Post , Nature , Gizmodo , and Atlas Obscura . It was a rare drama for the typically quiet collections world, and BRIT was soon to find itself right in the thick of it. Headlines from March - July 2017 But let's back up a bit. Several years ago, the natural history collections at University of Louisiana at Monroe were moved from a campus building to an old print shop underneath Brown Stadium. Conditions were far from ideal for hou...
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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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Best. Paper. Ever.

I’ll admit it. I’m biased toward brevity. It’s hard to write succinctly, though. Blaise Pascal knew it (“I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had time to make it shorter”). Shakespeare knew it, too (“Brevity is the soul of wit”). You can imagine, however, how additionally difficult it is to succinctly write for science, a field defined by its details. So when I come across science writers practicing an economy of words, I’m doubly impressed.
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Insert Clever Title Here

“Hell — is sitting on a hot stone reading your own scientific publications.” ~ Erik Ursin, fish biologist. One of my favorite journal articles is a little number called “How to write consistently boring scientific literature." Penned by Kaj Sand-Jensen at the University of Copenhagen, this piece is a glib editorial about technical writing…that was somehow published and promulgated by a technical writing source. (Brilliant!)
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The Sweep of Time

Article originally submitted for The Leaflet (June 2014) by Brian Witte, PhD, BRIT Research Associate Most of us live in the moment. Paycheck-to-paycheck, living for the weekend, summer vacation, twitter updates. Updates now are measured in seconds. America, too, is a young nation. Few places west of the Appalachians boast buildings over 150 years old, and most of us live in suburbs built in the decades following World War II. So much around us is new…even our landscapes are new, transformed by mechanized farming, car culture, and introduced species. That’s not entirely news, and it’s not entirely new, either. Look, for example, at this sheet I recently encountered while tidying up a database of digitized herbarium specimens. Click to enlarge and read labels. This was one of the last colle...
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The Living Herbarium: Many Hands Make Godzilla

Article originally published in The Leaflet (May 2014) by Brian Witte, PhD, BRIT Research Associate There is a stereotype of the scientist as a lone genius, laboring in obscurity until their “Eureka!” moment changes the world. If Hollywood is to be believed, this Eureka moment is usually followed by the destruction of Tokyo and/or New York by a giant robot/genetic mutant/superstorm. In reality, we have a tragic lack of giant robots, and nothing that we’ve done in the herbarium has (yet) threatened a major metropolitan area. We also rely heavily on collaboration, rather than solitary toil. In fact, I would venture to say that collaboration is the fundamental characteristic of science. NOT what we do…exactly. Nowhere is this more on display than in the herbarium at BRIT. Over the past month,...
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