PaperCity Magazine

March 2020- Fort Worth

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 85 of 99

84 L ast spring, botanists from Fort Worth's Botanical Research Institute of Texas went on the hunt for one of the most elusive plants in the state: Engelmann's bladderpod. A gangly, wild-growing herb in the mustard family, the nonedible plant produces perky clusters of butter-yellow blooms and plump, seed-filled fruit pods during April and May. The rare herb is sought after by botanists around the country because it can only be found in one place: a narrow strip of limestone bluffs stretching from Central Texas to Southwestern Oklahoma. Once home for many rare plants, the area is one of the most endangered major ecosystems in North America. Botanists had been searching in areas where the herb had been previously reported with no luck, indicating that plant is becoming even more scarce. Then, under a blanket of blue skies and sunshine, a foot-tall blooming bladderpod was discovered flourishing on a sandy bluff in Parker County, just west of Fort Worth. Elated botanists photographed and harvested the plant — roots and all — and preserved it for future study. But that's not where the story ends. A NOAH'S ARK ON In early February 2020, seeds were extracted from the bladderpod specimen, the first entry in the BRIT's small but ambitious new Conservation Seed Laboratory and Seed Bank. The privately funded lab is collaborating with a handful of other organizations to collect and preserve rare seeds in Texas, including Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. There are 448 rare plant species in Texas, and of those, 113 are at risk of extinction. As climate change, development, and other factors deplete natural habitats, botanists are in a race to find and preserve as many plants as possible, says Barney Lipscomb, the institute's Leonhardt chair of Texas botany. "Plant diversity is being lost at a devastating rate," he told me, just two days after the lab opened. "That diversity is not only critical to our natural resources and wildlife, but to human life. It's all interconnected." B uilt in 2011 in the heart of Fort Worth's cultural district, the BRIT's state-of-the-art campus, designed by New York-based H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, is one of only eight LEED Platinum buildings in Texas, and it includes a restored prairie, a living roof, and rainwater gardens. Inside, a herbarium houses 1.5 million specimens from around the world, including seeds, nuts, woods, lichens, fungi, mosses, and pollens, with the oldest specimen dating to 1791 Mexico. It is one of the largest plant-specimen collections in the world, Lipscomb says, and its botanists and researchers are working on projects in South America, Madagascar, and the Philippines to help increase the collection and promote plant conservation. Research at home includes a molecular and structural lab, which allows botanists to extract and study plant DNA, even from preserved 100-year-old plants. Important plant research and conservation has been going on at the BRIT since its inception in 1987, when individuals in Fort Worth's gardening and parks communities took over a collection of specimens from Southern Methodist University. Now the institution is poised to take its work to the next level. In addition to the new seed-lab project, a merger between the BRIT and the city-owned Fort Worth Botanic Garden next door will be finalized later this year or early 2021. The 100-year-old Garden is currently owned by the city and will become part of the privately owned BRIT, which will assume its management and conservatorship. The request to merge was initiated by both the city and the Garden, Lipscomb says. The BRIT is already running the Garden's events and education programs, but the merger means a bigger combined annual budget of $12 million to $13 million, putting it in the top tier of BY REBECCA SHERMAN. A RARE-SEED LAB AT THE BRIT HERBARIUM AND LIBRARY SETS OUT TO SAVE TEXAS' VANISHING WILDERNESS. AND THIS AMBITIOUS FORT WORTH INSTITUTION ISN'T STOPPING THERE. THE PRAIRIE xxxxxx. Specimens from "The Perilous Adventures of Mark Dion" exhibit, running concurrently at the BRIT Library and at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art Antique botanical print

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of PaperCity Magazine - March 2020- Fort Worth