Phytophilia

Trudy and Charles Hess

Trudy and Charles Hess Q: How did you come to be interested in conservation and botany? A: Our earliest realization of the need to protect our fragile environment comes from our SCUBA diving days. The exposure to what was then mostly undisturbed ecosystems, and the exposure to an incredible display of diversity with all its amazing interrelationships, gave us an understanding of the true complexity of nature. And of course, we greatly value its beauty also. A very important part of SCUBA certification was the emphasis on not disturbing the environment. This instilled in us a lasting respect for nature which has evolved into our deep concern for the survival of critical habitats. In our lifetime we have sadly witnessed the massive destruction of large parts of our ecosystem. After retiring...
Read More >

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...
Read More >

Holiday Botany: Mistletoe

Mistletoe brings to mind a be-ribboned bouquet hung beneath doorways to catch unsuspecting party-goers in a kissing trap, but the evergreen plant has a long history in Western holiday tradition. The original mistletoe of Greek and Celtic traditions, Viscum album , was a symbol of masculinity, vitality, health, and fertility, and its usage as a treatment for barrenness in human and animals is reportedly very ancient. The majority of mistletoes are obligate hemi-parasites, meaning they cannot live without a host but do engage in some photosynthesis with their foliage. The connection between mistletoe and the Winter Solstice was likely made as the species remains evergreen and bears fruit throughout winter, creating festive decoration is the coldest of winter wonderlands. Depiction of a Druid...
Read More >

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...
Read More >

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...
Read More >

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.
Read More >

My Summer Education: The Microscopic World

This post was written by Vanessa Marshall, 2017 summer intern and student at The University of Alabama. 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 vi...
Read More >

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.
Read More >

Cabinet Curiosities: The New Zealand Kauri

Our”Cabinet Curiosities” series explores significant items in our Herbarium collection. This article was written by Haley Rylander, Research and Herbarium Assistant. 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...
Read More >

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.
Read More >