As brought up before, Texas is full of awe-inspiring surprises, and Fort Worth has more than its fair share. One of the more intriguing, from a horticultural standpoint, is the recently opened Botanical Research Institute of Texas facility on the grounds of the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. Normally, the BRIT is only open during the workweek, but the facility crew pride themselves on opening for special events on the first Saturday of every month, which necessitated a road trip. Not that I needed an excuse to go to Fort Worth on a Saturday morning, but organized events imply that I’m coming back, and the Czarina worries that one of these days, I’m just going to stop where I am, rent out an apartment, and stay there. I keep telling her “You can come by and visit whenever you want,” but that doesn’t seem to work.
Anyway, the BRIT grounds are an exceptional example of the use of indigenous species for gardening needs, and it’s only started. The outer walls are designed to take advantage of vines and creepers to shade the building during future summers, with cables running from the roof to encourage growth. The main grounds are full of herbs and trees with culinary or medicinal uses, with handy and occasionally thorough identification tags on particularly prime specimens to encourage visitors to look for other examples. At the beginning of September, the latter part of the day is still too hot to stay out there long, but the mornings are cool enough for a monthly farmer’s market out in the front, and the walkways themselves are designed to prompt further exploration. By the middle of October, when we really get into our second growing season, this should be mind-meltingly beautiful.
It should be noted that Fort Worth is also the home of Texas Christian University, the alma mater of many old and dear friends, and they’re rather proud of the reptilian school mascot. TCU bucks the old joke about how so many graduates of Texas schools resemble their mascots (particularly around SMU), but considering the time I’ve made those aforementioned friends bleed from the eyes with obsessive and overly pedantic discussions, I start to wonder if they’re just picking up horned toad superpowers instead.
As fun as First Saturdays can be, the main purpose, and the main draw, of BRIT is its extensive botanical sample collection. It’s rather humbling to realize that the rows upon rows of shelving systems, seemingly more suited for a bank or mortgage company’s paper files than anything else, are all full of Texas plant specimens that may have been collected when Texas was still a Spanish territory. Equally humbling is the army of volunteers working through the building on a Saturday to archive and stabilize specimens. One of these days, when I can justify it, I want to go through and view the collections of native state carnivorous plants, if only to confirm a vague suspicion of mine, but that won’t be happening for a while.
During this visit, the main event was the opening of an exhibition on the BRIT’s sister herbarium, the Makino Botanical Garden (MGB) in Kochi, Japan. The Institute hosted a small but enthusiastic event roster for the opening, including a display from the Fort Worth Bonsai Society, all as highlights for the main exhibition. Considering the relatively cramped space in the main BRIT lobby, I was surprised at the number of attendees for the opening, and realized that when the heat finally breaks, the main courtyard out front will be perfect for events of this sort.
Now, half of the fun of obscure knowledge is being able to return what one receives. While viewing samples of the absolutely incredible illustrations of Tomitaro Makino, one of the provosts came up and told me that most of the detail came from the artist using a brush with a mous-hair tip for the inks. After getting a closer view, it’s unfathomably hyperfocused work even in the days of PhotoShop, and I don’t think most people could have seen that detail, much less drawn it, 50 years ago. The fact that one artist thought the work was worth that level of precision, though, made me appreciate it that much more.
That’s where I returned the favor. Seeing this print, I turned to the provost and asked “Did you know you have an illustration of a carnivorous plant here?” She and several other volunteers were understandably shocked and surprised, and that’s when I pointed out “This is about the only major carnivorous plant genus that I’ve never seen, in the wild or otherwise, but it says a lot about its range worldwide at the time.”
I won’t reproduce a detailed image of this out of respect to both the artist and BRIT, but now I think I need to track down a copy of The Illustrated Flora of Japan, either in Japanese or English. This one lithograph alone made it necessary, and fellow carnivorous plant enthusiasts will understand.
So…the Kochi Makino exhibition closes on November 30, and the Fort Worth Botanic Garden’s Japanese Garden hosts its Fall Festival the weekend of November 2. It may be time to organize a Triffid Ranch gathering out there, just because. If you get the chance to go out there before then, though, please don’t let me stop you.