July 29, 2012
BRIT is keeping up with the digital age.
The 25-year-old research and education center in Fort Worth houses a world-class botanical research library and herbarium that offers a resource for botanists, environmentalists, teachers, students and gardeners.
Its state-of-the-art herbarium, which opened last year, includes more than a million dried plants that date back to the 1700s.
About 10 years ago, BRIT began working to put its collection online so the information could be shared worldwide.
This year, BRIT entered a new phase of modernization when it launched its first mobile app hoping to reach a new generation of plant enthusiasts.
Jason Best, the director of biodiversity informatics at BRIT, said part of his job is finding ways to make BRIT’s extensive research more readily available to the public.
“A lot of the specimens are stuck in the herbarium. Unless you know they’re there, you may not be aware of them.”
In recent years, he and other staff members have ramped up efforts to digitize its hard-copy files. With help from a customized scanner that takes images of mounted plants, they’ve cataloged about 5,000 specimens online.
In February, BRIT launched its new mobile app, “The BRIT Guide to Texas Range and Pasture Plants.”
It features 129 pasture plants from the Range and Pasture Plant identification list, which Future Farmers of America and 4H students must learn for local and state competitions.
Best said BRIT had already been working with the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, which hosts the competitions, and was looking for additional ways to lend their expertise. About two years ago, Best began working with a team of botanists and a programmer to design a teaching tool for the students.
The plants included on the app are those commonly found on farmland and fields. Agricultural students must learn how to ID them and know something about them.
“Anyone who plans on being a farmer or rancher needs to understand what these plants are, if they’re invasive and whether or not they’re good for grazing animals to eat,” said Best.
While the app is geared for future farmers and ranchers, anyone interested in local flora, including teachers, botanists, gardeners and naturalists can use it to learn to identify plants common to North Texas.
The app includes a field guide, which lists each plant under both its scientific and common names. The guide includes images of a dried specimen and information, including links to maps that show where the plants are typically found.
In addition to the field guide, flash card and quiz sections allow users to test their knowledge.
The application, which sells for $1.99, can run on iPhone, iPad or iPad Touch or devices with Android platforms. BRIT has already sold almost 300 copies. Best said they’ve have received positive feedback from parents who said they’ve been hoping for a tool like this.
Best said in the future, they would like to develop apps geared to the public that offer more comprehensive guides to native flowers and plants. He said it’s getting easier to share BRIT’s information as all data is now collected and stored on computers.
“No botanist today goes out into the field without a digital camera,” said Best.