Eileen Berger

Master Naturalists

From the time we learn to babble our first words, we begin learning the names of people, animals, toys, foods and places.  Humans need to be able to communicate with each other, and names play a big part in that process.  Being able to distinguish between plants that are useful, flavorful or perhaps harmful could be the difference between life and death for early man.  We know that the Greeks attempted to classify plants mostly for medicinal purposes, as did later Europeans. However, it was not until the 1700s that a Swedish naturalist, Carolus Linnaeus, set up the binomial or two-name system in Latin that we still use today. Because Latin is no longer spoken and does not change, this assures that anyone reading the name today knows exactly what the namer had in mind no matter when the name was applied to that plant.

 As Master Naturalists we study the names of grasses, forbs-wildflowers and weeds, trees and shrubs that are native to our part of Texas. We use field guides extensively as well as the Internet to identify unknown plants. Of course, plants usually have a common name as well as a scientific name. Many of our wildflowers have multiple common names, which can be confusing to novices. On May 21, we will have an opportunity to share in the expertise of one of our favorite plant experts, Jim Varnum. He will lead a nature walk at Mockingbird Nature Park in Midlothian. It is located at the corner of Mockingbird and Onward Road. The two-hour walk will start at 9 a.m.  and is free and open to the public. You may want to wear closed-toe shoes, a hat and insect repellent.

Another exciting learning opportunity will take place on the same day.  The Botanical Research Institute of Texas will hold its grand opening from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Food, music and tours of the building will be available. The new facility is located at 1700 University Drive in Fort Worth. BRIT is a repository for samples of plants from around the world as well as here in Texas. It also conducts research and educational workshops for teachers and other groups. 

The new facility is a leader in ecologically-sustainable building practices.  It has solar panels for electricity, rain catchment cisterns for landscape watering needs and geothermal wells for heating and cooling. The landscaping includes water-wise Texas native plants and one building has a living roof. Inside, recycled and sustainable materials create a beautiful yet “green” atmosphere. For information about the new facility, visit www. info@brit.org. 

Be sure to mark May 21 on your calendar and plan to attend one or more of the nature learning opportunities happening that day. 

For more information, call the AgriLife Extension Service at 972-825-5175 or e-mail ellis-tx@tamu.edu.