Borrego Springs Botany Laboratory Opens

Group Project

Desert plant researchers have a new facility to visit in their quest to unlock the secrets of survival in a harsh and forbidding environment.

They can come to the Stout Research Center in Borrego Springs, where Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Botany Society volunteers have opened their new herbarium and laboratory. The herbarium houses more than 1,500 plant specimens collected during nearly 60 years in Anza-Borrego and four other state parks that form the Colorado Desert District.

The specimens are dried plants that must be mounted on large sheets of paper with accompanying information describing the collection site, habitat, and date of collection. They are frozen to kill any insects, and stored in hermetically sealed cabinets, and can last for hundreds of years. The lack of a laboratory made it impossible to mount the specimens.

So the volunteers raised money to furnish the lab, and the state park donated the space and a freezer to process the specimens. In addition, local resident and volunteer Chuck Bennett built a large table for preparing plant specimens, and the San Diego State University Botany Department donated two used herbarium specimen cabinets.

The collection, an important resource of comparative specimens for plant identification, provides accurate botanical information that is available at no charge to researchers and others. Colorado Desert District botanist Larry Hendrickson said there are many other uses for such a facility, and cited climate change as an example. The specimens can be examined to see if there have been changes in the flowering times of local species that might have affected plant interaction with insect pollinators or migrating birds, Hendrickson observed.