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Plant Petting Zoo

This fall, students and faculty in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology will be able to conduct plant research in seven state-of-the-art greenhouses after a year and a half of renovations and expansions to bring the facilities up to modern standards critical for plant research.

Greenhouse“We are extremely grateful for the support of Dean Lee and the college, which helped provide the needed resources to transform our greenhouses at Hesler and Senter Halls into Research I facilities,” says Susan Kalisz, EEB department head.

Greenhouses are essential to teaching and research in the department. For years, the original six greenhouses were in various states of disrepair. The lack of insect screens allowed easy access for pest insects and easy escape of beneficial insects, which counteracted any attempt to keep pests in check using natural control methods. Pebble-floor drainage made it difficult to prevent the entry and growth of pest plants and additional insects. Today, each greenhouse has a solid concrete floor with metal drain channels and is bug-proof thanks to the addition of insect screens to the ridge vents and exhaust fans.

“All our greenhouses are now effectively closed systems, which is critical when controlling variables in research projects,” says Jeff Martin, greenhouse and garden facility manager. “Now our researchers determine what goes in and out of the greenhouses; not nature.”

The diverse collection of plants, ferns, and mosses reflects the diversity of research and teaching opportunities in the department. Greenhouses feature plants from tropical, temperate, and arid climates and range from avocado and mangos to orchids and water lilies. Faculty use the outdoor fern and moss gardens for their unique botanical traits and in classes focused on student skills in plant identification.

Greenhouse“Our greenhouse complex now provides the winning combination of the plant growth expertise in our knowledgeable staff; excellent, controlled research facilities; and terrific teaching resources in a living collection,” Kalisz says.

Ethan Marks (left) and Nate Kingsley (right) share Chancellor Davenport’s excitement about the variety of plants in the greenhouse.

Ethan Marks (left) and Nate Kingsley (right) share Chancellor Davenport’s excitement about the variety of plants in the greenhouse.

Nate Kingsley, a senior EEB major, is one of the many students benefiting from the renovations and diversity of the greenhouses.

“I’ve always had a passion for organisms and the natural world,” Kinsley says. “Being an EEB student has been a great way to understand how all the pieces of the living world interact. I’ve had many opportunities for stimulating hands-on research in the labs and engaging biodiversity collections in the herbarium and greenhouses. My favorite organisms are flowering plants, so working with our incredible live collection at the greenhouses has allowed me to get first-hand experience dealing with the cultivation and maintenance of these incredibly diverse organisms.

Martin encourages anyone interested in seeing the greenhouses to visit or set up a tour. Visit eeb.bio.utk.edu or call 865-974-3065 for more information.

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