WVU Greenhouse grows love of horticulture among students, faculty

The two-year-old greenhouse is 28,250-square-foot living laboratory that allows students and professors to recreate how plants live in certain environments and study how particular conditions affect growth, reproduction and nutrient uptake.

Seeds of education are planted at the West Virginia University Greenhouse.

They then flourish into petunias. Or maybe tomatoes. Or basil, all used for research and classwork.

The two-year-old greenhouse is 28,250-square-foot living laboratory that allows students and professors to recreate how plants live in certain environments and study how particular conditions affect growth, reproduction and nutrient uptake.

“It’s an incredible facility that is truly one of a kind,” said Nicole Waterland, an assistant professor of horticulture who researches plant response to environmental stress.

“It’s important to have this investment to continue to meet the needs of students and researchers as nearly every horticulture student who has come through the program in the past two years has had a lab here or used it in some way,” she said.

The head house, approximately 9,250 square feet, includes 5,950 square feet for wet and dry lab spaces, two academic classrooms, an office and support spaces.

The greenhouse has 16 different bays, which allow for separately controlled environments where certain conditions – such as drought and variable lighting – can be applied and measured.

Researchers can adjust environments to suit their studies: One scholar may be looking to see how humidity affects peonies, while another might be looking at how a harsh environment – such as a hot pavement, where many retail plants are sold – affects their water usage uptake.

“The research that students and faculty are able to conduct in the greenhouse echoes similar conditions that producers will see in the industry,” Waterland said.

WVU works with major companies to test products in various conditions to evaluate their results. Those can then be used to shape the product.

“For certain research, we can place plants under harsh conditions, such as drier climate, and evaluate the plants’ performance and response,” Waterland said. “The end goal is to develop products that allow horticulturist to grow healthier plants for a variety of conditions.”

Sarah Mills, a master’s horticulture student, uses the greenhouse to grow plants used for her climate change research.

“Without the greenhouse, I would not be able to control my environmental conditions, so it is vital,” she said. “It also provides undergraduate students opportunities for hands-on experience through classes, labs and independent study.”

In addition to research, the greenhouse is also used for teaching, primarily serving the Division of Plant & Soil Sciences and Forestry within the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design.

“The greenhouse often becomes a ‘home-away-from-home’ for students in the horticulture program – and we strongly encourage this,” said Sue Myers, greenhouse manager.

Approximately 35 students in the horticulture program – which graduates seven or eight students each year – and two to four faculty members, along with about 12 faculty in agronomy, entomology, forestry and biology, often use the greenhouse for research, but also as part of classroom requirements or laboratory components.

“Every semester, there is a large number of students – at least 200 – who use the greenhouse for the Division of Plant & Soil Sciences classes and labs,” Myers said. “Another important use of this greenhouse is for special topics and independent study students who need to use this facility to do more in-depth study of a topic or to get hands-on experience in a particular area. In this way, the greenhouse is an invaluable tool and resource for students who want to take advantage of it.”

Several hundred plant species are in the greenhouse collection, and that number is always changing, Myers said.

The greenhouse is home to a plastic house, where plants – like pineapple, lemon, cacao, banana and coffee – are kept for demonstration purposes. It also serves as a space for the Horticulture Club to host public plant sales.

“We sell poinsettias around the holidays, and the students plant and grow a variety of plants for sale at other times of the year, including annuals, perennials and vegetable plants,” Mills said.

Other teaching endeavors include giving tours to garden clubs, grade schools, junior high groups and other groups with a special interest in plants.

“People from the community often call with plant questions, both for indoor plants and outdoor garden plants,” Myers said. “The classrooms have been used for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute classes, such as Bonsai. Landscape architecture faculty do their special program in garden design here each summer. And the Master Gardeners, through the Extension Service, have been extremely important to the greenhouse for many years.”

The greenhouse also provides plants for flowerbeds around campus and larger plants for University events. Flowers from the greenhouse end up at commencement and occasionally at the Blaney House.

“Because we are so visible, and especially so with our beautiful new greenhouse, we may in some ways be the public face of Plant and Soil Sciences – a responsibility we take very seriously,” Myers said.

The Evansdale Greenhouse is the first completed facility in a multi-year, $159.5 million building plan to remake the Evansdale Campus. The previous greenhouse, constructed in the 1960s, had reached the end of its lifespan and Jim “Apples” McClelland initiated transforming the space with a gift to the project.

This construction was a collaboration between the Davis College and the USDA Forest Service, which occupies office, laboratory and growth space in the facility.

McClelland, a longtime supporter of WVU’s horticulture program, contributed funds for equipping two state-of-the-art classroom spaces; John and Joyce Allen contributed funds for the development of the student lounge space; and The West Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association contributed funds for equipping and decorating the conference room.

Private contributions in support of the Evansdale Greenhouse were made through the WVU Foundation, a private non-profit corporation that generates and provides support for WVU. In June, the Foundation launched A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University. The $750 million comprehensive campaign runs through December 2015.

Story by Candace Nelson
University Relations/News

Photos by Brian Persinger
University Relations/News



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