Greenhouse by forrests

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LAB SPOTLIGHT

The Murdough

Greenhouse
BY PETER CHALMERS ’05

Visitors to the Dartmouth campus might notice that while architecturally bland during the day, the Gilman life sciences building sports a glowing crown during the night. This light emanates from the Murdough greenhouse. Built in 1964 and containing rare plants from tropical, subtropical, and xeric (desert) regions, the greenhouse welcomes students to learn about botany or just to study and relax during the long, cold Hanover winters. Originally built as a research and teaching facility, the greenhouse is used currently for only a few undergraduate courses, including Biology 21. In addition, only one of the six rooms is currently being used for research, although this varies from term to term. Lisa Palmer has served as curator of the greenhouse for seventeen years. During this time, Palmer has built a diverse collection of plants. The greenhouse continues to acquire new plants through exchange both with other universities and botanical gardens and contacts Palmer has developed with seed collectors worldwide. Currently the greenhouse staff is working hard to increase the greenhouse’s attractiveness to visitors. They are adding medicinal uses to the database of the plants in the greenhouse. All plants except the orchid collection bear tags with their Latin names, common names, and geographical origin, and some have labels with economic, medicinal, or cultural uses. Many of the plants in the greenhouse are equipped with

descriptive plaques. The greenhouse has evolved into a collection designed primarily for informal education and enjoyment of visitors rather than research. Efforts have been made to expand the usefulness of the greenhouse to visitors on both guided and unguided visits. The most famous section of the greenhouse is the Brout Orchid Collection, donated by Alan P. Brout, ’51, an occasional presence at the greenhouse. Over 1,000 orchids fill two separate rooms of the greenhouse. Brout specialized in smaller, lesserknown orchids, and the collection reflects this with both a good variety of specimens with a number of lesser-known varieties. The largest room in the greenhouse bears the tropical plants that require temperatures around 27° C. This room contains such tropical varieties as coffee, pineapple, and banana, as well as many lesser-known plants. Palmer pointed out one nondescript looking pot that contained what appeared to be a stick buried in dark soil. She explained that this stalk grew at a rate of up to three inches a day during the late spring to a height of seven feet and then produced one giant leaf and one giant inflorescence, or bundle of smaller flowers. The stalk, the flower, and the leaf turn a reddish hue and smell strongly of rotting meat in an effort to attract flies to pollinate the single inflorescence. Palmer often stopped to crush leaves to smell and to pull off fruit to taste as she wandered down the aisles. She pointed out a large bromeliad with puddles cradled in the

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bottoms of its leaves and explained that in the tropics the puddles sustained completely independent ecosystems. Palmer told of some bromeliads growing so large that frogs would act as the heads of the tiny food chain, living their entire lives inside the puddles of the bromeliad. The greenhouse also “...the subtropical collection houses supports an extensive sub- several fruiting plants that produce tropical collection. In addilemons, figs, strawberry mangoes, and tion to the extraordinarily large number of ferns, the loquats, a loquat fruit that ships poorly subtropical collection houses and is therefore rarely seen in the US.” several fruiting plants that produce lemons, figs, strawberry mangoes, through the use of beneficial insects which and loquats, a fruit that ships poorly and is prey on or parasitize the greenhouse pests. therefore rarely seen in the US. The subtropShe uses sticky cards that attract beneficial ical room boasts its own recirculating water insects and pests, four per room in the six supply, created as a project by an intern sevrooms, and counts the number of bugs on eral summers ago. Palmer also pointed out the cards after 48 hours. She then releases Piper nigrum, the plant used to produce more or less beneficial bugs based on these black pepper, and a separated collection of population trends. Although this system is carnivorous plants, about which she continmore expensive and more work on a weekly ually debates the necessity of feeding.

The xeric or desert room is filled with a variety of strange plants. For instance, this room houses several unusual looking plants located very close to the sand in which Palmer grows other cacti and succulent plants. She explained that these are commonly called “living stones.” Their stalks extend several inches below the ground, with only the blunt tip exposed. The exposed portion of the plant looks like either a rock or a long dead plant stem. She then dug around this stalk to reveal a healthy green stalk below ground. She explained that the cells at the top of the plant are extremely durable and translucent. All the photosynthesis takes place below ground for protection. Although it seems that Hanover’s climate could hardly differ more from the native environments of the plants in the xeric room, Palmer said they do well here. With such a diverse collection of living things in a relatively small area, the staff must closely monitor pests such as aphids. Palmer excitedly explained how in the last seven years they had succeeded in controlling pest populations without pesticides

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basis, there are advantages hidden from the monthly budget. Palmer said the fruits in the greenhouse are now edible and she no longer worries about her own, her staff ’s, her students’, or her visitor’s health after a weekend of spraying. The possibility that the dangerous chemicals will spill, drift, or poison the local habitat no longer concerns her. “It’s an almost completely natural system,” Palmer explained. One room is reserved for the research projects that are being conducted at the greenhouse. Currently this room is being used by Todd Robinson ’03 for his Undergraduate honors thesis involving knapweed, an invasive pest in the West. Todd is looking at the effects of population density on plant growth. At other times this room has held research projects using soybeans, tobacco, arabidopsis and even tadpoles. Palmer said that she loves to share

what she knows about the plants with others. Students can come visit Monday to Friday, nine to four, free of charge and can schedule informal tours by blitzing ‘greenhouse.’ Palmer says she will even take a cutting of plants in the greenhouse that will survive in a dorm for students, for them to grow a piece of the greenhouse in their own rooms. The greenhouse is located on the 5th floor of the Gilman Life Sciences building. Visitors are encouraged not only to view the plants, but to also use the greenhouse space to study, sketch or meet and chat with friends. Hours: Monday-Friday 9 AM - 5 PM email: Greenhouse@dartmouth.edu
http://www.dartmouth.edu/~grnhouse

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