Few students notice the glass-covered construction atop the South Buildings roof as they make their way to class. While wandering the maze-like corridors on the fifth floor, they may stare out the windows and glimpse leafy ferns and towering cacti behind the structures glass walls.
This is the Erindale greenhouse (room 5036), run by Marianne Kalich, the greenhouse horticulturist. Accessible from the South Buildings fifth floor or by the service elevators, visitors make their way from the elevator and simply follow the pasted arrow signs around the corner to the greenhouse entrance.
The Biology Department runs the greenhouse facility for teaching and research purposes. According to Kalich, the Biology Department conducts research with various insect types, and the greenhouses main purpose is to churn out food for insects that eat plant material. What grows in the greenhouse depends on what research biology professors conduct. The greenhouse currently grows ferns and flowering plants, and more exotic types such as banana trees and giant cacti.
We grow many of the plants we have because they are big plants that require years to reach maturity. We plant them so that when a scientist needs them for research in the future, they dont need to wait years, Kalich says. The greenhouse also serves as an onsite field study location for first-year biology students. The greenhouse maintains a wide variety of plants that showcase the diversity in plant life, while allowing students in molecular biology to study the chloroplasts in tobacco, corn and Swiss chard.
The Erindale greenhouse was built in 1977, and hasnt changed in its forty-two year history. Greenhouses are built to last ten years, and the Erindale greenhouse is long overdue for repairs. The Biology department has drawn plans for renovation: they hope to expand the greenhouse by fifty percent, and to build three houses as oppose to the current single house. This will allow Kalich and her team to set three different temperatures to simulate different climates. The greenhouse also uses basement rooms in the South Building to grown wheat and the common fig, and owns a outdoor plot of land beside Principals Road.
The greenhouse is also making the transition from using chemical fertilizers to more natural alternatives. The greenhouse is currently pesticide-free, but not chemical-free, Kalich says. The greenhouse contains a compost facility, and Kalich encourages students to bring in their compost, both to aid the environment and to provide the greenhouse with a natural fertilizer.
Kalich also highlights a common problem that the greenhouse encounters: disposing of surplus plants when winter sets in. Sometimes were called curators, and as curators, you take things and file them away. Unfortunately, you cant do that with living things. They grow, and they die if you dont take care of them. This year, the greenhouse will hold a plant sale on November 25 and 26 in the Link between the CCT Building and the Library. Prices range from $2 to $10, with all proceeds going to the UTM United Way Campaign.
Kalich welcomes any student who wishes to visit the greenhouse. You dont have to be a biologist, she says. The greenhouse is open for anyone who wants to come in and wander through the plants, especially during the winter. The greenhouse is warm and humid, and many plants remain in bloom throughout the cold season. Just come on in and take a look.