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Greenhouse: educational tool, research laboratory

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November 11, 2009

Twisted, creeping, crawling plants line the walkways. Orchids add cheerful color among the green backdrop. Glass windows and overhead fans help maintain the constant temperature and humidity for successful succulent plant growth.

Georgia College & State University’s greenhouse is a growing learning tool for students and the surrounding community. Hidden behind Herty Hall, the greenhouse is a jewel with endless educational opportunities.

“Our goal is for students and guests to be educated on the different kinds of plants,” said greenhouse supervisor Marina Barkovskii.

Environmental science and botany classes meet in the greenhouse for labs and experiments. Students in one environmental science class are conducting research this semester on the effects of acid rain on plants.

The greenhouse built in the late 1980’s is home to more than 200 plants species. During the summer the greenhouse is too hot and bright for tropical plants, but succulent plants like cactus, aloe and orchids that retain water and thrive in the man-made climate.

The greenhouse not only serves the science department but also is available for a variety of educational opportunities.

Last year as an undergraduate art student Marcus Peden took photographs of the greenhouse plants and helped compile a book for his senior art exhibit. Peden continues to volunteer at the greenhouse as a graduate student.

The greenhouse also serves as a learning tool for the community. Elementary schools frequently take field trips to the greenhouse to learn about succulent plants.

Students are encouraged to explore the world of plants inside the greenhouse. Safe plants are labeled with “Please Touch” signs. Others with “Please don’t touch” label poisonous plants.

“I enjoy taking care of plants, seeing their improvements, learning about their history and making it as an educational display,” Barkovskii said.

Dr. Harriett Whipple, professor emeritus of biology, is the former greenhouse supervisor and continues to volunteer. She works every summer with science camp students. Campers build dish gardens after identifying the plant species and learning about their care.

The greenhouse plans to expand its work with Georgia College Early College by helping them plant and attend fresh greenery in the The John H. Lounsbury College of Education atrium.

“Often times this is first time many children have ever seen a greenhouse,” said Dr. Whipple. “This is beautiful and really outstanding for a college greenhouse.”

The greenhouse also grows ferns and other plants used as decoration across campus for special events. And plans are underway to build a centerpiece fountain to grow and display hydroponic plants.

The greenhouse operates with help of volunteers and donations. Volunteers are needed to care and identify plants and research new ones for the greenhouse.

Plants offer added benefits to their caregivers.

Caring for a plant in the office or home increases productivity, increases creativity and harmony, lowers stress and absorps toxins from the air.

“I think this is just the beginning,” said Barkovskii. “If we have an opportunity to grow, we can give back even more to the community.”

For more information about volunteering or to set up a greenhouse tour please contact Marina Barkovskii at (478) 251-4009.

ABOUT GEORGIA COLLEGE: Georgia College, the state’s designated Public Liberal Arts University, combines the educational experience expected at esteemed private liberal arts colleges with the affordability of public higher education. Its four colleges – arts and sciences, business, education and health sciences – provide 6,600 undergraduate and graduate students with an exceptional learning environment that extends beyond the classroom, with hands-on involvement with faculty research, community service, study abroad and myriad internships.

Founded in 1889, Georgia College boasts one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation with Corinthian columns fronting red brick buildings and wide open green spaces. Georgia College also offers graduate education at the historic Jefferson building in downtown Macon, at Robins Air Force Base and online.

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For more information, contact University Communications at (478) 445-4477.