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A dab of green for UT

University's greenhouses give teachers valuable research space

By Aurora Porter/The Daily Texan

Hulking modern buildings dominate UT's 40 Acres, but nestled between the Biological Laboratories building and the turtle pond sits a diminutive white-washed structure. The University's greenhouses are a far-flung group of mostly humble

Liz Ramsey, UT School of Biological Sciences graduate student, waters her plants which will produce seeds for a rare species Monday afternoon. Media Credit: Wenjing Zhang

Liz Ramsey, UT School of Biological Sciences graduate student, waters her plants which will produce seeds for a rare species Monday afternoon. Media Credit: Wenjing Zhang
buildings that serve both as home to a variety of exotic plants and devoted caretakers and as green space in the landscape of the University.


"A greenhouse is basically a glass or heavy plastic chamber that takes in sunlight but does not give off the oxygen that the plants release back into the atmosphere," said Songhita Das, a molecular biology graduate student.


The Biological Greenhouse was built in 1927 and received an addition in the 1940s, according to Dena Sutton, a manager at the School of Biological Sciences.


"Architecturally, the Biological Greenhouse across from Hogg Auditorium is important because it is from the site-plan for the original 40 Acres," said Deborah Fumat, an architect with Project Management and Construction Services at UT. "It's also a teaching greenhouse where elementary students and the Junior League used to tour."


According to Das, the greenhouse currently houses biological research plants like Arabidopsis, the model plant for genetic and molecular research. Talyor Quedensley, a plant biology doctoral student, also lists orchids, ferns and coffee plants among those grown at the Biological Greenhouse.


Some members of UT's faculty and staff feel that funding the Biological Greenhouse and the maintenance situation is urgent.


Fumat was a project manager in charge of analyzing and providing estimates for what sort of repairs the Biological Greenhouse would need.


"The Biological Greenhouse is over 50 years old and is considered a historical building by the Texas Historical Commission, so we should really keep that building a priority within the University," Fumat said.


The greenhouses exist within the School of Biological Sciences, and the services department receives partial funding through the school, though Sutton has no concrete budget to work with. "Sometimes maintenance alone will cost $10,000 dollars a year, and if something breaks, we have to fix it," Sutton said. "We try to run it like a business, but it doesn't always turn out like that."  Professors may pay a bench fee to use part of a greenhouse, though according to Sutton, most professors now write greenhouse fees into their research grant proposals.


"The Biological Greenhouse provides a real buffer between all the huge, new structures on campus," Fumat said. "We need that green space to help keep the University's grounds varied and interesting. Otherwise, we'll just see parking lot after parking lot."


In addition to the Biological Greenhouse, there is a greenhouse on the sixth floor of Robert A. Welch Hall and two within the Brackenridge property on Lake Austin Boulevard, including the newest greenhouse, built in 2003. "At the Brackenridge greenhouse, I have the space to grow plants, and it's something I love to do," Quedensley, said. "I think the grad students benefit the most from these facilities." It is no longer common practice for tours to be given of the greenhouses. Fumat believes the greenhouses should be more open to the public and the University should work with outreach programs. She would like for young children to be able to come to campus and see, hands-on, what is involved in botany and other sciences.


"The greenhouses on campus are critical, because they provide most of the facilities for conservation research and education," Quedensley said.