Introduction and Plea from the Director
The following information is compiled from the past six years of data collection by me, the Director of the Botany Garden and Greenhouse, about the student and public use of the Botany Garden and Greenhouse. This description focuses on the use of the Botany Greenhouse considering the proposal of moving the Botany Living Collection to a new roof-top facility in a new building. I am posting here on our website for wide distribution and sharing among our students, teachers, administrators, and anyone who is personally or financially vested in the Botany Garden and Greenhouse and its future.
Despite misconceptions about the Botany Greenhouse being a facility for plant research, we are 90% an educational facility with only 10% research. I prefer to call our facility, both now and in the future, a ‘Botanical Education Facility’. The proposed roof-top greenhouse of the new biology building would only increase our space to hold about 20% more research than our current space of 8,000 ft2.
At this juncture, it is important to note that the proposed roof-top greenhouse will not be enough space to house both the Botany Living Collection, the plants for class, and all the plant research needs of the future Department of Biology. The future Department of Biology will need external greenhouse space to conduct its large-scale and high-dollar plant science research. At the beginning of our planning for the roof-top greenhouses, as far as I was aware, this was not a problem as the Department of Agronomy greenhouses, termed “Walnut Greenhouses” were not in danger of being removed from campus. This situation is now tenuous with the possibility of all greenhouse space, except the proposed roof-top greenhouses of the new biology building, being moved off campus. Please see below for my thoughts regarding why this is against the mission of inclusion and fair education that the University of Wisconsin. Before I explain further, I will elucidate our current impact on the student body with this excellent facility, the Botany Garden and Greenhouse.
We are a staff-operated facility centrally located in Birge Hall, the Department of Botany, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Our facility consists of 8000 ft2 of greenhouse space and a 1.3-acre public display garden. We operate our facility with three full-time staff and one part-time staff and 4 to 6 hourly student workers and a handful of volunteers. The staff supports the Department of Botany by providing living plants for botanical education. Our facility supports teaching, outreach, and small-scale research for the Department of Botany.
Please take this information into consideration when thinking about the size needed for campus space for greenhouses for teaching and research during the planning for the roof-top greenhouses. The need for accessible greenhouses for large-scale research on campus is imperative. Our Botanical Education Facility as it is now can be expanded and improved upon with the new roof-top greenhouses of the new biology building. To reiterate, the space allocated on the roof-top greenhouse cannot sustain both the Botanical Education Facility as we need it and large-scale plant science research for the entire future Department of Biology.
Thank you for taking the time to read this important information. I am passionate about the success and legacy of the Botany Garden and Greenhouse. The students value our facility for education, well-being, and fascination with the Earth. It is our duty to provide this resource to them for many more generations to come. Please contact me, Ingrid Jordon-Thaden at jordonthaden < @ > wisc.edu with any questions.
We are primarily a facility that holds a diverse taxonomic living collection of plant species. Our Living Collection is world-renowned and represents taxa from across the tree of plant life. This unique facility provides our faculty, instructors, and students with live plant materials from seedlings to mature plants for over 14-course offerings (click here) that use the collection directly. The Botany Greenhouses have been in operation at Birge Hall for the Department of Botany for over 100 years. Our faculty, students, and staff have been adding to the collection continuously since the beginning. We have rare plants from around the globe that have been collected in the wild as well as many common garden plants. We make a continuous effort to add more species to our collection and regularly propagate our mature plants, ensuring that our students have the best live plant material for botanical education. From ferns to cacti to carnivorous plants, we provide students and visitors exposure to the vast biodiversity of plant life, all under one roof. Our Living Collection continues to the outdoors into the Botany Garden. As discussed further below, it is a taxonomic garden that is organized in a way to illustrate related plant groups together.
We have 8,000 ft2 of greenhouse space divided into 12 different climate zones, providing optimum growth conditions for plants native to all regions of the world. As students learn about global climate change, they are confronted with the diverse types of habitats in which plants have evolved. Therefore, our greenhouses are a perfect place to see the plants growing in climates where we mimic their natural habitat. We create different climate zones within our space to accommodate plants from many different types of biomes such as the desert, the tropical rainforest, the Mediterranean, and the temperate forest. We would insist that the roof-top greenhouses of the new biology building allow us to maintain this level of biome separation by using smaller bays (or rooms) that would be separate from the taller “conservatory” room that the public might be more familiar with.
Our resident koi fish have been a year-round part of the Botany Garden and Greenhouse for decades. Their summer home is a 16,000-gallon, tiered pond with a waterfall in the garden. Their winter home is a warm 700-gallon pond in the floor of our central greenhouse. The Botany Garden and Greenhouse maintain a large collection of aquatic plants both inside the greenhouses and outside in the summer pond. Additionally, we have two large and three small display tanks of tropical plants and fish within Birge Hall. The aquatic plants and fish grow together, providing an example of how nutrients cycle between plant and animal life. It would be important for us to continue our aquatic program in the new facility.
Integrated Pest Management
We are a leader in the educational greenhouse community of North American colleges and universities. We have been using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for over a decade but have increased our commitment to it over the past six years. Our program helps reduce harsh pesticide use in our space making it a safer area for staff and students overall. This sustainable use of resources allows us to control pests within our greenhouse in ways that were previously not practical. The horticulture industry has embraced IPM, and we now train students in IPM, helping them find a rewarding career in botany, horticulture, and other plant-related fields where this training is valued. We plan to continue our IPM program in the new roof-top greenhouse but are concerned about successfully moving our current ‘resident’ beneficial insects to the new greenhouse.
The Botany Garden is renowned as the first public garden in the U.S.A. to organize planting beds by taxonomic relationships based on genetic relationships accepted by experts since 2006.
This taxonomic organization of the garden allows students to observe similar characters across multiple families that are related to each other and gain an appreciation for plant biodiversity. This type of garden is unique in our region and is like taxonomy gardens in Europe like in Paris and Berlin. Our Botany teachers created and still use the Botany Garden for learning about species of plants, but the space is also used annually by many others for a well-groomed and calm space for outdoor education and relaxation.
Our botanical classes use plants at every stage of life, from seed to flowering and everything in between. Therefore, we need to grow plants according to a strict schedule, so the plants physically brought into the teaching labs are in the correct stage and numbers for the needs of specific class activities including dissection. This means there are over 400 scheduled propagation events per year, supervised by our team. This sort of production horticulture takes approximately 2000 ft2 of our growing space, depending on the season. We also grow all the annual plants needed for the Botany Garden from seed within the greenhouses, using another 1000 ft2 of space each spring.
The greenhouse is open to the public Monday through Friday, 8 am to 4 pm, with shorter times in the middle of the hot summer. The garden is open from dawn to dusk all week long. We are a popular destination for school groups and garden clubs from all over Madison and Wisconsin, Girl and Boy Scout troops, classes from other universities, and the public. Since we host the largest taxonomic collection in Wisconsin, our public tours provide a unique opportunity to learn the vast array of species diversity in plants and to appreciate plant evolution.
Person Use of the Botany Greenhouse
We estimate that either ourselves or teaching assistants of various courses have given guided tours in the Botany Greenhouse to ~2500 students per year. This does not account for the over 500 other people a year that have signed our guest book on their own as they pass through the greenhouse doors. Additionally, there are hundreds of students who pass through the greenhouse and garden between classes to rest, refresh, meet friends, and find a quiet place to study that did not sign the guest book. We also provide volunteer opportunities all year long and have registered about 150 hours per year.
The facility is used intensely throughout the year by our excellent biology-related curriculum here at UW Madison. Many classes rely on the class-guided tours through our greenhouse every year as the highlight of their syllabus. In my own teaching of our Botany for Non-majors which has ~130 students each spring, the students tell me in their evaluations their favorite part of the class is when they got to meet the plants in the greenhouse and how they plan to visit it often while they are students at UW. These are our alumni and I feel like we have a large role to play to help them connect to UW and decide to contribute to us in the future. The Botany Garden and Greenhouse hold a special place in many of our alumnus’ hearts.
Plants for Class
The Botany Living Collection is a mobile one. It has been designed over the past 100 years to be able to travel from the greenhouse, one plant pot at a time, to the teaching lab and back again. This provides the teaching assistants and professors of the classes, such as Plant Taxonomy, Anatomy, or Morphology, to have the plants needed for each week according to the syllabus right there in the lab. This makes for ideal study of the plant material by the students, so they have access to microscopes and the plants side-by-side. Along with using the plants in the greenhouse, the garden plants are harvested at different times a year for use in the classes as well.
We again are a leader in establishing living plant material for classes and provide the graduate students who are teaching the labs the opportunity to take what they have learned about the importance of having living specimens to teach from. Each Ph.D. student who has been trained by the Department of Botany here in Wisconsin takes with them the knowledge of what plants are good for growing in small pots and is able to move from the greenhouse to the classroom successfully each year. Our living collection and plants grown specifically for each lab utilize most of the Botany Garden and Greenhouse space, and we could use more indoor space. Currently, we use approximately 6000-6500 ft2 of our greenhouse solely for plants for class, and each biome as mentioned above, is used to grow this diverse set of plants.
Research in the Botany Greenhouse
The research mission of the Botany Greenhouse is to provide the students, faculty, and staff space and experience in growing plants for teaching and research. The Botany Garden and Greenhouse is a campus-wide resource, but the Departments of Botany, Conservation Biology, Agronomy, Horticulture, and Integrative Biology represent the bulk of our student and researcher user base. In addition to conducting research with our living collection, our facility provides the space and expertise for undergraduates and graduate students, and researchers to perform small-footprint research projects. Research topics in the Botany Greenhouse range from basic plant systematics to bulking GMO seeds that are sent to and grown on the International Space Station. The complete list of projects can be found on our website here. We average 21 projects per year that we help supervise and horticulturally advise or care for. Our greenhouse can hold these smaller projects that only use an average of 450 ft2 of our 8000 ft2 of space per year. The remainder of our space is used to hold the living collection and to grow plants for in-person labs for classes, as mentioned above.
We regularly have researchers from all over campus and from across the country sampling plant tissues from the Living Collection. There have been 30 researchers in the six years that have sampled over 500 leaves, flowers, or stem tissue from a wide variety of species in our collection. This research ranges from plant and algae symbiosis to taxonomic investigations to anatomy screening for scaffolding to grow artificial skin.
Importance for On-Campus Larger Greenhouses Separate from the Roof-Top
There are two main reasons the Department of Botany researchers need to use an external greenhouse such as the Walnut Greenhouses compared to the current Botany Greenhouses or a new roof-top greenhouse. 1. Space is limited for research in the current Botany Greenhouse as it is primarily for teaching; 2. The current Botany Greenhouse has limited capacity for proper climate controls needed for research project plants. While point #1 will improve slightly with the new roof-top greenhouse, I am confident that #2 will be overcome with advanced planning.
Currently, our Botany professors use anywhere between 1000 to 2500 ft2 of space at Walnut Greenhouses depending on the season and project. They are using the Walnut Greenhouses 6 to 12 months a year. Often, the Walnut Greenhouses are full, and our researchers are put on a waiting list. Our professors do not use the West Madison greenhouses (the main large off-campus greenhouses) because the students or researchers in charge of the projects most often do not have their own cars and no bus service is available. Our Botany professors have funding from endowed professorships, NSF, USDA, and other small grants that range between 2 million to 2k. I turn away 2 to 4 project requests a year and recommend them to the Walnut Greenhouses due to space or environmental constraints of the Botany Greenhouse. I am confident that I will be able to accommodate smaller projects from undergraduate and graduate students, and short-term faculty projects in our new roof-top greenhouses. However, I am certain we WILL NOT be able to accommodate larger projects for the number of plants necessary for statistically relevant research projects needed for high-dollar scientific explorations. Usually, projects of this scale require hundreds of plants often needing 1000 or more square feet of space per project, often for many months.
- Botany Greenhouse space used for plants for class per year: 6000-6500 ft2
- Botany Greenhouse space used for small research projects per year: 450 ft2
- Botany Greenhouse space used for propagation per year: 3000 ft2
- Walnut Greenhouse space used for Botany Research: 1000 to 2500 ft2
- Volunteer Hours per year: 150 hours
- Student and Public Tours of Botany Greenhouses per year: 2500 people
- Number of Guest Book Entries in Botany Greenhouse per year: 500 people
- Number of Classes Using the Botany Greenhouse per year: ~14 classes
- Number of Research Projects in the Botany Greenhouses per year: 21 projects
- Number of Samples Taken from the Living Collection per year: 80 samples