It's a classroom first. But in mid-winter, before the snow melts and the landscape shows few signs of green, the Bucknell University greenhouse, with its colorful array of blooming orchids and tropical foliage, doubles as a sanctuary for those awaiting spring.
Built in 1992, the greenhouse serves year-round as a classroom and laboratory for University students, school children and members of the community. Wayne Manning, a retired Bucknell botany professor whose research focused on trees in the walnut family, established the original collection housed inside the Biology Building.
"It's really an educational resource for the whole community," says Associate Professor of Biology Mark Spiro, who uses the greenhouse for several of his classes. "It allows students to understand the diversity of plants and the evolution of plants as they adapt to different habitats."
As visitors enter the desert section of the greenhouse, they see an interesting example of "convergent evolution," Spiro says. Several species of Euphorbiaceae, or the spurge family, which grow at the greenhouse and look like cacti, actually come from Africa - an ocean away from the spiny plants that are native to North and South America. Cacti, in fact, are native to the "New World," Spiro says.
Other species housed in the greenhouse have adapted mechanisms to secure food or defend themselves. The Venus flytrap, one of several insectivorous plants in the collection, captures insects between its modified leaves, and the "sensitive plant" contracts its leaves one by one after being lightly touched with a finger.