Hanover’s Little Slice of Paradise
A closer look at Dartmouth’s Life Sciences Greenhouse
The trek from the Green to the Life Sciences Center is about as long as it gets at Dartmouth. Sometimes, the LSC can feel like an enigma, waiting in a secluded corner of campus yet to be explored. On top of the building there sits an expansive glass box: Dartmouth’s very own greenhouse. I had seen the greenhouse from afar, illuminated with an eerie purple light at night, but I had never ventured into its leafy depths.
The greenhouse was closed for the bulk of the pandemic, but last month it finally opened to the Dartmouth community. Naturally, I had to see it for myself. As I stepped onto the fourth floor of the LSC, I opened the door into what was practically an oasis in the often-chilly Hanover spring. The sun shone through the glass-paned ceiling, scattering light across the leaves of plants arranged around the room.
While I was visiting, I spoke with both greenhouse manager Theresa Barry and greenhouse staff member Dana Ozimek about what’s growing on the fourth floor of the LSC.
Barry told me that the greenhouse has a wide variety of spaces — there are different rooms for tropical, subtropical and desert plants.
“We’re trying really hard to represent as many aspects of the world flora as we can in the space that we have,” said Ozimek.
Barry said that the greenhouse staff tries to curate a collection of plants which have unusual characteristics and “their own special story,” with qualities like interesting leaf patterns, pollination strategies or evolutionary adaptations.
“Those things are nice to have because people can get involved in the real wonders of the plant kingdom,” Barry said. “Then they might be more excited about planting and want to explore it themselves. It’s nice to be able to create that sense of wonder in someone.”
The entrance of the greenhouse — called the multipurpose room — is host to many different plants, including bougainvilleas and three corpse flowers. Corpse flowers are the world’s largest flowers and usually only bloom about once per decade; however, one of their corpse flowers — nicknamed “Morphy” — bloomed in 2016, and then again just two years later in 2018.
Whenever Morphy or another corpse flower blooms, it always attracts a crowd.
“In 2016, we had about 5,000 people come to see Morphy over a period of about a week,” Barry said.
The greenhouse is also an academic tool; it can be a resource for research and other academic pursuits beyond the sciences.
“Photography students come in to utilize the greenhouse for their projects, or creative writing and visual arts classes as well,” Barry said.
The greenhouse’s multipurpose room used to be a popular study space, according to Barry. Students once spent hours at a time in the greenhouse completing problem sets and writing papers. But to prevent the transmission of COVID, it has become more of a space “to walk through and explore,” Barry said.
While Ozimek admitted that she’s been filling up the empty study space with more plants, she expressed hope that, as the world begins to recover from the pandemic, they can “bring back the study space.”
The greenhouse also serves as a place for students to simply enjoy the greenery. Particularly in the winter, the space can be a refuge from the freezing temperatures just outside its glass windows.
“A lot of students from warmer areas find us first because they’re looking for that warm, green place again,” Barry said.
Students can even have a say in the greenhouse’s plants. In the past, Barry said that one student from Hawai’i donated a plumeria to honor her grandmother.
“If somewhere from an area of the world that we haven’t covered wants something representing their homeland, we could try to get a plan that represents that,” Barry said.
Taking care of all these plants is no easy task. In addition to Barry and Ozimek, there are several student workers who help to care for the diverse plants by pruning, removing pests, watering, weeding and more.
Izzy Kocher ’22 is one such student worker, and she began her job at the greenhouse last summer. She previously worked at a wildlife refuge in Costa Rica, which instilled in her a love of “greenery and living organisms.”
“I actually crave that tropical environment, with a lot of oxygen and biodiversity,” Kocher said. “It’s so nice to be in the greenhouse and walk around and feel like you’re in the rainforest.”
Kocher takes care of the plants’ particular watering needs, as well as other duties like mixing soil and making sure the plants’ signs are visible.
“All of the plants have very different needs, like certain plants need their soil to be completely dry or some need a ton of water,” she said.
As we talked, Kocher’s love for the greenhouse was evident; she waxed poetic about the greenhouse's orchids as “little women that are all dressed up,” and told me she plays music for them whenever she goes in to water them.
“This space is where I feel so comfortable and so much myself,” she said. “There are a lot of times when you feel weird or miss home, but you can always just go to the greenhouse and none of the plants are judging you. All they need is water and sunlight and they’re happy, and I think that’s a beautiful lesson.”
After my tour of the greenhouse, my favorite of the rooms had to be the subtropical, which Barry said “smells lovely because of the woodsiness of the ferns, the sweet aroma of the citrus flowers and the gardenia.” I was shocked when Barry plucked a small fruit, called a Brazilian grape, right off the trunk and rinsed it off for me. In the corner of the room, there was even a tiny Koi pond next to the blooming Gardenias. In this little green corner of campus, I felt entirely calm and content.
The greenhouse really does feel like a little slice of paradise in the often-dreary New Hampshire landscape. While it was sad to re-emerge into the realities of the world, I know that certainly won’t be the last time I escape into the wondrous world of plants.
Correction appended (May 4, 12:24 p.m.): A previous version of this article stated that the greenhouse's multipurpose room held a collection of orchids. The orchids are in a different room in the greenhouse, not the multipurpose room. The article has been updated.