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Pink Orchids in the Ohio University Botanical Greenhouse on Thursday, February 23, 2017. (Meagan Hall | Post Photographer)

Campus greenhouse sparks interest in plants through hands-on experience

Ohio University has had a greenhouse filled with plant species of all kinds, from lemon trees to venus fly traps, on its grounds for 45 years.

The greenhouse, located near the top of Morton Hill and behind Scott Quad, serves as an instructional tool for the plant biology department and many others. Fine arts students come to use the plants as subjects for paintings and drawings. Photography students use the space for photo shoots. Students learning English as a second language observe and describe their colorful surroundings.

Harold Blazier has been the manager of the greenhouse for 27 years. He could talk about plants all day, he said, and he has the tattoos to prove it. His arms are adorned with colorful pictures of some of the plants he tends to every day.

Blazier’s main duty as greenhouse manager is acquiring and preparing the plants to be used in classes. Professors and teaching assistants send him “wish lists” for the species they plan on studying in their classes, and Blazier collects and distributes the plants as needed.

He feels lucky to sometimes have a bit of freedom to choose new additions to the greenhouse. Sometimes, instructors will come to him looking for plants with specific characteristics, and he is able to choose the species himself. For example, “wild and weird flowers” can be used to teach a lesson about leaf shape, he said.

“A lot of plants that I get are to get people’s curiosity as much as anything,” he said. “But they also sort of function in a course.”

One of his current favorite species in the greenhouse is the “corpse flower,” a large flowering plant that gives off an odor that smells like rot. The greenhouse is currently home to about 14 different corpse flower species.

“But one would probably be enough,” he said.

His true passion, he said, is carnivorous plants such as venus fly traps.

“The carnivorous plants are my obsession, and I’ve basically introduced all of them,” he said. “I’ve gotten them beyond just being the kind of a novelty, wild, bizarre factor and now the courses are using them … for multiple purposes.”

Blazier said it’s becoming more and more unusual to find greenhouses on college campuses that do not specialize in agriculture. However, the greenhouse is an extremely useful tool for piquing students’ interests and giving them hands-on experience with the substances they learn about in class.

“I think the students learn much more if they can see it and experience it,” he said. “The excitement level just skyrockets when they can touch a real plant.”

Kim Thompson, a lecturer in environmental and plant biology, uses materials from the greenhouse for the classes she teaches. She uses the plants to teach lessons on topics such as plant adaptations and how plants are used in celebrations or for horticulture therapy purposes.

“When we discuss how plants attract pollinators or disperse seeds, there are lots of unique examples of plants with a variety of strategies that can be brought into class,” she said in an email. “These plants are all available because of the greenhouse and (Blazier) is a wealth of information about how to care for and use these.”

The greenhouse is open to all, Blazier said. It is not only classes for plant biology students. If the door is propped open, all are welcome to take a walk inside and enjoy the greenery.

Andy House, an OU alumnus who graduated in 2013, was hired this year as the greenhouse assistant. As a student, he worked in the greenhouse for four years and took a greenhouse experience class.

He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in plant biology and said the greenhouse is an important teaching instrument to have on campus.

“The only negative thing is people don’t seem to know about it enough to come see it," he said. “I think it’s really cool, and it’s a nice getaway from classes."


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