Sunday, November 17, 2013

Volunteering or Exploring New Worlds?

Visit six continents in under an hour: meander through the tropics, stroll through deserts, and step to the boggy edge of pond, all in one morning.  'How can this be possible?' you ask, to which I reply, 'By visiting a botanical garden or greenhouse!'  In this case, I have not only been allowed to visit these amazing places, but to work there, as well.  For the past three Thursdays, I have been volunteering at the University of Connecticut's (UCONN) Ecology, & Evolutionary Biology Greenhouses.

 Tropical Flowers 
Vanilla vine in Bloom, Madagascar 

Streptocarpus prolixus, no common name listed

My name for this is the Red Dragon!
But it's also know as Red Tower Ginger, Costa Rica

Queen Sirikit, Philippines

Hadrodermas warszewiczianum,
 that's one super scientific name! from Mesoamerica
The plants inside the greenhouses are a wonderful illustration of our world's biodiversity, and often look so strange that they seem more at home in a science fiction book than reality.  The first room you enter when you visit the greenhouse is the epiphyte room with a large tree structure and walls covered with orchids, bromeliads, Spanish moss, and other plants that live in trees.  The tropical plants greenhouse is filled with thousands of plants: ferns; trees; a tree fern; smaller bushes; things with huge leaves, small leaves, and virtually no leaves; vines tangling with tree tops; and even vats of water with aquatic weeds can be found.  The hot humid climate of the tropics is exemplified in the greenhouse especially in contrast to Connecticut's chilly fall air outside.  The 'cool' greenhouse or greenhouse with seasons, is split in to three sections: dry temperate (Mediterranean-like), desert with Old World aloes and euphorbs on one side and New World cactus and yucca on the other, and lastly wet temperate climate where a fun collection of carnivorous plants is grown. The plants are arranged by where they are found, so you can visit Madagascar, deserts of South Africa, the tropics of South America, and many other world regions and climates.

'Cool' Climate Greenhouse

Colletia unlicia, Chile

River Lily, South Africa

Gingham Golf Ball, South Africa

Fontanesia phillyreoides, China

Phyllobolus tenuiflorus, South Africa

Aloe albiflora, Madagasgar

Cactus, North America and Mexico

Zea mexicana, the mother of corn!, Mexico
My volunteer job has been to help with the weekly Bloom List.  I get to wonder through the greenhouses in search of what is flowering, and record it in the database.  The bloom list is great not only because it gives you an idea of the flowers you can see on a visit, but data collected over several years helps the gardeners, Clinton, Dana, and Matt, know if the plant is healthy by looking at the plant's biological patterns.  This volunteer job is fun because I carefully look over each plant in search of flowers instead of just walking through and out the exit.  It isn't super hard, but it can be a challenge to recognize the flowers since some plants have tiny flowers, some have seed holders that look like flowers, and sometimes the plants are tangled together so it can be difficult to determine to which plant the flower goes.  Each week, I am becoming more familiar with the plants and am learning more about Botany.  Volunteering at UCONN's EEB greenhouses has been a real treat with friendly staff, beautiful plants to see and photograph, challenges of new things to learn, and occasional gifts in the form of plants from the greenhouse.

Stay tuned for more posts with photos of the carnivorous plant collection, and wide angled view of the tropical house!