A person waters a plant with a hose. The person is surrounded by plants.

The GVSU greenhouse got its day in the sun when the corpse flower bloomed. Learn more about this key campus resource

When droves of people lined up in April at the Kindschi Hall of Science to experience the rare rotting-flesh stench of the blooming corpse flower, the sensation also provided a unique opportunity for the public to see a specialized space that supports learning and research at Grand Valley.

The Barbara Kindschi Greenhouse on the second floor of the building is a research greenhouse, meaning with limited exceptions it is closed to the general public in order to preserve the controlled environment, said Christina Hipshier, greenhouse supervisor.

But when the corpse flower bloomed for the first time since it was donated to the greenhouse in 2015 when the building opened, Hipshier was able to also show the space while educating people about the greenhouse's features. She noted she met many GVSU students who didn't even know the greenhouse existed.

A person smiles while standing with hands folded on a table. The person is surrounded by plants.
Christina Hipshier became an impromptu public educator about the corpse flower and the greenhouse.

Hipshier, a horticulturalist, said she strives to enhance both the learning opportunities and the beauty of the collection, which contains plants with origins from the dinosaur era to current flora. She also hopes to broaden the scope of classes using the greenhouse, such as those for art.

"We have different styles of plants for students for learning but I also like to make the greenhouse visually appealing, especially for open houses for the public to come in and decompress, such as during exams," Hipshier said. "I want it to be something that looks pretty as well as teaches."

Let's dig in more to learn about this important, but fairly low-profile, 3,000-square-foot learning space that was unexpectedly in the spotlight this spring.

The greenhouse holds more than 350 genuses divided among six controlled growing areas. 

A large collection of plants in pots on a table in a greenhouse.
A closeup of plants sprouting in pots.
A closeup of a large organ flower blossom hanging from a branch with sunlight behind it.
A prickly blossom is nestled among tall, think green leaves.
The plants in the greenhouse are important for academic support and also are visually appealing.

Off to the side is a room named a ubiquitous term these days – quarantine. For Hipshier, that means a place where she separates out new plants to ensure they're healthy before joining the collection. It's also the place where problematic plants, such as those with a persistent bug problem, are housed and treated.

Other spaces include environments more suited for plants that prefer arid conditions (humidity about 25 percent) as well as tropical conditions (55 percent to 70 percent humidity). The corpse flower, drastically changed just a couple of months from its spring glory, is in the tropical room, next to a chocolate plant that was sporting a large fruit. The rest of the greenhouse is at about 50 percent humidity, Hipshier said.

The plants provide tangible learning for students. Hipshier also said the greenhouse allows students to more deeply understand food sources, from the wheat that is part of their bread to cayenne pepper to rice. Some have never seen these food products in their original forms, she noted.

Then and now: A fleeting sensation is now quiet

The corpse flower blossoms in colors of yellow and burgundy among other plants.
The corpse flower shows its full glory in the spring.
A brown sack shows dirt and a sign that says: "Congratulations on the flowering of your corpse plant. Amorphoplallus titanum"
The corpse plant as it exists now, just a few months later. It is starting anew the process of storing up energy to bloom again in several years.
The corpse flower that bloomed at Grand Valley enthralled thousands of visitors to campus as well as people across the world who learned about the rare blooming through media coverage. Watch a time lapse below of the corpse flower opening and closing.

MORE: Explore additional images from the Barbara Kindschi Greenhouse

Sprinkled throughout the greenhouse is another key category of the greenhouse plants – researchers' experiments. That research includes specimens from Grand Valley faculty members who need a controlled environment for their work.

In a corner of the tropical room are some plants for research by Tim Evans, professor of biology. He is studying the floral development traits of Aneilema, an African flower that starts out with both pistils and stamen – typical of most flowers – but then grows to only include the male part of the flower, the stamen, Evans said.

He said he and students are trying to discover clues about this growing habit by extracting messenger RNA from early buds and those emerging later. He said the greenhouse is a crucial repository for these special plants that were once housed at the Smithsonian; a colleague who retired from there gave the plants to Evans with the hopes of maintaining the collection. 

"The fact that I not only can bring them here and have them grow in this amazing facility, but to also have someone like Christina care for them, makes it an incredible resource for me," Evans said.

Hipshier's prowess for growing and tending plants is also important from a teaching perspective, Evans said, noting she maintains a wide variety of plants, including those that have importance from an evolutionary or biodiversity standpoint.

A person wearing an animal print mask works among plants.
Student Kali Wesse works inside the Barbara Kindschi Greenhouse during a plant structure and function class.

Among the many people who join Hipshier in carefully caring for the plants are students. Jeannèe Hill, '22, enjoyed two and a half years working in the space while pursuing a biology degree.

Hill's tasks included making sure plants were ready for classes along with repotting, hand watering and checking for bugs and other health problems. Hill said it was rewarding to watch flowers or fruit grow from seed, as well as correcting problems to allow a plant to flourish.

"Working in the greenhouse opened my eyes that plants are so much cooler than I ever thought they were, and as I get older I appreciate them more," Hill said.


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