May 5, 2020

Growing Together

UW-Superior’s Oexemann Greenhouse remains vibrant through closure

Once busy and vibrant locations across the country remain vacant and silent due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The UW-Superior campus is no exception. Yet while classrooms, labs and study spaces sit empty, there is an area which remains blissfully unaware of coronavirus.

The Oexemann Greenhouse, located adjacent to Barstow Hall, remains a home to tropical and subtropical plants.

“One of the most interesting parts of taking care of a living collection is expanding its diversity,” said Reed Schwarting, associate research specialist at the Lake Superior Research Institute, who started caretaking in the greenhouse in 2018. “This can also prove difficult as no two plants require the same kind or amount of care.”

While many unfortunate office plants left behind due to social distancing restrictions were met with an untimely fate, the residents of the UW-Superior greenhouse are thriving. With 200 cataloged specimens from 35 different taxonomic families residing in the greenhouse, Schwarting splits his time between watering the plants and general care. He’s also been working on additional projects that can improve the quality or diversity of the collection.

“Like most living things, maintenance is never ending,” he said. “There is always more to do, however, I spend at least 16-hours a week in the greenhouse. Watering is done for most of the collection three times a week. General care includes things like repotting, fertilizing, weeding and pest control.”

The greenhouse is a diverse collection, which provides further complication with no two plants needing the same care.

“This requires some trial and error to find the best practices to suit a plant’s needs but can be very reward in the long run,” said Schwarting. “Keeping a species of tropical orchid and desert cactus in the same building has its challenges.”

Schwarting also must navigate the drastic weather changes of springtime in northern Wisconsin.

“This time of year can also prove challenging as we transition to warmer temperatures and longer days,” he said. “The temperatures in the greenhouse need to be balanced to allow for the best growing conditions. The days are sunny and long enough that venting is required to keep it from getting too warm, but the nights are still quite cool. Finding the best time to remove winter insulation or turn on the cooler hardware is a monthly ordeal.”

This work ensures the greenhouse remains in top shape for when doors open and students and staff return.

“Once the campus reopens, the greenhouse will be returning to its normal open hours,” said Schwarting. “Stop by to say ‘hello’ and feel free to ask question about the collection or any vegetative matter. I regularly divide growing plants and often I’m able to give away the smaller division, so it’s always worth it to make the trip.”

When campus resumes normal operation, tours can be arranged by calling the Natural Sciences Department at 715-394-8322 .

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