Greenhouse grows local appreciation for plants


Assorted potted plants growing in the Biology Greenhouse, located on Wildcat Way. The greenhouse is open from 1 P.M.- 3 P.M. every Friday.

Sean Quinn, Staff Reporter

Tucked away inside the Marshall Mayberry Arboretum next to Dean Hall is a place that’s dry even when it’s pouring rain outside. It feels like summer in there when it’s really spring. The humidity envelops you with sweat while your lips crack and dry up just a step outdoors. This place, with a much different climate than ours, is the CWU Greenhouse. It’s a place where CWU students can come to study, relax and even grab a plant or two.

The greenhouse, primarily used by the CWU Biology Department, is relatively the same size as a typical one to two bedroom home. Thanks to the power of large fans, pumped in moisture, and a whole lot of electricity, the greenhouse allows hundreds of different plant species to grow.

It holds four separate rooms designed to simulate four unique climates: a jungle room, a tropical room, a desert room and a research room. These different rooms allow plants that would not ordinarily survive in the Ellensburg weather to grow and thrive in a place they are more familiar with.

Although the biology department technically runs the greenhouse, there is one individual who oversees the day-to-day operations. This individual is Jonathan Betz, who is an instruction and class support technician 3 for the biology department. While he has numerous duties for CWU, one of his main duties is to oversee the greenhouse. Betz has been in this role for 11 years.

What Betz appreciates the most about the greenhouse are the surprises and mysteries he sees in his work.

“There’s a little bit of mystery… Each week, there’s a different plant that’s in bloom that may not be blooming at any given time,” Betz said.

Because of this, Betz encourages those to come to the greenhouse every week for something different each time.

The history of the greenhouse goes back only a few decades. A former CWU biology professor and farmer by the name of John Carr was instrumental in the construction of the greenhouse.

“He was a well-loved biologist and botanist. He helped push for the greenhouse he built,” Betz said.

Although he never met him in person, Betz heard wonderful stories about the man. He heard about Carr’s great sense of humor and real love for plants. His legacy lives on in the greenhouse today. A large pot used to accept donations to keep the greenhouse running to this day is labeled as “John Carr Memorial Donations.”

Alongside Betz and other CWU biology faculty and staff who maintain the building are work-study students from the different science majors. One student is Safyre Reese, who assists Betz in the care of the greenhouse. Reese started working for the greenhouse roughly a year ago. She wanted to make it clear that it’s not just students from the College of the Sciences utilizing the science-based facility.

“There’s art students that will come and get leaves for their projects which is really cool. And there’s also been photography students that will come in and take pictures of the flowers,” Reese said.

Besides the students, faculty, community members and plants that pass through the greenhouse doors, a celebrity animal to the biology department crawls through the rooms. His name is Snorkel, and he’s in no hurry to beat any hare in a race. He’s an African sulcata tortoise, who has settled in the greenhouse for nine years now. You can find him moving ever-so slowly on the floor of the desert room.

“I think he’s pretty cute. Also if you touch his shell, it’s like a giant fingernail. So that’s always fun,” Reese said.

Many students come to the house not just to look at the plants but also take selfies with the tortoise.

“He’s usually a pretty popular focal point of the greenhouse,” Betz said.

Amongst the hundreds of plant species you can find in the various rooms, you’ll see many people using the space for different reasons. Biology labs from the introductory level to the upper-division botany classes come through to study the different types of plant life. Many students choose to grow their plants in the greenhouse for their projects. To top it all off, even research from faculty members and graduate students can pursue their tasks with the space.

Dr. Mary Poulson, a professor in the biology department, calls the greenhouse “a living laboratory.”

“I actually walk through [the greenhouse] every morning on my way to class. A lot of times I’ll pick up a plant that shows something that I want to tell the students. I have labs over [there] too,” Poulson said.

The greenhouse isn’t just for experiments and data collecting. Many people come just to pick up a plant to take home. During open hours, members of the public can take a plant of their choice with a suggested donation, and get information from Betz and others on how to take care of them. Senior and chemistry major Audrey Vulcano comes to the greenhouse every week to add to her collection of over 30 plants. When asked what she likes the most about the greenhouse, she praised the atmosphere.

“Sweating in some of the rooms is healthy. I don’t know if I’m going to be here long enough to do that, but it’d be good,” Vulcano said.

Fellow CWU student Valerie Strasser is also a regular attendee of the open hours. She comes not for the atmosphere, but for the main reason the greenhouse exists.

“I like having [plants] on my desk. I feel like it’s giving me some nice fresh oxygen in a relatively closed off space,” Strasser said.

Other students like environmental science major Contessa King heaped praise upon the marvel that is the greenhouse.

“I love this place. I love plants. They’re so cool and this is the most amazing place. They have so many species that you can’t find at nurseries,” King said.

She’s right, as you won’t find plants like the Venus flytrap grown naturally anywhere near Ellensburg. However, exotic plants like this can be found in the greenhouse’s jungle room.

According to the Venus flytrap article in Encyclopedia Britannica, “the plant is native to a small region of North and South Carolina, where it is common in damp mossy areas.”

Taking care of plants from far away places is just one of the many unique things about the greenhouse that you won’t see in the regular outdoors of the Kittitas Valley.

If you are interested in picking up a plant to take care of yourself, or gaze at the countless number of unique plant species and even meet Snorkel, you can visit the greenhouse every Friday from 1-3 p.m. The plants offered for pickup are free, but it is strongly suggested to donate any amount to keep the program running for future students.