Greenhouses aplenty at Pitt

Giles Howard | August 25, 2008    

‘ ‘ ‘ The smell of rotting flesh may soon be emanating from a room on the fourth floor of Clapp… ‘ ‘ ‘ The smell of rotting flesh may soon be emanating from a room on the fourth floor of Clapp Hall. ‘ ‘ ‘ Nestled among palm trees, a chocolate tree and a collection of soy plants that derive all their nutrients from the nitrogen in the air we breathe, the titan arum releases a fragrance similar to that of rotten horseflesh when it blooms. ‘ ‘ ‘ Titan arum can be found in the tropical forests of Sumatra and in a greenhouse on the fourth floor of Clapp. ‘ ‘ ‘ The Clapp greenhouse and the greenhouse located on the sixth floor of Langley make up the University’s 2,000-square-foot facility used for research and teaching. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘We’re very fortunate to have functional greenhouses,’ said Ellen York, greenhouse facilities manager. ‘ ‘ ‘ York oversees the operation of the research greenhouse on the sixth floor of Langley, which is split into four different bays, as well as the greenhouse on the fourth floor of Clapp, which is used more for teaching. ‘ ‘ ‘ The temperature in the research greenhouse can be monitored and controlled to some extent, whereas the teaching facility is entirely unregulated. ‘Our biggest problem in greenhouses is that we have trouble controlling heat levels,’ said York. ‘ ‘ ‘ York also pointed out that Pitt’s greenhouse facilities are fairly small compared to the standard 10,000 square feet at other institutions. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘We’re cramming some of the best researchers in the world into one-fifth the normal space,’ said York. ‘ ‘ ‘ As a result, there is only space for members of the biosciences faculty, and even then, the greenhouse bays are booked through 2010. ‘I haven’t been able to do anything for anyone else,’ said York. ‘ ‘ ‘ Small or not, Pitt’s greenhouse facilities require a lot of upkeep. Siarhei Tsymbalau, a Pitt senior, worked in the greenhouses this summer. ‘ ‘ ‘ Like many students at Pitt, Tsymbalau didn’t even know that the University had greenhouse facilities until a short time ago. ‘When I just walked in there, I was like ‘Wow!” said Tsymbalau. ‘ ‘ ‘ He says a lot of his job is ‘just watering and making sure that the floor stays clean.’ Tsymbalau’s other duties include preventing the growth of algae and fungus in the greenhouses. ‘ ‘ ‘ He says that he’s been working with plants since a young age and, although he won’t be pursuing it as a career, finds them to be fascinating. ‘It’s something I’ll have for the rest of my life as a hobby,’ said Tsymbalau. ‘As a summer job it’s pretty cool.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ But for Susan Kalisz, a professor in Pitt’s department of biological sciences, working with plants is a full-time job. ‘ ‘ ‘ She’s currently growing collinsia, a species of plants native to the American West, in one of the bays on the sixth floor. Kalisz is tracking their paternity through ‘micro satellite markers.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Like York, Kalisz acknowledges that there’s not enough space in Pitt’s greenhouses. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘The reason more faculty don’t use [the facility] is that we’re space limited,’ said Kalisz. ‘ ‘ ‘ She said that there are always talks about expanding greenhouse space so that more faculty members can make use of the research facilities. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘The University is forward looking in increasing its user space,’ she said.

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