Botanic Garden opens research facility

By mlekovic

With an array of lush trees and plants, the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center finally opened to the public at the Chicago Botanic Garden last week in Glencoe Ill.

The 38,000-square-foot building, which cost $8 million and took 10 years to develop, will serve as a laboratory and research facility for the garden’s staff of 31 full-time scientists and research assistants.

Accompanying these workers are interns, graduate students, research associates, collaborators and 200 botanists.

The Green Roof Garden, located on the top of the center,  will house more than 300 varieties of plants. The center also has nine laboratories where scientists and interns  can conduct research.

Stuart Wagenius, conservation scientist at the Chicago Botanic Garden, explained the benefit of having growth chambers in the new center. Growth chambers allow scientists to control the amount of light, air, temperature and carbon dioxide plants receive.

“It’s a place where we can grow plants in a very controlled environment,” Wagenius said. “There are many, many different experiments we can do.”

One experiment is already underway by Northwestern University graduate student Courtney Gill. Gill has placed three different kinds of plants in the growth chambers to see which plants will survive longer in different climates. One chamber will have present-day climate conditions and the other will feature projected climate conditions of 30 years from now.

The temperature is expected to rise three degrees in the next 30 years, Gill said.

“It’s a competition project based on climate change,” Gill said. “I’m seeing how the different climates are going to affect competition of the plants.”

The average global building will also feature interactive exhibits explaining the essential roles plants play in everyday life,  and what botanists are doing to develop real-world solutions to the conservation problems caused by climate change, habitat loss, invasive species and pollution.

Members of the Chicago Botanic Garden, along with supporters and many different donors, are trying to resolve these issues.

The invasive trees in the garden are a big problem for other plants, so members cut them down and take precautions to ensure that they would not grow back.  Also, in an effort to minimize pollution at the garden, Larry Spatz, CEO of the Solar-Electric Vehicle Company, donated a solar-powered shuttle to transfer people from one part of the garden to another.  The rides will end Oct. 25, according to Julie McCaffrey, senior media relations specialist at the Botanic Garden.

“Were going to see what happens next year, if we get a donor or not,” McCaffrey said. “It’s a great connection between the solar Trans and the solar panels at the Green Roof Garden that power about five percent of the building.”

The semi-intensive Green Roof Gardens are split into two sides. On the left garden, all of the plants are North American native, which is more experimental because many Green Roof Gardens don’t use these plants. On the other side, there are plants that are commonly used in green roof gardens, such as Sedums.

The gardens have a variety of plants and researchers are trying to see which are going to grow the best and which plants will die out, and to help determine why a plant lives or dies, there are different soil depths. These gardens can be identified as semi-intensive, intensive or extensive, depending on the depth of the soil.

The plants are planted in soil 4, 6 and 8 inches deep. Anything above 8 inches is considered intensive.

The upkeep of the gardens is left to the horticulturists, who are in charge of watering the plants, digging them up and making sure they get enough sunlight.

Emily Shelton, the horticulturist in charge of the Research, Evaluation and Children’s Garden, has to water the plants and make sure they are surviving in their environments.

“I’ll be somewhat involved with the evaluation program, but mostly weeding, watering, taking out plants and adding in plants,” Shelton said.

She has spent a lot of time watering trees inside the center. They were recently relocated to Chicago from Florida, and she has to make sure they are getting enough water so they can survive in their new habitat.

“We have to take a little extra care in the beginning, make sure they get acclimated well and that they’re getting the proper amount of water everyday,” Shelton said.

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