When walking the winding pathways through the trees of upper campus, students look up to see shades of green all around them. Obscured by those trees and nestled on the third floor of the L.S. and Aline W. Skaggs Center for Health and Molecular Sciences is a haven for plants, produce and people alike.
The Cline M. and Jane O. Dahle Greenhouse Terrace is a space that acts as a sanctuary for all who enter. Being surrounded by plants can be therapeutic, and students often leave the space happier and more relaxed than when they entered. “I love the friendly learning environment that is created by the people there,” said biology student and former greenhouse intern Mary Ipson.
Its function as a learning and research lab extends beyond Southern Utah University students. Local school children come to observe the plants and sometimes leave with ripe bananas that they harvested themselves. It is home to several propagations of a corpse flower, a rare plant named after its odor which, when fully grown at around 20 years old, will bloom a flower that can grow up to eight-feet-tall.
It was built in 2011 as part of the addition of a second science building. The greenhouse acts as a hub for research and education as well as plant-related projects behind the scenes, all led by Angela Patino-Acevedo, the greenhouse lab specialist.
Patino-Acevedo began working at SUU in 2014, just as the greenhouse advisor at the time was leaving. Her background in botany and passion for plants earned her the position, with her responsibilities being to manage the day-to-day operations.
She oversees classes held in the space and assists students with research projects. One of the greenhouse’s five rooms is primarily dedicated to student research. Kayla Walker, a senior biology student, worked with Patino-Acevedo in the greenhouse from February 2021 until August 2023. “I was a TA for the greenhouse, so I assisted Angela in maintaining the plants in the greenhouses. Regular watering, pest management, pruning, repotting, making soil mixtures, evaluating nutrient deficiencies and fixing irrigation,” explained Walker. “I also assisted in plant sales, tours and aiding with student projects.”
While research and education are important, Patino-Acevedo is very proud of the work the greenhouse has been doing to establish themselves as the go-to nursery for native plants in Cedar City.
In June of 2023, the Utah Division of Water Resources expanded its water-wise landscape initiative to areas of southern Utah to help curb the drought that has ravaged the West in recent years. The project incentivizes people getting rid of their lawns and replacing them with native plants by paying them for every square foot of lawn they tear out. “It’s great, but people here don’t have a source of natives. When you go to the nurseries here, you have maybe four or five species,” Patino-Acevedo shared.
Patino-Acevedo has found a way to meet this need in the community. She collects seeds from plants that grow on public lands near the school with the help of other faculty members and students. She and greenhouse volunteers propagate those seeds and grow them in the greenhouse to eventually be sold back to the community, hoping to help people make the switch from thirsty lawns to desert landscaping.
Native plants rarely need to be watered, as they are used to the conditions of the area where they grow. In desert climates, these plants are important as they are acclimated to a lack of water and can still thrive in drought conditions. By selling plants that were raised from native seeds that were collected here in Cedar City, homeowners may never need to water their yards again.
The greenhouse sells these plants year-round in addition to an annual plant sale in May where they sell tomato varieties that grow well in Cedar City soil. This event tends to draw a lot of interest, and people end up leaving with plants for their homes and offices. Patino-Acevedo offers support to those who purchase plants by providing care, diagnosing problems and even going as far as replacing plants if they don’t thrive in the conditions where they’re placed or planted.
In addition to the greenhouse, Patino-Acevedo oversees the Native Plant Garden and the Community Garden Club.
Patino-Acevedo helped to expand the Native Plant Garden over the course of three years with a grant from the Utah Department of Natural Resources. The number of plants grew 150% with her help. “It’s like a place to showcase all the plants you can grow here in Cedar. It is representative of the three life zones that surround Cedar City,” Patino-Acevedo said.
Each native plant in the garden is accompanied by a plaque that explains its common name, its scientific name and its uses. Soon, they will be adding QR codes that will link to their website with even more information about each species.
Patino-Acevedo is the advisor for the Community Garden Club, a student-run organization that maintains a garden on 500 West near the Eccles Living Learning Center. All students who eat in the dining hall unknowingly support the organization, as the club has recently begun collecting food scraps from the cafeteria to be turned into compost. “Just imagine all the waste that you are removing out of the landfills and putting to good use. You are creating soil,” Patino-Acevedo said. This project is one that she is most proud of.
Both of these locations are in the process of being designated as sanctuaries for monarch butterflies. Milkweed has been planted in these spaces to attract the endangered butterfly species, and it seems to be working. “We keep reporting every year, we find caterpillars of the monarchs eating on the milkweeds,” Patino-Acevedo shared.
These three spaces are open to visitors and volunteers at all times. Patino-Acevedo also teaches the greenhouse practicum class that was added to the catalog in 2013. Any student from any major can join the class with permission from Patino-Acevedo.
Even if a student isn’t interested in taking the class, the greenhouse doors are always open for relaxation and communing with nature right here on campus. Especially in the cold months where plants outside are buried with snow, Patino-Acevedo encourages all students to visit and enjoy the greenery.
“We don’t support only students from SUU… we welcome everyone,” Patino-Acevedo said. While the greenhouse, Native Plant Garden and Community Garden are all special places on SUU’s campus, they greatly benefit from the involvement of all students and staff, especially Patino-Acevedo. Her contributions to how these spaces function have made them places where people can prosper.
Author: Lily Brunson
Photographer: Chloe Copeland
Editor: Kale Nelson
This article was originally published in the October 2023 edition of the University Journal.