The Augsburg Greenhouse is the Heart of Campus Horticulture

Cassandra Hagen, features editor 

Photo of Augsburg University Greenhouse taken by Cassandra Hagen on Nov. 2

on the fourth floor of Hagfors, the Augsburg Greenhouse is a spark of life within the building. The greenhouse first started with the opening of Hagfors in January 2018 and their collection has amassed over 500 different species over the five years they have been operating. While the greenhouse’s primary purpose is to support the biology courses and to be utilized for student learning and teaching, it is also open on the first Thursday of every month to the Augburg and Cedar-Riverside communities. 

I decided to go to one of the Greenhouse First Thursdays and during my visit, I got to discuss with Professor Leon Van Eck about the greenhouse’s operation and origin. In addition to teaching and research, he manages the Biology Department Plant Growth Facilities which includes the Hagfors Center rooftop greenhouse. It is common to find him in the greenhouse on first Thursdays to talk with students and members of the Cedar-Riverside community about the collection and to answer any questions they may have. “I like introducing students to the amazing diversity of species, structures, processes, and adaptations found in biology, and instilling passion and appreciation for these as we explore,” as quoted from Professor Van Eck from his Augsburg Faculty page.

Stepping into the greenhouse itself feels like placing yourself into another world. It’s beautiful, filled floor to ceiling with an impressive diversity of plants, from tropical species to delicate flowers. The space is a lush, thriving microcosm of botanical life. I spent most of my time there enamored with the variety of plants, specifically with some of the most fascinating items in their collection: the two corpse flowers the greenhouse has from the US Botanical Garden in Washington D.C.

According to Professor Van Eck, “The greenhouse is home to hundreds of species of plants that are curated and nurtured, many understudied crops and wild relatives and a spectacular living wall that houses a collection of epiphytic and cliff-dwelling species.” The collection included both rare and endangered plants, with numerous species of plants from biodiversity hotspots. “It is due to Augsburg’s location in Cedar-Riverside, as well as the composition of students, that this diversity needed to be reflected and showcased in the Greenhouse’s collection,” said Professor Van Eck. 

Photo of Augsburg University Greenhouse taken by Cassandra Hagen on Nov. 2

The greenhouse certainly lives up to this statement, with the variety of unusual and interesting flora they have, but also because of the number of threatened and endangered plants that they house. Many can no longer be found growing in the wild but are prominent in collections, either endangered from land use or from poaching. Professor Van Eck states that’s only part of the reason why protecting and appreciating these plants and flora is so important. 

“Plants are as charismatic as animals are – they have interesting lives, they’ve evolved in such a fascinating way, as since they can’t run, they adapted to standing and defending themselves through such inventive chemistry. There’s so much we need to learn, and people need to know those stories they tell,” Van Eck stated. “That’s why it’s a unique opportunity for students to come to the greenhouse, to see what we’re about, and become surrounded by plants and flora, and fall in love with plants.” 

Stop by the greenhouse to see some gorgeous and unique plants when they host their next Greenhouse First Thursday on Dec. 7 from 12:00 to 3:00 p.m.!