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For the Love of Plants

As you walk on the UT campus, you may see the large glass greenhouses overlooking Neyland Stadium. The University of Tennessee Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology greenhouses were first built in 1934 and have gone through multiple renovations. There are still plants from the original collection that are almost 100 years old now.

Recently, the UT Greenhouses received an extremely generous donation from Suzanne Herron and her late husband, Drew Herron. The collection included mostly succulents and cacti plants. Some of the plants are very rare and possess unique traits and modifications. UT Greenhouses were fortunate to receive Herron’s beloved collection.

“Drew Herron knew what UT Greenhouses mission is and he wanted to enhance our outreach and education by donating his collection,” said Jeff Martin, manager of UT Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Greenhouses. “These plants will also be a great addition to our teaching and research.” One example, according to Martin, is demonstrating convergent evolution, which occurs when organisms independently find their way to the same evolutionary solution for the same environmental problem

Martin also just made a donation of one of their own rare flowers to Zoo Knoxville. In July of 2021, the rare Amorphophallus titanum, or more commonly known as the corpse flower, bloomed on UT’s campus. The bloom of the corpse flower only occurs once every 7-10 years and lasts for about a day before wilting. As it blooms, the flower releases a putrid stench that becomes even more potent as the flower’s temperature rises to about 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

After seeing how the corpse flower bloom sparked excitement in the community, Martin chose to donate the flower to the zoo to be placed in the new Arc exhibit with the turtles. Martin hopes that by having the plant at the zoo, it will be able to reach a larger audience outside of East Tennessee. He wants this to be an opportunity to educate more people about the importance of plants and hope to share the positive impact the flower had on UT’s community. 

“We donated one to the zoo because I wanted to continue to share something as interesting and unique as the corpse flower,” Martin said. “We want to take advantage of opportunities we have to educate others about the importance of plants and the natural world. Anything that piques people’s interest in plants is excellent.”

Story by Sarah Berry