The current Wheaton College greenhouses were built in 2011 on the rooftop of the newly constructed Mars Center for Science and Technology. The structure consists of four connected greenhouses for a total of 1200 square feet. Three of these houses are specified by climate, one for rain forest, one for desert, one for temperate with the fourth slightly larger house being reserved for student research and class projects.
There are four state-of-the-art growth chambers, also for use by professors and students for specialized projects. The entire area is regulated via a computer-based control system with a roof top weather station which reads wind speed, rain, temperature and solar level.
The purpose of the greenhouses is multi-faceted:
- One major function is the conducting of research on both the student and faculty level. Many different projects of both short and long term duration are accomplished each year. A few examples of such research are dormant seed germination from sand banks and wetlands, nutrient studies, and genetic inheritance in consecutive generations.
- Supplying materials for experimentation during class laboratories is a second purpose served by the greenhouses. For example, students use spines from cacti for micro-surgery, or search among the Polypodiums for prothallia and sporophytes.
- Exhibition is a third function of the Wheaton College greenhouses. A wide variety of plant life is maintained in a minimally controlled environment in order to allow the specimen to display their natural growth tendencies. Any needed pest control is accomplished with organic substances so as not to interfere any more than is necessary with the eco-sphere. A program using predatory, beneficial insects has also recently been instituted. By keeping one house warm and fairly dry, and the other more humid, it is possible to display both desert and tropical species in a spatially limited facility. A newly installed garden pool allows for the inclusion of aquatic species. Plants are arranged by family, genus, and species and labeled as such along with a code to care that is described at the entrance to each house.
The original Wheaton College greenhouses were built in the mid 1960's through a grant by the Esso Education Foundation. The structures consisted of two parallel houses, approximately eighteen by twenty-four feet, each with two side benches, two side aisles, and a center growing area. There were two roof vents and two side vents on automatic controls in each house, along with an automated mister and an auxiliary gas heater.
During the 1994/95 academic year, a program of community outreach was instituted. Area garden clubs are contacted and invited to tour the greenhouses as a public service. Additionally, home school students visit along with public school classes. Liaison work with other colleges and local nurseries has also increased visibility and established a working relationship beyond the Wheaton campus. A small area of duplicate specimen is now available for purchase in hopes of attracting additional visitors. Also, donations are welcomed to help us maintain, repair, and renovate the greenhouses.