UT Knoxville Grad Revamps UTC Greenhouse with Help of Former Professor

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UT Chattanooga GreenhouseKNOXVILLE — Growing plants requires attention, dedication and patience. But more than anything else, it requires the initial seed. The Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, provided the seed for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga greenhouse to flourish and become an essential tool for students to learn and deepen their education.

Joey Shaw, assistant professor of biological and environmental sciences, began working at UTC in 2005 and found the greenhouse in shambles. It was meant for teaching and research but was nonfunctioning.

“When I came down to Chattanooga, it was a shock for me,” Shaw said. “The greenhouse was being used as a storage shed. It had asbestos and fewer than five living plants. It took me a couple of years to renovate it because I had to literally start from scratch.”

Shaw received a grant from UTC to improve the greenhouse but needed tropical plants to achieve his goals. He wanted the Holt Hall greenhouse at UTC to serve as a learning tool for students and a suitable teaching environment for professors.

Remembering his doctorate work at UT Knoxville and the vast array of plants the Fred Norris greenhouse held, Shaw went to his former professor and friend Ken McFarland, lecturer in biology and organizer of the Wildflower Pilgrimage, to ask for help.

“He was very willing to help me stock the greenhouse to facilitate all the classes here,” Shaw said. “Greenhouses trade specimens like trading baseball cards, but we didn’t have anything to give to him. It was a truly generous act by him and his colleagues.”

McFarland donated a wide variety of plants, some from Europe, Asia and Africa. Shaw and McFarland agree that many of the exotic plants donated exhibit unique characteristics that are vital for teaching students and conducting research.

“A lot of these plants are hard to find,” McFarland said. “You acquire them through other greenhouse universities. It’s a common practice. We have extras so other people can benefit from that.”

Having been with UT Knoxville for more than 35 years, McFarland has been able to help many universities start their own greenhouse programs. The department has given plants to Appalachian State, Eastern Kentucky and Austin Peay. McFarland also goes to local elementary schools to do demonstrations and usually leaves a plant behind.

“It’s kind of a public service to local schools and universities,” McFarland said. “We enjoy showing kids how plants can influence their world.”

McFarland’s donation of 55 potted plants and numerous cuttings from other plants jumpstarted UTC’s program which now benefits more than 100 students each semester and many faculty members who use the greenhouse for research and teaching.

“Ken was the primary reason the greenhouse looks green from the outside now,” Shaw said. “It allows us to have plants to show our students, which stimulates us as professors. Before, we had to get pictures online and project them. Now, we have something tangible to show students. It makes classes more interactive and learning so much more interesting.”

C O N T A C T :

Bridget Hardy (865-974-2225, bhardy4@utk.edu)

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