The Bucket List
By Lauren Vespoli, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, February 1, 2013
Hanover in winter can, at times, be the most hopeless of places. If you don’t like skiing, skating or sledding or have yet to discover the glory of “warm cuts,” or cutting through buildings as much as possible when walking around campus, it can be a dismal term indeed. But do not despair. If the glow of your happy lamp is not enough to cure your SAD, there’s a magical place on campus where you can stand among cacti and feel the dry heat of a desert, or revel in the humidity of the tropics. I speak of the Murdough greenhouses, located on the fourth floor of the Class of 1978 Life Sciences Center.
I have never been particularly interested in plants. Flowers and trees are nice, but my appreciation for the botanical always ended there. However, it’s difficult not to be awed by the sheer variety of the greenhouse, which includes tropical, sub-tropical, xeric (desert) and orchid collections.
If your primary goal is to escape frigid temperatures and to trick your body into thinking you’re in a Costa Rican rainforest, I recommend the tropical room. It houses plants that grow in areas with temperatures in the high 80s. The subtropical room, though slightly less steamy, has a koi pond, which I found oddly soothing. Between these two rooms, discover the miracle fruit from West Africa, which makes something sour taste sweet with just a few chews. Or perhaps try the perfume flower tree whose flowers are used to make leis in the islands of Polynesia. Behold mangroves hailing from southern Florida and Louisiana and an Arabic stimulant called khat. Inspect the plants bearing fruit you thought you’d only ever encounter at the Collis smoothie bar or on an Odwalla ingredients label: southeast Asian wild bananas, pomegranate and strawberry guava.
Still think plants are lame? Check out the carnivorous plant collection. Divided into active and passive trapping plants, these tubular specimens are more threatening than they appear. The lobes of the active venus fly traps — scientific name Dionaea muscipula, of “Little Shop of Horrors” fame — “rapidly fold when trigger hairs are touched, holding prey behind the spines,” according to their completely necessary label. Read: if you are a bug, stay the heck away from Dionaea! Ladies, having some issues with your cycle? In addition to treating hypertension, extra-long staple cotton can also help with “delayed or irregular menstruation.” Consider that next time you put on a T-shirt.
The wet and dry orchid rooms compose the Brout Orchid Collection, an astounding accumulation of over 1,000 orchids. Donated by Alan Brout ’51, the collection is 30 years in the making and recognized by the American Orchid Society. The wet orchid room held one of my favorite displays in the greenhouse: a moss-covered wall hung with orchids, which was a beautiful conflation of the indoors and the world outside.
I was most amused by the cactus room, which contained everything from Hoodia, a Namibian “stem succulent” resembling a tiny cactus, to taller Opuntia humifusa, commonly known as eastern prickly pear. There was something surreal about standing under heat lamps and amongst cacti while looking out the window over our snowy campus.
Visit the Murdough greenhouses to give yourself a respite from the dry and the cold, because you love plants, are stressed about midterms and need to watch some koi swim around or because you were intrigued by this column. The greenhouses are open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.