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A Botanical Microcosm at Bethel College

September 11th, 2017

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. - While most outdoor flora await the arrival of spring, plants inside the Lattner Conservatory, the new greenhouse in Bethel College's Krehbiel Science Center, have been growing strong all winter, due to technology, classes and the work of student assistant Paula Regier, freshman from Beatrice, Neb. "This was a new position, funded by the biology department. It was also an opportunity to support the botanical passion of a student," said Jon Piper, professor of biology at Bethel College. Regier's duties include tending plants, moving equipment, keeping the greenhouse clean and assisting with ecology labs. She has also pruned trees, transplanted specimens, treated minor insect infestations and prepared new plant shoots by the process of air layering.

"It's a really nice place to be, always sunny," Regier said.

The greenhouse, located next to a plant preparation room and field ecology laboratory, occupies the south side of the third floor. The family of Adam Mueller, North Newton, donated funds for the plant preparation room. Mueller, a 1932 Bethel College graduate, is known for developing his own varieties of irises and daylilies.

The conservatory houses the college's growing botanical collection of nearly 75 species of plants, which include cacti, trees, herbs, a bougainvillea bush, a fragrant citrus mitis (a miniature orange tree), as well as common house plants such as arrowhead plants, philodendrons, mango, papaya, coffee and aloe vera.

"Before I arrived at Bethel, they told me about this (greenhouse) and I was really intrigued; I had greenhouse experience in high school," said Regier, who last spring graduated from Tri County High School near Beatrice.

Lattner Conservatory was named for the Forrest C. Lattner Foundation of Delray Beach, Fla., which approved a $100,000 grant for an improved greenhouse where the biology department could enhance its curricula and where students could conduct class and individual research. The foundation is known for its philanthropic gifts to organizations in Kansas.

"Space is available to support student research projects, and I would love to see students make use of it," Piper said.

Many of the greenhouse's tropical plants and succulents were donated by Benton's Greenhouse in Hutchinson and North Newton; Harvest Greenhouse in Newton and Stone Creek Nursery in Hesston. Prior to construction of Krehbiel Science Center, the remaining plants had been housed in the biology department's former home in the Science Hall.

This year students in ecology, botany and environmental science courses have used the plants in classes and laboratories; biology students have also dissected leaves or stems. The ecology class has conducted a lab experiment, and more experiments will follow in the department.

Heating elements beneath the floor maintain the room's temperature in winter, and timers were recently installed for the lights. Since much light enters the tall windows of the greenhouse, future plans consist of raising plants such as trees, creepers and vines to provide shade for others that need it.

Regier is the recipient of a four-year Krehbiel Science Scholarship at Bethel College, as well as scholarships for academics and soccer. Her parents are Gayland and Marcia Regier of Beatrice.

"I think we are only beginning to appreciate the potential for botanical studies in this outstanding science facility. Personally, I'm thrilled to have someone in place with Paula's experience and enthusiasm during this inaugural year of Krehbiel Science Center," Piper adds.

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.