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SMC professor utilizes greenhouse

Olivia Brach | Friday, March 25, 2011

For several years the Saint Mary’s College greenhouse remained a relatively unused campus building, but students and faculty alike have begun using the building more frequently over the past two years.

Rebuilt in 1986, the greenhouse was mainly used by the Grounds department of the College’s Facilities Operations Division to grow many of the flowers prior to their planting on the Saint Mary’s campus, assistant biology professor Cassie Majetic said.

But the greenhouse is currently experiencing additional traffic as the home base for Majetic’s research on floral odor. Majetic’s plant subjects occupy roughly half the greenhouse, while the Grounds department maintains control of the remaining space.

Majetic, a second-year professor at the College, is conducting research on the scent of flowers and its relationship to other features of flowering plants. She also studies the effects of changes in floral scents on the color of a plant’s flowers by conducting chemical analyses of the plants.

“In general, I’m interested in what shapes floral scent, both ecologically and evolutionarily,” Majetic said. “I break scents apart to study their chemical characteristics and how they affect other characteristics of the plants.”

At this point in her research of the phlox family of flowers, Majetic said she has found that the scent of flowers in this group actually affects the color of the flowers.

Majetic said she also researches the influence of floral odor on the process of pollination. She said she examines the preferences of pollinators for certain types of flowers based on their odors and colors.

“For agricultural plants that rely on pollinators, these preferences can mean the difference between success of a crop and failure,” Majetic said. “If a pollinator prefers one plant over another, you could eventually lose a whole plant species.”

In order to facilitate her ongoing research, Majetic said she has worked very hard to bring about restorations to the greenhouse. The most important of these proposed changes was the development of a functional means of regulating the greenhouse temperature, she said.

The greenhouse now has a swamp cooler, a device that pumps well water into the building and also helps to cool the greenhouse during the hot summer months, Majetic said.

Although current student use of the greenhouse is relatively minimal, Majetic said she hopes that trend will change in the future. She said she has recently begun working with two Saint Mary’s students, including junior Brittany Sinka, who assist her with various aspects of her research projects.

In the future, Majetic hopes to actively incorporate the use of the greenhouse into new class-related projects.