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Unique plants will be lost in greenhouse demolition

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Several irreplaceable species of plants will be lost and the quality of education will suffer if the Botany Greenhouses on Queen’s Park Crescent are levelled to make way for a new $70 million pharmacy building.

“Essentially, the greenhouses were slated for destruction without consultation and without any replacement money being offered or spent by the university,” said Nancy Dengler, a member of the Department of Botany since 1968.

The greenhouses are home to more than 500 plants representing the major evolutionary lines, everything from tropical rain forest plants to cacti and succulents. Touring the glass labyrinth is a vital part of the educational experience for approximately 1,600 introductory-level biology students a year.

“You could never, ever, just never bring together that assemblage of plants together again,” said Dengler. Even if the greenhouses were to be moved, or replaced nearby, some specimens would be unlikely to survive, authorities say. She found out inadvertently at a campus master plan meeting that the greenhouses were going to be removed.

“As far as I know it was very late in the game when we were approached officially,” she said.

Members of the botany department took the initiative in getting the Canada Foundation for Innovation to provide a reported $6.9 million to go toward the construction of new state-of-the-art research greenhouses on the roof of the Earth Sciences Centre.

While Dengler says the research facilities of the new greenhouses will be a major improvement, teaching will suffer.

“I think is a terrible loss and it will never be replaced.”

Horticulturalists Bruce Hall and Andrew Petrie have begun preparations to move the plant collection to the top of the Earth Sciences Centre.

They are concerned that some specimens, like the six-metre-tall banana trees, might not fit into the new greenhouses, and that an ancient Welwitschia cactus from Namibia and similar plants might not survive the move.

The confusion surrounding the removal of the 70-year-old greenhouses may arise in part from the fact that some Simcoe Hall officials were unaware that the greenhouses contained any plants at all.

Jon Dellandrea, Vice President and Chief Advancement Officer, said that conversations about the possibility of a new Faculty of Pharmacy building have been ongoing since at least 1994.

But when questioned about the removal of the greenhouses, Dellandrea said, “Again, first of all, as you know, they are not functional greenhouses, so from a standpoint of their academic use we needed new greenhouses.”

After he was informed that the greenhouses are still used by over a thousand students a year, Dellandrea said, “I wasn’t aware of that. Obviously, that teaching activity will be replicated in the new greenhouses.”

Look for ongoing coverage of this issue in next week’s newspaper.