A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
May 12, 2005 Volume 35 / Number 8


"What's Growing On?"

Green House Open House
The Department of Biological Sciences and Tim Devine, keeper of the campus's greenhouses, invite you to an open house on May 14 and 15, from 10 am until 3 pm at the Greenhouses next to the boiler-chiller plant southwest of Yolo Hall, near the tracks

If Tim Devine’s nickname isn’t The Plant Guy, it should be. Devine is the keeper of the campus’s greenhouses, which are chock-full of extraordinary (and a few ordinary) plants. Devine was hired in 1976 as a greenhouse technician and has spent the past 29 years developing and tending an incredible collection of more than 3,000 plant species. On May 14 and 15, from 10 am to 3 pm, Devine and the Department of Biological Sciences will host an open house in the greenhouses next to the boiler-chiller plant (southwest of Yolo, near the tracks). Devine, an affable fellow who enjoys showing off the collection, received a master’s in botany in 1985 at CSU, Chico. He will be on hand to answer questions, as will several biology students.

As greenhouse tech, Devine provides lab materials and sets up labs for biology and botany courses. Plants are chosen as examples of a certain feature, Devine says, such as a leaf type or blossom. The greenhouse north of the Physical Science building was built in 1960 and houses the lab specimens, such as coleus, beans, and sunflowers. Devine points out several interesting species, including tobacco, passion fruit, and a bo tree (ficus religioso), the same kind of tree that is said to have shaded Buddha. The bo tree is a good example of ecological adaptation, Devine says. “Plants figure out what they have to do so they can live,” he explains. “The leaves of the bo tree have what’s called a ‘drip tip,’ a feature found in plants where there is heavy rainfall.”

The greenhouses next to the boiler-chiller plant were built in 1973. They hold the University’s plant collection. When Devine was hired, he donated 450 plants to the University. The collection has grown through plant and seed exchanges with other universities and plant organizations. “The goal is to represent as many plant families as possible,” says Devine. The greenhouses also hold special collections, such as primitive plants, which Devine describes as “more common in the time of dinosaurs,” and includes ferns, horsetail, plume flower, and cycads (cone-bearing, palm-like plants). The “fern room,” humid and plush with fronds from ceiling to floor, includes an unusual variety of the delicate maidenhair, “walking” ferns, and the aptly-named epiphytic staghorn.

Devine points out examples of “economic” plants, which are those we eat or use for drugs, such as banana, black pepper, chocolate tree (yes, it’s a tree), and vanilla. Examples of carnivorous plants are pitcher plant, which has hollow leaves that insects tumble into, and sundew plant, which traps insects with its sticky leaves.

The “desert room” holds some of Devine’s favorites—succulents, including the charming and old-fashioned hens and chicks, string of beads, donkey’s tail, and baby toes, as well as jade, euphorbia, and a dizzying, dangerous array of cacti (yes, cacti are succulents). Epiphytes (another of those “adaptive” plants)—known to the layperson as “air plants”—also thrive in the desert room.

Along with tending thousands of plants—imagine the never-ending task of repotting—Devine is chief (and only) pot and glassware (from the labs) washer. He also keeps the greenhouses in good shape, which includes building and replacing the sturdy benches where the plants perch. The greenhouse employs one student assistant, who waters five times a week (another colossal task).

Devine fusses over the plants, pulling off a dead leaf, straightening pots, sighing over his to-do list. Still, he says, smiling, “I have the best job on campus.” Devine is married to artist Denise Devine; they met in a taxonomy class at Humboldt State University.

—Lisa Kirk