Biological Sciences


Shaine Hill

Department of Biological Sciences
California State University
Chico, California 95929-0515

Office: Greenhouse A (Behind Yolo Hall)

Campus phone # 530-898-5121

Campus FAX # 530-898-5060

Greenhouse Technician

Shaine Hill, Chico State greenhouse manager, displays the flower and fruit of a banana plant at the university in Chico, California. (Michelle Graydon/Contributed)

Chico State’s greenhouse a hub of discovery and learning

By MICHELLE GRAYDON | UC Master Gardener of Butte County

October 20, 2023 Chico Enterprise Record

CHICO --Located between playing fields and pickleball courts along a popular bikeway into the main Chico State campus, the Biological Sciences Greenhouse is a state-of-the-art botanical and agricultural research facility.

Over 1,500 species of plants, including a collection of exotic and rare plants from around the world, are housed here in two buildings that are climate and light controlled. At a combined 6000 square feet, the greenhouse provides classroom and working areas as well as growing space for its carefully curated plant collection.

Shaine Hill is the current greenhouse manager and instructional technician. His enthusiasm for all things botanical is infectious. He oversees botanical education and conservation in the greenhouse buildings, which also provide botanical research opportunities for students and faculty. He loves to share his green world with everyone from students, researchers and botanists to the curious public, including school children and home gardeners. 

The first thing you notice when you enter the main conservatory building is the temperature. There are three distinct rooms, each representing habitats found throughout the natural world. Spiny, thorny cacti and succulents, crowd-pleasing carnivorous plants and rare specimens like the odd, ancient Welwitschia mirabilis from Africa are found in the first room, along with other species that grow best in dryer, warmer conditions. Every part of the space is in use: plants grow on benches and up walls, hang from the ceiling, and trail along wires strung overhead. Tall, tree-sized specimens tower over other plants which taper down in size to the very smallest non-flowering plants such as mosses and liverworts (bryophytes).

Moving into the next room a change in both temperature and humidity is evident. Strangely-shaped trunks and stems that resemble Dr. Suess’s Lorax tree, plants with long aerial roots, others with fleshy leaves, and many sizes and types of ferns define this  ecosystem. One particularly odd plant has a very swollen, hard “stem” shaped like a gourd. This is a domatium, a specialized structure grown by the plant that provides protection and shelter for a species of ants. Domatia are hollow, allowing the ants to nest in them; in some cases they provide nectar to sustain the ant colony. In return, the ants protect the plant from being eaten by herbivores or other plants encroaching on its claim of sunlight.

Stepping into the third growing room is like taking a trip to the tropics: warm, humid, rainy and misty. Here are wonderfully-scented orchids, lush tropical fruit trees and vibrantly colored flowers, in addition to plants thriving in small containers filled with water. A recent addition is a species of fern known to have the largest frond in the world, a gift from the San Francisco State University greenhouse. Future plans for this space include incorporating a small pond with a waterfall.

The star attraction here might well be the fascinating and unique Amorphophallus titanum, a member of the Arum plant family. A very large plant, it will produce a single, huge leaf that can grow to twenty feet tall. Eventually a flower spike emerges, rapidly reaching 10-15 feet within a few weeks. This is the corpse flower, famous for its strong smell of rotting flesh, its striking appearance, and the fact that it only blooms every few years. The odor attracts insects that then pollinate the plant. The bloom typically fades away after 24 hours. Chico State’s corpse flower is currently forming its flower stalk. Hill suggests checking news outlets to learn when to drop by to see and smell this phenomenon!

Outside the building are benches filled with plants that are adapted to our climate and Chico’s Zone 9 growing region. A large number of California native plants are being added each month, including beautiful examples of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants visited by pollinating insects. Hill says that the most important common denominator for all of the plants he curates is the soil or, more precisely, the growing medium.

“Growing plants in greenhouses is a different challenge than growing them in your home garden”, he explains. “Everything needs a high quality, loose, fast-draining mix that is considered “soilless” or compost-free. It’s also important to use soil that won’t decompose, in order to avoid creating an environment for rot and odors.” Nutrients are added to the water in amounts which allow frequent feeding. This encourages healthy roots that favor plant growth. Additionally, pruning and keeping plants in smaller containers allows Hill to grow larger species than the space might otherwise allow.

Another challenge is pest control. Pests can rapidly move through the greenhouses, damaging plants that are expensive and sometimes rare. When pests are found, Hill starts simply, by hand picking, washing, or wiping them off. If necessary, he’ll shift to biological controls: for example, he recently released a predatory mite that devoured not only the damaging mite species he wanted to control, but another pest (thrips) as well. Maximizing the plant’s health by re-potting or feeding and changing its environment can also solve some problems. Spider mites can be eliminated, for instance, by moving plants from a dry area to a moister one, because these pests don’t survive in moist or wet conditions. The  greenhouse is an enclosed space, so treating plants systemically with a pesticide is an option, but it is an option Hill prefers to avoid whenever possible.

Opening up this green world to share his passion and to educate more people is one of Hill’s goals. He encourages visitors or tours and loves to show you his latest exciting plant “find.” If you are interested in viewing a plant that can eventually live for over 1,000 years, or one that digests insects for nutrients, or another that shoots up one fantastic, smelly flower every few years, consider making a foray to the Chico State Biological Sciences Greenhouses. For more information and to arrange a visit, contact Shaine Hill at

Pitcher PlantCorpse Flower
Greenhouse in the MistCorpse Flower - Inside