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Source: McMaster University

Greenhouse offers a little slice of paradise

October 25, 2006

Arthur Yeas is a plant's best friend. The greenhouse technician cares for more than 1,000 plants in McMaster's Biology Greenhouse, where he has worked for the past 30 years.

Walking through the greenhouse is like trekking through a tropical rainforest: it's hot, wet and humid. Unlike the Amazon, the greenhouse has a radio that plays classical music, but Yeas insists the music isn't for the plants.

"It's more for my benefit," he says.

Some of the plants are tiny; others are so tall, their branches bend against the glass roof of the greenhouse. Some of the plants are edible, including citrus, coffee and cocoa; others are poisonous. Some of them are common houseplants; others date back to prehistoric times.

The plants are used for research and labs in biology, life sciences and geography. Students often visit the greenhouse during class time.

"More than one student said they feel like Alice in Wonderland," says Yeas.

One of the greenhouse's residents is the nepenthes, a carnivorous plant with banana-shaped flowers that contain a digestive acid that dissolves any unfortunate insect that falls in. Since there aren't any bugs living in the greenhouse, the nepenthes lives on sunlight.

The greenhouse is also home to a wide variety of cacti and succulents from every desert region in the world. Living stone plants from South Africa could easily be mistaken for pebbles.

"They mimic stones to prevent predation," Yeas explains. "They live mostly underground."

Although most of the plants grow in 18 inches of soil, some of the plants grow in water while others grow entirely in air.

A typical day in the life of Yeas involves watering the plants, transporting them to classes and propagating them using seeds, spores or cuttings.

Yeas's green thumb began to develop in childhood.

"I liked plants as a kid," he says.

As his interest in plants grew like a weed, he attended Niagara College's horticultural technician program. He has been working at McMaster ever since.

Ironically, Yeas has only one houseplant at home; the rest are what he calls "high-end" artificial. The plants in the greenhouse "are a handful as it is."



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