The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

Botanical Center leaves blossoming legacy

The new Botanical Center Fund for Excellence will help support student projects and equipment for the facility.

The UNI Botanical Center hopes to expand its goals through the new Botanical Center Fund for Excellence, created by Gaylord Stauffer, a member of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls community. 

“We’re primarily funded by the biology department and that’s a limited-use fund. We  can use (the Botanical Center Fund for Excellence) for student projects, or equipment that we may not be able to purchase with our small general budget,” said Stephanie Witte, manager of the Botanical Center since July 2019.

Witte’s responsibilities include overseeing the daily functions of the greenhouse, planning for the future of the center and hiring students to assist with the care of plants in the greenhouse. 

“We go through a rigorous training process with the students. There is no automation, 

so everything is hand-watered. The main role of student employees is daily watering and care of the plants, upkeep, cleaning, pest removal and debris removal,” she said.

Students enjoying the greenhouse in 1913. The building has undergone multiple renovations over the years to make it a better teaching facility. (UNI SPECIAL COLLECTIONS)

Besides employing students, The Botanical Center serves the UNI community in a multitude of ways. The center exists through the biology department, and they provide plant material to any biology class that requests it. However, it is used by classes throughout the entire campus including creative writing, science education, social and emotional learning, classroom management and Spanish. It’s open to the general public, and for students, it’s a beautiful venue for learning.

Concerning the future of the center, Witte hopes it will “continue to be a warm and inviting place people will want to come to.”

The rich history of the structure began sometime in 1907 when the first greenhouse was completed. The building provided laboratory facilities for work in natural science classes. By 1908, the greenhouse aquarium was also stocked with dogfish, bullheads, turtles and other fish taken from a local pond. Two monkeys named Jocko and Maud briefly inhabited the greenhouse in the fall of 1909 before being mounted as exhibits in the school museum. A six-foot-long alligator named Allie, with an appetite for chipmunks, rabbits, squirrels and crows, also resided in a concrete pool.

The original greenhouse had become decrepit and unkempt over the years, and a new greenhouse was constructed in the late 1930s. Sadly, Allie was shot and given to biology students for dissection, as the structure did not include a pool for her. However, two much younger and smaller alligators, Mike and Ike, came to inhabit the biological laboratory of the new greenhouse.

During World War II, students heard from their relatives and friends serving in the South Pacific or North Africa, about bananas, papayas, coconuts and figs. At the greenhouse, they could marvel at these plants. Along with Mike and Ike, the greenhouse also hosted frogs, tadpoles, snapping turtles, toads, Gila monsters, snakes, rats, hamsters and lizards during this era. The collection of exotic plants and animals attracted a steady stream of grade school students on field trips.

Allie the alligator, pictured above, was one of the early occupants of the greenhouse. (UNI SPECIAL COLLECTIONS)

By the ’60s, significant renovations were underway to make the greenhouse a better teaching facility. Tropical plants occupied one display house, large plants were in another house and a third house held cuttings that would be transplanted to campus landscaping beds.

The greenhouse experienced more renovations in the ’70s with a new aluminum sash, more efficient glazing and better ventilation. The avocado, banana, lemon, coffee and cocoa plants were among the most popular. Animals inhabiting the greenhouse included another alligator, a cayman, turtles, gerbils, rabbits, a chinchilla, prairie dogs, a boa constrictor, bull snakes, a red-winged blackbird, doves and an iguana. 

By 1984, most of these animals had been moved to the Biology Research Complex. 

The only animals remaining were goldfish. However, reflecting the growing interest in water plants and aquatic life, a new Aquatic Learning Center was created in the greenhouse in 1997. The new center became an interesting field trip destination.

The Botanical Center Fund for Excellence is a way for the community to support the center in its future endeavors and projects.

“We get donors regularly with donations as little as $10 and as much as $500,” Witte said.

“The goal is to create an environment where people will feel comfortable, an environment where they want to hang out more than once,” she added.

Potential donors can navigate to and type in “Botanical Center Fund for Excellence” as their designation to donate today.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Northern Iowan Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *