Friday, March 29, 2013

Season 2: University of Michigan Campus Farm

A big hit in its 2012 inaugural year, the University of Michigan Campus Farm at Matthaei Botanical Gardens continues to grow, with use of greenhouse space during the winter months. Student Allyson Green anticipates the farm’s produce being used in the U-M foodservice one day, and she says that the dining halls have expressed an interest in herbs grown in the garden. The farm plot will be greatly expanded for 2013 to over a quarter acre.

Students working on the seedlings for the Campus Farm in Greenhouse 5 at Matthaei. From left: Jerry Tyrrell, Emily Gleichert, Madeline Dunn, and Vineet Raichur.

For the winter 2013 semester, students from Professor Stan Jones’s landscape architecture design studio created plans for how the farm space could be developed. Additionally, the Campus Farm program has received two seed grants, one from the University’s Planet Blue Sustainability Initiative Fund and a "Quick Wins" grant from Transforming Learning for a Third Century (TLTC). Quick Wins grants are a part of the president and provost’s office Third Century Initiative to develop innovative approaches to teaching and scholarship at U-M Ann Arbor. The $25,000 grant makes possible summer farm interns, including a program coordinator and materials for the farm.

This spring, students are planning a “Spring Fest” for Friday, May 10 to celebrate the start of the Campus Farm’s second growing season. For details, visit the U-M Sustainable Food Program website.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Conservatory Chronicles: A Flower that Smells Like Rotting Flesh?

Of course! It's called a voodoo lily and it’s about to bloom in the temperate house of the conservatory at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. The voodoo lily (Amorphophallus konjac) is a perennial plant that grows from a bulb-like structure called a corm.

A mature plant produces one large leaf stalk that makes food for the corm. The leaf stalk then dies away and goes dormant. After dormancy the corm sends up one large flower stalk that, when it opens, smells like rotting flesh. (No exaggeration.) According to a volunteer at Matthaei who is also a chemist, some of the chemicals the flower gives off are called putrescine and cadaverine. The strong rotting-flesh smell attracts pollinators such as flies that visit carrion.

An Amorphophallus konjac blooming several years ago
in the conservatory at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.
Another voodoo lily is about to bloom at Matthaei any day now
 (March 23-25 or so).
The voodoo lily at Matthaei should open its flower sometime around Saturday to Monday, March 23-25, depending on temperature and light, although, as with all plants, it’s impossible to predict exactly when it will bloom. As of this writing (March 22) the plant is in a pot located under the carob tree in the temperate house.

Interestingly, the corm is used to make flour and a kind of jelly and as a vegetarian substitute for gelatin in many Asian countries.

Don't miss this amazing plant!