This story is featured in the Fall 2017 edition of the HPU Magazine. Discover below how theMariana H. Qubein Arboretum and Botanical Gardens deepen and further inspire learning that takes place within classrooms.
Everything has a purpose. From the inspirational quotes and sculptures of historic figures along the Kester International Promenade to the water features throughout, every aspect of High Point University’s campus is strategically designed to surround students with learning opportunities.
This includes the 26 gardens, 3,500 taxa of plants and more than 600 varieties of trees in the Mariana H. Qubein Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.
The gardens spread throughout campus and are constantly expanding with an overall goal of increasing plant diversity. Through collaboration from committee members, the landscape team, volunteers and students, the gardens have grown, literally, at an impressive pace.
As envisioned by First Lady Mariana Qubein when she spearheaded their development in 2006, HPU’s gardens blend seamlessly with the buildings and spaces they surround. They showcase the beautiful natural gifts God has provided while offering unique educational opportunities for students and visitors alike.
An Outdoor Classroom
The arboretum and gardens deepen and further inspire learning that takes place within classrooms by serving as an outdoor learning lab for research in the natural environment.
Working with Jon Roethling, curator of the gardens, faculty find plant specimens for their research without having to leave campus. Rather than using prepackaged samples from lab kits, students get the hands-on experience of collecting their own samples.
They also are inspired to ask questions about the plants growing around them.
Dr. Niky Hughes, assistant professor of biology, and a group of students have studied an elephant ear plant called ‘Mojito’ found on campus to learn why some plants have pigmentation on the top and bottom surfaces of their leaves. Their results, published
in the international journal Planta, show that the pigments act as sunscreen for the plants.
She and senior Sarah Forget are also studying Christmas fern to learn why the plant lays its fronds flat against the ground during winter. They have found that this helps regulate temperature and humidity, reducing stress to the plant during cold weather.
Hughes’ colleague, Assistant Professor Cindy Vigueira, is conducting a study of the genetic relationships between the many varieties of Liatris, also known as blazing stars or gayfeathers. She hopes to start a breeding program to develop improved garden cultivars for this group.
There’s also a study underway by Dr. Dinene Crater, biology professor, who is performing DNA sequence analysis on a variety of plants on campus.
“It is a great asset to be able to teach botany in a botanical garden and arboretum,” says Hughes. “The campus becomes the classroom when we step outside to see the plants we are learning about in class.”
Growing New Opportunities
HPU’s gardens provide endless opportunities to learn from nature, and as the university’s footprint grows, new landscapes and plant species are added to the mix.
The newest space is the Medicinal Landscape Garden surrounding Congdon Hall, home of the Fred Wilson School of Pharmacy and Congdon School of Health Sciences, which opened this fall. As a natural extension of the learning space, the plants are incorporated throughout the landscape rather than being confined to one area.
“What we’ve created is a full landscape of plants with medicinal properties,” says Roethling. “This unique approach is more aesthetically pleasing and ties in with the overall inspiring environment on campus. There’s a purpose to each plant selected for this area.”
Roethling worked with Dr. Ron Ragan, dean of the pharmacy school, to select plants for the landscape. It features plants with a variety of therapeutic properties, like turmeric, which acts as an anti-inflammatory for the joints, and vinca, a well-known summer annual that possesses a compound used in the treatment of cancer.
“When students see the plants growing in the medicinal garden and realize they are the source of drugs commonly used in clinics today, it helps them understand the impact the environment has on our health,” says Ragan. “Plants can be beautiful as well as potent pharmacological agents. The next novel therapeutic agent may be contained in a plant found on our campus, only in the jungles of the Amazon, or any place in between. This valuable insight into the drug discovery process prepares our students for a bright future in the profession.”
Planting Seeds for the Future
As the gardens continue to grow and expand, a new indoor space will bring even greater opportunity for students and faculty to experience a wide variety of plants.
Thanks to a major gift from Don and Teresa Caine of Greensboro, North Carolina, a new conservatory will be added near a new undergraduate science building. It will include a plant display area, working greenhouse for plant research, classroom and bistro restaurant. It will allow for the addition of plants that otherwise would not thrive outdoors and provide resources for students and faculty to pursue research projects that previously would not have been possible.
“The research greenhouse of the conservatory will allow for training students in plant research techniques that are highly sought after in the plant biotechnology field,” says Vigueira.
“This will open up a number of exciting and important careers for our students at HPU.”
As one of a limited number of conservatories in North Carolina, it is expected to become a destination for visitors, adding even more potential for community education and engagement. Already, hundreds of visitors tour the gardens each year, and the number is growing with new additions and recognitions.
“What started as just a vision has established deep roots for the future,” says Qubein. “The gardens fulfill so many purposes. They provide substance for research in the classroom, as well as a beautiful backdrop for our campus.”
View this story and more in the Fall 2017 edition of the HPU Magazine: