Indiana is known for its unpredictable weather. An average day in March could vary from freezing temperatures with 6 inches of snow to warm and sunny with clear skies. But in the middle of Indiana, people can escape to a tropical environment with more than 2,000 orchids at Ball State’s Rinard Orchid Greenhouse.
On March 20, 2021, the greenhouse will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its Wheeler-Thanhauser Orchid Collection, which was donated to the university by orchid collectors Goldie Wheeler of Indianapolis in 1969 and Al Thanhauser of Connecticut in 1982.
Although the original celebration plans involved a three-day event, the greenhouse decided to move to a one-day virtual event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re working with two local orchid societies and the Friends of the Rinard Orchid Greenhouse as a group to be able to provide a day of a conference where we offer special orchid speakers as guest speakers,” Cheryl LeBlanc, greenhouse curator, said.
LeBlanc said the majority of orchid community fans “are in the older age category,” so greenhouse staff decided it would be safer to keep the event online. The event will include a virtual tour of the greenhouse and breakout sessions, where attendees can ask guest speakers questions.
“We reached out to speakers that had topics that we thought would be of general interest to orchid growers of beginner or skilled nature,” LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc said Courtney Hackney, Jennifer McQuiston and Russ Vernon are the speakers chosen for the event. Hackney will give a presentation on how to save dying plants, McQuiston will give one on growing orchids under artificial light and Vernon will talk about orchid conservation.
In recent years, LeBlanc said, the greenhouse has seen an increase in its number of visitors, with more than 6,000 conservatory visitors in 2019. The education center had around 4,000 visitors in 2019, said Erica Forstater, environmental education and greenhouse coordinator.
The greenhouse is expanding its education center with construction beginning in April 2021. According to the current construction plan, the project will be completed by the spring 2022 semester.
“We’ll have a lot more space — a bigger space to be able to do programming,” Forstater said. “Right now, we’re kind of dependent on what’s available on campus.”
Forstater said the expansion will include an environmental education center, where on-campus organizations and other Muncie clubs will be able to meet. The annual plant sale, which started in 2011, will also take place there.
For the annual plant sale, volunteers and plant donors prepare plants, and the funds raised go directly to the greenhouse’s education programs, LeBlanc said in an email.
“We would absolutely use it for field trips, as a meeting place and an education area,” Forstater said. “It’s going to have a wet lab portion [for experiments] as well so we can get as messy as we need in there.”
LeBlanc said the wet lab will include “sinks, counters and equipment for projects that involve soil, water, plant material and many other components of our natural world.”
The greenhouse expansion is expected to begin construction April 12 and end in the fall 2021 semester. Parts of the greenhouse will remain fenced off during construction for the public’s safety, according to construction documents from Ball State’s Facilities Planning and Management Office.
The west wall of the greenhouse will be torn down in the construction process, which will expose the plants inside to unregulated temperatures. Temporary walls will be put up to “maintain proper climate control,” LeBlanc said.
According to the American Orchid Society, day temperatures 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit are best for cool orchids, and 80-90 degrees is best for warm orchids. During the night, temperatures 50-55 degrees for cool species and 65-70 degrees for warm species ensure proper growth. The Rinard Orchid Greenhouse has both varieties of orchids and different rooms for each species.
LeBlanc said the greenhouse has one entryway door and one exit door that is for emergencies, but, during construction, it will become the primary entrance.
Fundraising for the expansion began in 2018, and 90 percent of the $1.25 million required funds were raised by September 2020, according to the greenhouse’s website. LeBlanc said the greenhouse is still accepting donations for the project, and new plants, animals and art pieces will be brought into the conservatory after the expansion.
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