Will Hehemann | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
As the row crops in the agricultural fields at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff succumb to the first frosts of the season, other rows of plants – some native, some tropical – thrive in another location on campus. At the far end of campus on Oliver Road, the research greenhouse gives off a bluish glow in the late afternoons as its tube lamps and heaters create an ideal ecosystem for a diverse range of plants.
Cacti, rice, leafy vegetables and succulents that sprawl out of their containers are among the plants that line the metal benches at the research greenhouse. The most visually striking additions to the greenhouse are arguably the pineapple plants, which grow several feet tall out of their pots and feature a pineapple fruit, from which many long, spiky leaves emanate. Other varieties in the greenhouse include medicinal, herb, woody ornamental and fruit plants.
“The greenhouse is one of the most important structures for plant science and horticulture research at a university,” ASM Sorker, manager of the research greenhouse and graduate student of plant science, said. “Greenhouses are usually made of transparent material such as plastic or glass and are equipped with screening installations and a computer-controlled system of heating, cooling and lighting that optimizes the conditions for plant growth.”
Temperature is one of the most important factors for plant growth, he said. Temperature controls enable UAPB researchers to grow tropical and subtropical plants such as pineapples, which would not be able to thrive outdoors in Southeast Arkansas conditions.
The research facility is one of three greenhouses on campus, Sorker said. While the other two greenhouses are used primarily for UAPB’s sweet potato production, the research greenhouse is used for teaching demonstrations, graduate student research and lab work. The Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) Club uses the greenhouse to grow seedlings as one of its activities.
“UAPB students often use the greenhouse to learn about plant propagation,” he said. “They are able to see how a plant grows from a seed and the effects of soil sterilization, water levels and temperatures on plant growth.”
Ornamental plants such as Zinnias are raised in the greenhouse from seeds into seedlings. After four to eight weeks, the seedlings are ready and students transfer them to an outdoor environment to become acclimated to the weather outside the greenhouse. Finally, students transplant the potted plants to outdoor garden beds.
As the greenhouse manager, Sorker is responsible for keeping track of the various requests for space on benches in the correct temperature settings. He says he enjoys looking after the plants in the greenhouse as well as other plants on campus.
Sorker, who received his master’s degree in agronomy from the Bangladesh Agriculture University, moved to the U.S. seven years ago and started gardening as a hobby in the backyard of his rented home. The hobby stuck with him over the years and every spring he plants ornamental gardens filled with varieties of Zinnias and marigolds both across the street from the UAPB farm fields and around the S.J. Parker 1890 Extension Complex.