HAVE YOU SEEN KENT STATE'S BANANA TREES?; Kent State Today; September 19, 2022

Students experience the green oasis in the heart of campus.

Last Friday, a group of about 10 Kent State students received a guided tour of one of the most unique spaces on the Kent Campus – the Herrick Conservatory. It’s the large greenhouse that’s attached to the north side of Cunningham Hall.  

The 5,500-square-foot facility is home to a large and diverse selection of plants, plus some fish and a couple of turtles. Highlights of the collection include a 30-year-old rubber tree and strawberry guava tree, banana trees, flowering plants and vegetables, succulents, tropical varieties and even carnivorous plants. 

The tour was led by Melissa Davis, BS ‘04, MS ‘10, the horticultural facilities director since 2014, and arranged in partnership between the Center for Ecology and Natural Resource Sustainability (CENRS) and the Environmental Science and Design Research Institute (ESDRI).  

The ESDRI Fellows 
Michelle Escalambre, MA ‘20, a special assistant at ESDRI, explained that the institute sponsors an undergraduate fellows' program, and this tour was designed to help introduce the conservatory to this year’s class of fellows and any other students interested in environmental science. “Because we’ve been off-campus for the past two years because of the pandemic, this will be the first time that any of these students, especially the undergrads, are going to be in the greenhouse,” Escalambre said.  



Student Kathryn Burns, in the greenhouse.

One of the fellows taking the tour was Kathryn Burns, a junior environmental studies major from Lyndhurst, Ohio. “I’m really interested in food waste,” said Burns. “I’m very interested in the human impact on the environment. After school, I’m not sure what my plans are, but I’m interested in conservation education.” Burns said she would like to explore parks management, perhaps as a park ranger, and working with young children to help teach them about the importance of conservation.  

Committing to a space  

Kyotē Youst is also an ESDRI fellow. From Hanoverton, Ohio, they are in their senior year, with three semesters remaining in a dual major of environmental studies and psychology. Youst said they are “learning a lot, meeting wonderful people and making good connections” at Kent State.



Student Kyote Youst peeking through the trees in the Herrick Conservatory.

Youst is passionate about the work of gardening and “committing to a space.”  

As part of their studies, Youst works as a community partner advocate at a local garden at Kent’s Walls Elementary School, through the Let’s Grow Together Coalition. The garden is supported by Kent State students, faculty and volunteers. Teachers at the elementary school create activities and educational opportunities for their students in the garden. “It’s just a magical space,” said Youst.  

“Eating is one of the most pleasurable, inherent things that we can do after drinking water,” they said. “And when you get to grow it yourself, there’s nothing like it. You’re just holding it in your hands; I made this happen and now it’s going to take care of me and now I’m going to keep going. There’s this big, beautiful cycle going on and I love it. It’s so fun. It’s magical.” 

A living, teaching resource 

Jennifer Heisler, from Kent, is a doctoral candidate in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis on science education. She’s considering using the greenhouse in some of the classes she’s teaching this semester.



Doctoral student/instructor Jennifer Heisler amongst the greenery inside the Herrick Conservatory.


“I’m looking at possibly bringing over some classes to experience some of the wonder and beauty that we have here,” said Heisler.

She plans to graduate within the year and wishes to continue her research in science education. 

"I’m looking at some different areas of research studies, such as nature connectedness and international exchange programs within science education.” 

Opportunities to get involved 

The conservatory is maintained by the Herrick Conservatory and Sustainability Club (a.k.a. “The Greenhouse Club”) - a student organization that also offers open volunteer hours at the conservatory on Fridays for students who want to become involved with greenhouse programs and for experiential learning opportunities. Otherwise, the conservatory has regular hours each semester and is also open by appointment.  
Students from "The Greenhouse Club" harvest the fruits and vegetables grown in the conservatory and use them in their club’s fundraising efforts. On Friday, the club members, including club president Megan Homison, were collecting fruit from the strawberry guava tree for use in an upcoming bake sale. In the harvest season, the group’s members also harvest seeds from the conservatory and around campus to plant for their annual plant sale fundraising event, held Spring Semester, during the week before finals.  

To learn more about the Herrick Conservatory, check out this article from the Kent State Magazine: https://www.kent.edu/magazine/greenhouse.

On Friday, Sept. 23, Davis will be leading a group activity at Kent State’s Climate Change Grove, located near the Warren Student Recreation and Wellness Center. At “Trees for the Future: Reforesting the Kent Campus,” volunteers will be invited to plant tree saplings in the grove. All are welcome and tools will be provided. Learn more here: https://www.kent.edu/biology/event/trees-future-reforesting-kent-campus.


POSTED: Monday, September 19, 2022 09:05 AM
Updated: Wednesday, February 15, 2023 09:06 AM