I. Mission

The Exploratory Rooftop Greenhouse is a College of Science facility managed by the Department of Biology.  The mission of the greenhouse is to provide support for botanically oriented teaching and research.  Although the Department of Biology manages this plant collection and the majority of the usage of the greenhouse has been in support of biology courses, as a university facility it will be available to support teaching and research in other departments through an application process (download Application Form).

Tours will be available.  Watch for announcements.

II. Description of the Greenhouse

Entry to the 1700 square foot Greenhouse is controlled by a secure elevator key card. This elevator is at the far north end of Exploratory Hall.  Upon entry, one sees the prep room, which is a fully-equipped work area where plants are pruned and prepared for their new home. The rest of the Greenhouse is divided into two main rooms, one with low humidity and the other with higher humidity. The plants are then separated and placed in the room which best suits each type of plant.  The greenhouse uses an automated system (Microgrow™) through which desired temperature and humidity levels regulate the internal climate.  The roof and side vents will open or close, fans turn on and off on demand, shades automatically regulate light intensity, and fine spray mists help regulate temperature.  There is also an automated drip irrigation system.  Each room has six stations that can be programmed.

III.  The Living Collections

A. Room One has lower humidity and is cooler.  The plant collections are organized as follows:

Bench One is a collection of desert adapted plants including the following:



Sedum organianum (Burro’s tail), a succulent in the Crassulacease family native to Mexico and Honduras.

Stapelia variegata  or Orbea variegata (Carrion Flower plant), a succulent in the Apocynaceae family native to South Africa.

Euphorbia milii (Crown of Thorns), a flowering plant in the Euphorbiaciae native to Madagascar.

Haworthia fasciata (Haworthia), a succlent from South Africa.

Senecio radicans (String of Bananas), a succlent from the Asteraceae family is native to South Africa.

Echinocactus grusonii (Barrel Cactus), plant in the Cactaceae family, is native to Mexico.

Pachypodium lamerei (Madagascar Palm), a plant in the Apocynaceae family is native to Madagascar.

Bench Two is a collection of tropical plants in the Burseraceae family, some of which are native to Madagascar while others come from Mexico. Also present is another tree species from Mexico, as well as common Coleus and Geranium plants used for various classes.  It is interesting to note that Coleus is no longer a recognized genus and the common house plant is now Plectranthus scutellarioides in the Lamiaceae family.


The following are plants in the myrrh or Burseraceae family and are native to Madagascar:

Commiphora aprevalli

Commiphora pyracanthoides

These two species are also in the Burseraceae family but are native to Mexico:

Bursera fagaroides also known as fragrant bursera

Bursera cuneata also known as Copal

Another large plant found on bench two is Pseudobombax ellipticum or Shaving Brush Tree, is a member of the Malvaceae family and is native to Mexico.

Bench Three contains a variety of flowering plants, most of which are tropical in origin.


Sterlizia reginae (Bird of Paradise) is in its own family, Sterlitziaceae, and is native to South Africa.

Abutilon hybrida (Lucky Lantern yellow) is a hybrid plant originally native to Australia and belongs to the Malvaceae family.  The genus is found throughout the tropics and subtopics.

Musa is the genus of the banana plant.  Cultivated Musa species are found throughout the tropics.

Ficus elastica (Rubber tree) belongs to the Fig family (Moraceae)  and was originally native to Asia.

Nepenthes sp. (pitcher plant) is amember of the Nepenthaceae family and includes about 150 species native to the Old World tropics.

B. Room Two is kept warmer and with higher humidity.


On Bench One is a collection ferns, orchids and plants in the Bromelid family, including samples of Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides), which is native to the American tropics and subtropics.

On Bench Two and Three are a couple of Norfolk Island Pines (Araucaria heterophylla, family: Araucariaceae) which is a tree endemic to Norfolk Island, found in the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and New Caledonia.  Nearby are a couple of Cycads, which are related to Gymnosperms and Ginkos.

Also prominent are: 1) Calipetite Blue, which is a hybrid derived from the genus Calibrachoa (family: Solanaceae or tomato family), which is an evergreen perennial found in South America; and 2) Spiderwork (Tradescantia pallida) which belongs to the Commelinaceae family and is native to the Gulf Coast region of eastern Mexico.  The variety grown here is distinguished by its purple leaves.

IV. Course and Research Support

The greenhouse provides demonstration plants and experimental support for many Biology courses (BIOL 103, 104, 213, 308, 330, 344, and 345 ) and several courses in Environmental Science and Policy (EVPP 110, 111 and 210).

Research projects by Dr. Andrea Weeks (featuring the Madagascar plants) and Dr. Rebecca Forkner are ongoing in the greenhouse.

V. Contact 

For more information, call the Department of Biology office at 703-993-1050 or email