Tucked beneath the trees on the property surrounding the Elizabeth House, Ashley Hall’s greenhouse feels a bit like a secret garden. But now plant experts and enthusiasts around the world know it’s a special part of our campus thanks to the amazing work Honors Biology II students are doing with Upper School faculty member Allison Sill Bowden. 

The course, which explores plant science through unique hands-on lessons, was recently featured in the latest issue of the Journal of the Bromeliad Society, an international publication featuring primarily peer-reviewed work. In the article entitled “Finding Botanical Belonging Through Bromeliads,” Bowden details how biology students dive into botany by studying bromeliads, a subtropical plant found throughout South America, Central America, the Caribbean, as well as right here in Charleston. (Our most famous local member of the plant family is Spanish Moss, which students learn is actually neither Spanish nor moss, but a bromeliad!)

Students start the semester with a trip to our bromeliad greenhouse to choose a plant. “The job was put upon us to be a caregiver, ensure its health, watch over its growth, and constantly learn more in order to be best informed about our plants,” explains Callie Cox ‘21 in the article. The girls then visit the greenhouse bi-weekly to care for and propagate their plants, an experience that was particularly meaningful during the pandemic. “While to some this may seem tedious and pointless, to me it became a stable variable in my life during a time where ‘normalcy’ and ‘consistency’ were no longer,” says Cox. 

Their work in the greenhouse created yet another meaningful experience for Lower School students when Ava Piebenga ’21 and Wickie Fort ’21 planned a special project focused on teaching third graders their new knowledge of bromeliads using interactive techniques. On the last day of lessons, the seniors took the third graders to the greenhouse where each student potted their own bromeliad to take home. Not only did they learn a lot, but they were thrilled to get to care for their very own bromeliad.

All bromeliads are composed of a spiral arrangement of leaves called a rosette, and each produces one beautiful bloom in the center of its leaves. After the flower dies, however, this fascinating plant will produce a second stalk called a “pup” that can be repotted to bloom just like it’s mother creating an endless cycle of bromeliads for our greenhouse!

“By the end of each year, we usually have more bromeliads than the greenhouse can hold,” writes Bowden. “For two years we have held a plant sale with all funds donated to local non-profits of the Honors Biology II students’ choice.” Last year, they raised over $1,000 from plant and poster sales and split the proceeds between The Green Heart Project and Fresh Future Farm.  

Read the full article here courtesy of Bromeliad Society International

Top Photo Credit: Cover art courtesy bsi.org; photo courtesy Liz Lashway.