Go greener!

  • Jul 29, 2016
  • Faculty & Staff, Research, Plant Biology

Lisa (Voldeck) Murphy,

Lisa (Voldeck) Murphy, a greenhouse coordinator, oversees the evolution milestons and arid conservatory rooms in MSU's Plant Biology Teaching Conservatory and Collection.

Lisa (Voldeck) Murphy is greener than most Spartans. She has to be; it’s her job.

Murphy, who received her B.S. degree in 2009 in horticulture, has been a greenhouse coordinator for MSU’s Plant Science Greenhouses since 2013. In addition to managing daily operations there, her duties include overseeing the Plant Biology Teaching Conservatory and Collection, as well as the teaching greenhouse.

She is responsible for the collection, which consists of thousands of species of plants used in undergraduate teaching, as well as materials kept for conservation purposes; three conservatory rooms—arid, tropical and evolution milestones; and the teaching greenhouse, where undergraduates conduct experiments.

Murphy has introduced greener ways of growing and propagating the plants. This includes reducing the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers while increasing the use of naturally derived products such as beneficial microbes and earthworms—along with humic acids and compost to feed them.

“Every single plant has a very specific need,” she explained. “And when it is distressed in some way, the symptom for every plant in here is different. We need to address each plant’s specific nutrient requirements, analyze problem plants and observe trends, and treat each with specialized products.

“We replicate each plant’s desired conditions whenever possible,” Murphy continued. “Healthy plants don’t have the same susceptibility to insects and disease as plants that are lacking in some nutrients.”

The first time Murphy stepped into the greenhouses, she was an MSU student planning to enter MSU’s education program. She was taking a horticulture class as an elective and became hooked. She held a student job as a research assistant in the floriculture department, and then was a grower at a local greenhouse before returning to MSU as a botanical tech assistant in the plant biology department in 2000.

Now, she works with professors, teaching assistants and students to ensure that the 1,000-plus students who come through the greenhouses each semester will find the optimum environment for learning about plants and plant-pest interactions.

“I meet with the professors and teaching assistants to find out what they’re aiming to teach, and organize things to best suit that purpose,” Murphy said.

“I like sharing what I know, and group learning experiences,” she added. “That’s what I get to do here—with people of all ages.”

The greenhouses are currently not open to the public, but Murphy would like to organize a regular open house event.

“We want to increase our usage as much as possible,” she said. “And the way to do that is to let people know we’re here. The more people we can get through the doors, the better. And we’ll listen to what they tell us they want to see when they’re here, so they’ll keep coming back. My goal is that any person who comes in here—even if they didn’t think they were into plants before—has a new appreciation for plants when they leave.”

To read more about the plant biology department's research and activities, check out its 2016 newsletter.