Ungar houses sustainable vertical garden

The ECS department installed a living "green wall" in the department lobby in the Ungar building last semester. Hallee Meltzer // Staff Photographer
The ECS department installed a living “green wall” in the department lobby in the Ungar building last semester. Hallee Meltzer // Staff Photographer

The Green Wall, a vertical garden planted last August inside the Ungar Building, was once green and flourishing.

Over the course of the last semester, however, difficulties with lighting and irrigation led to many of the wall’s original 110 plants dying out. This semester’s Green Wall Stewards, a pair of student volunteers, are working to revitalize the wall.

The Green Wall, which was planted with native Florida plants by Ecosystem Science and Policy (ECS) students and faculty, stretches from floor to ceiling between two windows of the Abess Center for ECS lobby in the second floor of Ungar. Rows of plants including wild coffee, oxalis and mother-in-law tongue are anchored into the wall.

The wall was implemented as a teaching tool and a way to create a more natural indoor environment.

“There is a real psychological boost from having growing things around,” said Gina Maranto, director of the undergraduate ECS program.

Since the beginning of the semester, Terri Hood, the faculty adviser for the project, and the Green Wall Stewards have been using innovative methods to identify and resolve problems the wall faces.

“It has been a learning experience,” said Hood, who is also the assistant director of the ECS program.

To see the progress of the plants, the stewards have begun to compare the color of the plants’ leaves to various shades of green paint chips.  By doing so, the stewards can see if the color of the leaves darken, which is a sign of the plant’s health.

This technique will be useful in analyzing the effect of a recently added grow bulb, a light that simulates sunlight.

“It is very rewarding to watch the plants grow and respond to what we are doing,” said sophomore Agustina Cortina, a Green Wall Steward.

In addition to biweekly watering, once a week Cortina and fellow steward Derek Sheldon meet with Hood to strategize and evaluate the progress the wall has made. This can be difficult because the different plants have varying water, light and nutrient requirements.

“It has been very trial and error,” Sheldon said. “Responses to changes have been highly variable, even within a plant type.”

As the wall continues to improve, the stewards have began to make the wall more self-sustaining by adding yard collected and more useful plants.

“We would like to put an emphasis on native and strategic edible plants,” Hood said. “It’s the whole concept of pushing people’s minds a little further on the subject of sustainability and the different ways it can manifest in aspects of daily life.”