The Botanistas is an organization on campus dedicated to exploring and taking full advantage of the rich, diverse plant life in the Wellesley College Botanic Gardens. In addition to the Margaret C. Ferguson Greenhouses, which are located next to the Science Center, the Botanistas focus their attention on the 22 acres of picturesque botanic gardens outside, including the area near Paramecium Pond and the Arboretum.
The organization mostly attracts environmental science majors, but it is open to anyone who has an interest in plants; no background knowledge is necessary to be a part of the Botanistas.
“I joined the Botanistas last year because I like connecting with people who love plants and the outdoors,” said Lara Prebble ’19, one of the presidents and an aspiring landscape architect.
Last year, Prebble heard about the Botanistas through the plant giveaway for first-year students, and she thought it would be a great way to connect to plants on campus. She became one of the presidents this academic year, leading the organization alongside Virginia White ’17 and Ningyi Xi ’17.
As a group, the Botanistas meet bi-weekly for a vegetarian lunch. The presidents start each meeting with announcements for upcoming events, and then the members do an activity together for the remainder of the meeting. Members are encouraged to bring their own ideas to the table. “We’re a flexible group. Basically anything plant-related goes,” Prebble said.
Most of these activities take place on campus. For example, in the fall, the Botanistas constructed bee houses out of reeds from the gardens and bamboo from the greenhouses. They plan to put the bee houses in the garden this spring.
When the weather permits, the Botanistas enjoy having their meetings in the edible ecosystem, which is located on the hill next to the observatory. The edible ecosystem is the most recent addition to the Wellesley Botanic Gardens.
“We try to stay on campus, because we want to get involved with all the resources we have here. But occasionally we do go on field trips,” said White. For example, in November, the Botanistas went on a field trip to the Harvard Museum of Natural History to look at the glass flowers on display. They are also planning a spring break trip to a farm in Dartmouth, MA.
Unlike other organizations at Wellesley, the Botanistas are not funded by the Student Organization Funding Committee (SOFC). Instead, they are funded by the greenhouses, which allows them to plan events spontaneously without having to go through all the paperwork required by SOFC. Furthermore, all three presidents are paid for running the organization.
Because they have monetary resources that aren’t accessible to other student organizations, the Botanistas are always looking to collaborate with different organizations on campus. In the past, for example, they have collaborated with the cooking club, providing fresh ingredients from their edible ecosystem.
This semester, the Botanistas hope to collaborate with the art club to provide students with watercolor lessons in the greenhouses. During reading period in May, the two clubs will also invite students to paint outdoors throughout the Botanic gardens in Wellesley. The presidents also meet often with Kristina Jones, the director of the Botanic Gardens, to plan future events and discuss funding for the organization. The biggest event for the Botanistas is the annual Greenhouse Light Show.
Every year, the Botanistas work closely with the greenhouse staff to plan the show. This year, the event will take place on Tuesday, March 7 from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. It is a unique opportunity to visit the greenhouses at nighttime, as they normally close at 4 p.m.
“The Greenhouse Light Show is like a sneak preview of spring. The greenhouses look really amazing lit up at night, and we usually get a couple hundred students,” said Jones. “We try to force a lot of bulbs to bloom early before anything starts showing up outside, so you can come and see flowers in the greenhouse.”
The Botanistas started planning the event in the fall, when they decided on a theme and a list of plants they wanted to include in the Light Show. Last year, the theme was plant form. This year, the event’s theme is abundance, and it will focus on two Renaissance paintings: Botticelli’s “La Primavera” and the Unicorn Tapestries, both of which feature a plethora of exquisite plants.
The Botanistas, along with the greenhouse staff and students in Jones’ horticulture class, will prepare for the Light Show in the upcoming weeks by taking care of the plants. They will set up small lights around particular plants that were popular during that time period in addition to floodlights of different colors that will mimic certain tones in the Renaissance paintings. The Botanistas will also be baking Renaissance-themed desserts for the event. Several student docents will be stationed throughout the greenhouse to give brief talks on specific plants. Student music groups will perform in the visitor’s center, where there will be food and refreshments.
Wellesley College is home to the most diverse collection of plants under glass in the Boston area, and students don’t have to wait for the Light Show to visit. Many students enjoy visiting the greenhouses, not only to see the plant collection, but also because it has such a welcoming environment.
“My favorite part of the greenhouse is the staff. They’re always unbelievably friendly and they’re a wealth of information. The staff is more than happy to give you advice or repot your plant for you,” White said.
According to Prebble, joining the Botanistas is a valuable opportunity to get to know the landscape and plants on campus.
“Wellesley’s landscape is so beautiful, and the greenhouse is a space that a lot of students don’t take advantage of,” Prebble said. The Wellesley Botanic Gardens are amazing resources to have on campus, whether students use them for scientific research or just to learn about and interact with the natural environment that surrounds them.