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ISSUE 118 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/11/2005

Plants provide dorm room relief

By Allie Helling
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 11, 2005

One of the most striking features of St. Olaf is its natural beauty. Many students are able to wake up, open their shades and let morning sunshine stream in while looking out at patches of woods, vibrant autumn trees, limestone buildings and golden fields. Such natural beauty does not, however, have to stay outdoors. Many students choose to bring nature inside their rooms in the form of common houseplants.

Alan Naylor ’07 has a variety of plants in his room, including bamboo and cactus. In previous years, Naylor has also grown rosemary and sage.

“The herbs die because this room doesn’t get good sunlight,” Naylor said.

Chloe Cotherman ’07 enjoys her new plants in her room after having lost a few others. “I’ve had them since last month because my other ones died,” Cotherman said.

At one point or another, many students suffer through loss of a plant. Most learn from the experience. “The ones you water and love seem to survive,” Cotherman said.

According to Jane Williams of Northfield’s Forget-me-Not Florist, dorm room plants must be able to cope with the life of a college student. "Plants inside dorm rooms usually experience a lot of neglect," Williams said.

Besides being subjected to excessive amounts of heat or cold or inadequate sunshine, plants might also have to thirst silently for weeks while students delve into endless amounts of homework, activities and meetings. Yet having just one or two plants inside a room has definite benefits. Plants not only help clean the air, but they can make the entire room's atmosphere more relaxed and inviting.

Since life inside a dorm room can be demanding for a plant, one should choose plants which are fairly accommodating to extremes of temperature, light or watering. Though Williams points out that under-watering is typical of students, it's important to note that other actions could be even more detrimental to the plant.

"Over-watering a plant is more dangerous than under-watering,” William said. “Under-watering may stunt growth and give brown leaf tips, but it takes a lot to kill the plant."

The first plant Williams suggests for dorm room decoration is the dark green sheefflera arboricola plant. Found naturally in Hawaii, it is beautiful and easily cared for. Williams also recommends the fica plant, any plant in the philodendron family and the jade plant, a popular houseplant with small, thick green leaves. The pothos plant, a specific type of ivy, is also suitable for life in a dorm room. Known more commonly as “Devil's Ivy,” it has variegated, heart-shaped leaves and will climb up a stake placed in the center of the pot.

The most important characteristic of all these plants is their accommodating nature. "These plants are more forgiving if you over- or under-water them and have a good temperament as far as light," Williams said.

When deciding upon a particular type of plant, it is also important to look at the way the room's windows face; east-facing windows are best. The fica plant can survive in sun or shade and requires little care besides maintaining a temperature above 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

For rooms that face south and receive a lot of light, a plant that can handle bright light and full sun exposure is the best option. Members of the cactus family are particularly suited for this type of light exposure. Most cacti are very easy for a beginner to take care of, since they survive naturally with very little water. The popular jade plant is also a good choice if the room is well-lit.

The many varieties of the African violet are sure to enhance the weary, serious mood that sometimes accompanies a below-zero Interim spent at St. Olaf, since the plant produces flowers several times a year. The African violet prefers bright light and cannot tolerate cold temperatures. It's also important to water African violets near their base by placing the plant in a pan of water instead of watering the plant from above.

As far as adding nutrients to the plant, Williams believes that this is usually unnecessary.

"It really depends on the age of the plant.“ Williams said. “Good soil will sustain a plant for quite awhile.”

Finally, if presentation is everything, a creative college student might want to think about the containers he or she places the plants. Creativity is easily accomplished through the addition of small details and designs to plain pots, or through the use of containers that aren't necessarily meant to hold plants.

Plants various benefits inside dorm rooms is well known to students at St. Olaf.

“It’s especially nice in winter ... when you can’t open the window and get fresh air,” Cotherman said. Elsa Kendig ‘07, Cotherman’s roommate, agreed.

“It’s nice to have them and it adds a bit of color,” Kendig said.

By housing plants that can withstand the neglect a St. Olaf student might inadvertently give them, a typical room can become a tropical rainforest-like haven – a place of natural tranquility, or, at the very minimum, a personalized and comfortable feel atmosphere.

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