From Plant Press, Vol. 20, No. 1, January 2017.
By W. John Kress
Research Greenhouse Manager, Mike Bordelon, retired in October 2016 after 22 years of service in the Department of Botany at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Bordelon, a University of Maryland graduate (B.S. in Botany), was the greenhouse production manager for 15 years at Behnke Nurseries in Beltsville, Maryland, before I was able to lure him away to manage the brand new Botany Research Greenhouses in 1994. Bordelon had come highly recommended by the staff at the United States Botanic Garden.
The Botany Research Greenhouses, located in Suitland, Maryland, at the Smithsonian’s Museum Support Center (MSC), play a significant and supportive role for the National Museum of Natural History’s Department of Botany and the U.S. National Herbarium. While the internationally well-known herbarium has a collection of over 5 million dried, pressed, and preserved plant specimens, the greenhouses maintain an impressive collection of nearly 6,000 living plants. These specimens are used by curators to resolve complex taxonomic problems, to describe new species, and to understand the life histories of plants that are difficult to study in their native habitats. They also serve as an important reservoir for genome-quality tissue and to conserve rare and threatened species.
Bordelon came to the Smithsonian with a strong background in greenhouse maintenance and plant care, which was just what was needed for the new 7,000 square foot growing facility that had just opened on the MSC campus. Previously, the Department of Botany had maintained a very small greenhouse on the roof of the Museum! This facility only received direct sunlight for a few hours a day and was hardly adequate for growing the specimens needed for scientific study.