Transitions in Teaching Plant Propagation

December 19, 2018

It’s hard to think about learning horticulture without first learning how to propagate plants. HORT 1001 (informally known as “Plant Prop”) has been around as long as we have been teaching horticulture at the University. Many faculty have taught the course over the years, but the glue that has always held the course together is the lab. That is where the magic happens—where students who thought they had a brown thumb begin to understand how plants “work.”  Watching roots grow from cuttings in a short period of time still leaves students in awe and gives them confidence that they can grow plants.

In the late 1990s, Professor Peter Ascher brought forward the idea to restructure Hort 1001 so it would meet liberal education requirements for a lab-based science course that all University students have to complete before they graduate. This change boosted enrollment and introduced thousands of students to the study of horticulture. Today, plant propagation remains our highest enrollment course and a major avenue to attracting students into the Plant Science major.

Energetic laboratory instructors and support staff have been key in bringing horticulture to life for students. Many may remember Bill Peters, who for over 15 years brought understanding and enthusiasm, patience and joy to each and every lab section. And if you spent any time in the greenhouses, you may remember Roger Meissner, who worked tirelessly to make sure plants were ordered and cared for and that classes and research projects had what they needed to be successful. Believe it or not, both Bill and Roger chose to retire in 2018. As we thank Bill and Roger for their dedication and congratulate them on graduating to a new phase in life, we welcome a new chapter in Plant Prop.

We are trying hard to not call Laura Irish “the new Bill” but I am sure we slip sometimes. Laura completed a Master’s degree in Horticulture at Iowa State University in May 2018 and joined us soon after to oversee the Horticulture Garden and our two garden interns. Laura is a high-energy instructor who has a fierce passion for engaging students. Fall semester is well underway, and she has already taken on mentoring our undergraduate Hort Club while teaching five lab sections and helping put the garden to bed—she’s a busy person! We look forward to breathing some new excitement into our Plant Prop labs and continuing the tradition of inspiring students to consider horticulture as a career.