Job: Greenhouse Manager
Monica Marcelli has her dream job. “I actually like Mondays. I’m excited to come to work,” she says.
Marcelli joined Mason six years ago to run its greenhouse. She has managed several greenhouses during that time. The first was the old university greenhouse beside Krug Hall. That greenhouse was demolished in 2009. The plants were then moved into a temporary greenhouse, which consisted of a trailer. They then moved into a greenhouse near President Park. Finally, she and the plants moved into a new state-of-the-art greenhouse atop Exploratory Hall in July 2013.
In the Zone: The high-tech greenhouse has two computerized environments—one that is dry and hot, and another that is humid and a little bit colder and has 50 percent shade. The rooms are programmable, and Marcelli keeps track of everything with the help of what she affectionately calls her “baby monitor.”
Around-the-Clock Care: Even when the university is on break, someone checks on the plants. Marcelli has a group of devoted students and volunteers who help keep things running smoothly. In addition, she has designated a section of the greenhouse the “hospital” for plants with health issues.
“The greenhouse couldn’t function without the invaluable support of Facilities, the Biology Program and Environmental Science and Policy Department, and Dr. [Bob] Jonas [department chair],” she says. “They have been there for me on weekends—even on a Fourth of July when the cooling system broke down.”
Exotic: The most exotic plant in the greenhouse is the orchid cactus. It has a very long, narrow flower that lasts only a few days. But one of the more interesting plants on campus is the corpse flower, which is still a few years from maturing. The gift of a colleague from Cornell University, the flower takes about 10 years to bloom and then only opens a few times for 24 to 48 hours. And, of course, the single bloom smells bad, which is how the flower got it name.
Green Thumbs: Fact or Fiction? “I believe people interested in plants are always trying to learn more, and, of course, if they are more informed about caring for them, you see the response in the plants.”
Next Generation: Marcelli has a BS and an MS in agronomy from the University of Maryland; her area of expertise is weed control. She has taught at Northern Virginia Community College, the University of Maryland, and the University of Chile in her native country. Currently, she is teaching an applied greenhouse management course at Mason where she is passing on what she has learned over the years.