The Margaret C. Ferguson Greenhouses house the most diverse collection of plants under glass in the greater Boston area.
There are sixteen interconnected greenhouses comprising 7,200 square feet under glass. Many plants in the greenhouses have cultural value as food and spice around the world. Some plants in the greenhouses have historical significance to Wellesley College, the most prominent being the 130-plus year old Durant camellia which came from the founder of the college.
The Desert House showcases cacti and succulents in a series of miniature landscapes, demonstrating a range of adaptations to different desert environments and providing examples of convergent evolution. Larger landscape plantings give a realistic impression of desert plants in nature. Annuals such as desert bluebells are added to enhance the landscape as appropriate. This house is kept cool during the winter months to encourage spring bloom.
The Tropic House is the tallest of the greenhouses, allowing small trees such as palms, cycads and banana to grow in a central in-ground planting area. The house provides a general impression of a tropical forest understory, demonstrating adaptations such as aerial roots and large leaves with drip tips. Vines and lianas are encouraged to grow up appropriate hosts, and epiphytes are grown on trees or simulated trees.
Aerated pools in the Hydrophyte House provide suitable growing conditions for aquatic plants as well as plants adapted to wet root zone conditions, such as mangroves and papyrus. A range of water-loving plants, from floating aquatics to rooted emergents to floodplain species, is demonstrated in and around these unique pools.
Other houses and collections include the Seasonal Display House, Mabel A. Stone Cryptogam (Fern) House, Warm Temperate House, economic plant collection, caudiciform collection, sensory plant collection, and carnivorous plant collection.
The designer of the greenhouses, Professor Margaret C. Ferguson, was a pre-eminent member of the Wellesley College faculty in the first half of the 20th century. She first came to Wellesley in 1888 as a Teacher Special, in a non-degree granting program designed to bolster the education of women already engaged in the teaching profession. Miss Ferguson went on to receive her B.S. and Ph.D. at Cornell, where her mentor wrote that she had "completed a larger amount of research work, and of a higher character, than any other candidate under my direction in the past." She returned to Wellesley in 1901, where over the next 37 years of teaching she advanced to Head of Department and Director of Botany. During this time she researched and published many scientific papers, including a classic study on the life history of pine. In 1930, she became the first woman president of the Botanical Society of America. Because of the vision of Miss Ferguson and her tenacity in advocating for the best facilities for the teaching of plant science, in 1946 the Department of Botany and the Trustees of Wellesley College agreed to name the greenhouses in her honor.
See the wonderful article about the greenhouses that appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of Wellesley magazine - click for pdf .