By Nick Maternowski

Each intern in the Nature Academy internship program at Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum chooses a summer project to research and report on. The project culminates in a poster displayed in Matthaei’s public indoor spaces. Interns also write a blog post about their project concept or the research they’ve conducted.

Plants in greenhouse

My internship at Matthei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum has been enjoyable so far. Much of my time is spent in the greenhouses. It’s hot, you tend to sweat, and you lose a lot of water.

You can imagine that if I sweat this much then the plants must also lose water quickly. You would be right. They require copious amounts of water. While watering one day I wondered what I could do my intern project on. It struck me that I could make a handy guide to watering for incoming interns. Then, if interns are unsure about what to do when they have to water on their weekend rotation shift they’ll have something to refer to. Or if an intern has never worked in a greenhouse/botanical setting before, a watering guide would help bring them up to speed.

Thankfully I previously worked at Wildtype Native Plant Nursery in Mason, Mich., where I also had to water a lot, so I come to this job with a fair amount of watering experience. Hopefully I will be able to put that to good use to help other interns become more confident and adept at watering.

The guide will cover plant-watering topics such as signs of dryness in plants, how certain plants require more water than others, the basics of watering, etc. I’ve started writing a section on the dangers of overwatering, such as root rot, fungus, and how too-moist conditions provide a habitat for insects harmful to the plants. The final section will discuss how watering is a balance between making sure that the plants have enough water to remain upright and continue photosynthesizing, but dry out enough regularly to avoid root rot and other afflictions.

As simple as watering a single plant is, it’s when you have to water thousands of plants en masse that watering gets more complex. The guide should help incoming interns figure out the details of each plant and the care they need and how to address them in a timely fashion, because a lot of other tasks await us at the Arb and gardens.

In addition to my greenhouse work I had the good fortune recently to help our associate curator, Dr. David Michener, on the Michigan Math and Science Scholars program. This summer program offers high-school students from around the country and the world a taste of college life and introduces them to new developments in the sciences. Along with fellow intern Brooke Callaghan, we taught a cohort of students about the complexities of the natural spaces at the university. The class focused on topics from pollinators to the role the Anishinaabe people played in maintaining natural spaces in Michigan. It was a very fun time and the students brought a lot of energy and passion to each day, making it easy for all of us to learn. Here is a photo of them on the last day after we handed out their certificates of completion.

Nick Maternowski on a tractor

Nicholas Maternowski, from Grand Rapids, Mich., is working as a greenhouse assistant this summer. Nick is in the school of education, majoring in history with a minor in earth and space science. He’s excited to work in the greenhouses helping maintain a healthy plant habitat for all of the plants. He’s especially interested to work with the orchids. Nick’s internship was made possible by Matthaei-Nichols members and individual donors.

Michigan Math and Science Scholars 2018

Lately I have been working on transplanting plants for the native plant sale and for planting around our properties. Besides the serious work parts of my internship there are also moments of pure fun. One of the highlights of my time so far has been driving the tractor. Each time I get on the tractor I am filled with joy. From a very young age I’ve loved heavy machinery and thought it was cool. Getting to drive the tractor makes me happy. I am achieving my five-year-old dream in a way. Initially I did not use the tractor much because I was worried I would be depriving other interns of the pleasure of using it. Turns out no one else really wants to drive it, so if someone has errands they need the tractor for, often I get to do them.

So far this season I’ve been able to accomplish a lot. I’m very excited for what the rest of the summer holds.

Nick Maternowski