By: Kate Luce
As temperatures dropped to negative 20 degrees with windchill, the majority of those living in the Michiana area were affected by the aptly named “Polar vortex.” The majority of the new projects Emily Bradford, director at the Potawatomi Conservatories, had started, fell victim to the winter weather.
The losses happened when the boiler system froze after a pipe burst on Jan. 30, Wednesday night. It stopped heat to the lower sections of the conservatories, causing many of the plants to either die or become badly damaged.
“When I came in on Thursday after we had the negative temperatures in the evening, I could immediately smell the decay of a lot of plants. It was a really heavy moisture, thick, leaf smell. The greenhouse was warm from the sun, but you could hear a burst pipe spraying water, and you could see a lot of plants in the immediate entrance were severely wilted and desiccated. As well as there was ice on the walls,” Bradford said.
It’s estimated that 20% of the Potawatomi Conservatories’ plants were lost. Casual visitors may may not notice the loss, but regulars at the Conservatories will likely take note of the lack of certain plants. Some areas that were heated entirely by the boiler system were decimated by the cold.
Of those that were lost were some of the community’s favorites. The entire carnivorous plant selection, begonias, giant philodendrons, a 35-year-old jade tree and plots of monsteras did not make it through the night.
When Bradford arrived earlier on Wednesday to check on the beloved cat, Inky, all was fine. When she came in on Thursday, she was devastated to see the condition the conservatories were in.
Although this loss is a setback to future plans, the conservatories and several volunteers are working towards bringing the space back to what it once was. The city of South Bend fixed the boiler system, so in the meantime, the plants are safe from the weather.
“The conservatories are really important part of Michiana. We don’t have anything like this. A lot of other bigger cities that have them put a lot of money towards caring for them. I think they can be a shining star for the city or an embarrassment if the city forgets about it. I think this is an opportunity for the city to care about it and have something that sets us apart from other cities. The winters are just going to get worse,” Bradford said.
The Potawatomi Conservatories are connected with IU South Bend’s students and classes. Photography classes come to the conservatories to take pictures of the indoor jungle. Biology and Botany classes come here to gain real-life experience with their subject matter.
In addition, many IU South Bend students volunteer at the conservatories as a way to receive honors credits, or visit to spend time with the plants. Others have used the conservatories as a way to escape the stress of college.
“I have learned new skills and a new knowledge base of the plant species and how to take care of them, it gave me a calm place to go to get away from the stresses of college or just hang out in a peaceful area, and the conservatories have provided me with a place to do homework or hang out with friends. Mainly, Potawatomi Conservatories has provided me with a stress-free place I can go and always feel welcome in,” said Emma Hux, art education major.
The Potawatomi Conservatories are currently looking for volunteers to help clear out areas as well as keep up with the regular maintenance of the place. Donations may also be made to the conservatories.
The Potawatomi Conservatories are located on 2105 East Mishawaka Ave, just right down the street from IU South Bend’s campus.