Senior Tyrese Horton’s green thumb has left its mark on the Lees-McRae Wildlife Biology department

Senior Tyrese Horton is a Wildlife Biology major, but having taken countless Biology and Chemistry courses as well, it’s safe to say his education will give him lots of wiggle room within the field of biology. However, the primary focus of his time at Lees-McRae has been all things plants.

“I started in a botany class, and at the time it was taught by a graduate student from App State,” Horton said. “She saw the greenhouse on campus and said, ‘Wow, this is a mess.’ I was in her class at the time, and she wanted someone to help clean it out because it was overgrown with grass and a giant aloe plant. I helped with that and have been part of the greenhouse since then.”

Horton has continued working in the campus greenhouse, caring for, watering, and repotting plants when need be. He says his education at Lees-McRae has given him a good general knowledge of what plants need that allows him to care for most of the greenery grown there.

When it came time to choose a senior research project, something involving the greenhouse was a natural choice. For the last year, Horton has been working on a project that involves the restoration of injured Venus flytraps.

“A lot of people don’t think of plants as living things in the context that they need a doctor or someone to help them recover from wounds and illnesses and stuff like that, but that was an area I was interested in looking into and potentially developing further in the future,” Horton said. “Venus flytrap recovery was what I got into because I would go into the store and see all these old plants and they’re all mostly dead, but they’re not entirely dead and I wanted to help them get back to a healthy state.”

As a Raleigh native himself, Horton first became interested in Venus flytraps because North Carolina is one of the only places in the world where they grow natively. The plants are also well known for their unusual diet—they’re carnivores. Unlike most plants, which have no nervous system, Venus flytraps use electrical signals to close their traps and capture prey.

These factors, paired with the species’ high rate of recovery and growth, contributed to Horton’s decision to work with Venus flytraps as the first species in his research on plant recovery, but he says this is a study he would like to conduct on other types of plants as well.

“Since the study I’m doing right now is on recovery, the Venus flytraps don’t really have functioning traps. Some of them have traps, but they don’t close, or they’re curled out, or they don’t have mature traps at all,” Horton said. “I’m using a chemical therapy similar to giving a human a medication. I’m using micronutrients and macronutrients and varying those to see if I can induce different kinds of growth and spur some recovery.”

Horton currently has 34 Venus flytraps set up in a temporary miniature greenhouse in his room. He said he would love to continue this kind of work professionally and will likely do so even if it is only in his spare time. According to him, this passion comes from a love for the work, coupled with the encouragement of the professors and mentors he has built relationships with at Lees-McRae.

“I have had some great professors. They have genuine interest in what we’re doing, and it’s not just a job,” Horton said. “It’s not just like they’re trying to get everybody to have good grades or memorize the material, they want baseline understanding so that even if you forget the specifics, if you understand the focus, and the principles, and the theology of how you’re supposed to behave in the field, you can reacquire specific knowledge through experience. You just need the right mindset, attitude, and exposure.”

By Maya JarrellApril 13, 2022
AcademicsCampus Life