1. Caregiver
  2. Teacher
  3. Manager
Elizabeth Johnson and Sarah Crites

Barbara Sonderman

More than a Greenhouse Manager

Barbara Sonderman
More than a Greenhouse Manager

Barbara Sonderman's love for plants was instilled at a young age. As a girl, she followed her grandpa around his garden as he talked about his corn and tomatoes. "I really loved plants from that time on," Sonderman said. "If he loved them, then I loved them." 

Sonderman's friend Stacy James left a birthday poem on her refrigerator in Tucker Greenhouse. To-do lists and old photographs accompany the poem.  

However, Sonderman momentarily pushed her gardening hobby aside to attend the University of Missouri. She received a degree in anthropology, only to realize that her true passion remained with plants. After this realization, Sonderman went back to school to receive another degree in horticulture.

Upon graduating in the '80s, Sonderman was offered a job at the University of Missouri. She has been employed by her alma mater ever since. 

Although she grew up in St. Louis, Sonderman feels that her roots are in Columbia. After falling in love with the small-town atmosphere and university community, Sonderman purchased land and built her house 20 miles off campus. She has also started a garden on her property. She grows all of her own vegetables in the spring and summer, and has numerous fruit trees, including plum, apple, cherry and peach. 

Below, Sonderman describes what it has taken to care for plants after all these years. 


In addition to caring for plants, Barbara Sonderman teaches for the Division of Biological Sciences. Sonderman is lucky enough to teach two of her favorite classes from her time at Mizzou, botany and plant systematics. This fall, Sonderman assists with three laboratory sections of general botany. She describes the laboratory as practical, hands-on learning. Students not only draw and dissect plants, but also grow plants for their final projects. Sonderman prides the class on taking students that know nothing about plants, such as Brendan Coolidge, and introducing them to plants systems. 

Interacting with her students makes teaching worthwhile for Sonderman. "There are some students that not only get it, but are so excited about it. Your heart soars when somebody likes the same thing you do," says Sonderman. 

Barbara Sonderman and Brendan Coolidge discuss his project on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 in Tucker Greenhouse. Coolidge took general botany with Sonderman to fulfill a biological science requirement for his major. 

She believes her students are successful because she keeps her classrooms fun and interesting. "If you're not having fun, and you're bored, you're not going to learn as much," says Sonderman. 

She claims that if one out the twenty-five students in her class decides, "Wow, I love plants. I think I want to change my major," then she has done her job. Even if they don't change their major, they still have a new appreciation for plants - an appreciation which they can share with Sonderman. 

Tucker Greenhouse sits on the west side of Tucker Hall on the University of Missouri campus. The greenhouse was built in 1975 as a teaching resource for faculty and graduate students in the Division of Biological Sciences.
Tucker Greenhouse is open to all University of Missouri students on Friday, November 14, 2014. Manager Barbara Sonderman has found that students of all majors enjoy touring and studying in the greenhouse.
Sonderman sits in her office in Tucker Greenhouse on Friday, November 19, 2014. Sonderman has worked in the Division of Biological Sciences for over 25 years.
Sonderman browses through her emails on Friday, November 19, 2014. Her keyboard has started to show the dirt from years of working with plants in the greenhouse.
Barbara adjusts the temperature in Tucker Greenhouse on Friday, November 19, 2014. Although the November air is bitter outside the glass walls the greenhouse, inside the greenhouse it is nearly 80 degrees fahrenheit.
Sonderman trims the ferns in Tucker Greenhouse on Friday, November 19, 2014. She trims the greenhouse plants every morning.
Sonderman reaches into the dense greenery of Tucker Greenhouse on Friday, November 19, 2014. The greenhouse currently holds 500-800 species of plants.
Sonderman waters the potted plants of Tucker Greenhouse on Friday, November 19, 2014. Sonderman waters the many rooms of Tucker Greenhouse every morning.
Sonderman clears the greenhouse floors on Friday, November 19, 2014. The floors must be cleared for Tucker Greenhouse's daily visitors.
Barbara props up a wet floor sign after watering the plants in Tucker Greenhouse on Friday, November 19, 2014. The cement floors of the greenhouse can be dangerously slick for visitors.

An average day at Tucker Greenhouse begins with Sonderman checking her mail and emails. She usually find that she is being requested to do several things, including setting up tours of the greenhouse. Sonderman hosts all kinds of visitors, from elementary school students to adults. 

Barbara's Office

Barbara's Office

Barbra Sonderman catches up on emails in her office located in Tucker Greenhouse on Tuesday, November 18, 2014. Sonderman has several plants of her own growing in her office. 

After checking her mail, Sonderman begins to water the plants of Tucker Greenhouse. The greenhouse has numerous rooms, and each room has different plants that require differrent amounts of water. For example, the tropical room requires much more moisture than the desert room.  

After watering, she trims the plants and pulls off dead leaves. Many of the plants have to be trimmed in order to clear the greenhouse walkways for visitors. Sonderman also sweeps the floors so that all the water and plant remains are out of the way. 

Finally, Sonderman searches for insect pests that may be harming the plants. The greenhouse has seen an abundance of mosquitoes this season. 

In addition to Tucker Greenhouse, Sonderman also works at the Botany Greenhouse at Research Park. Tucker Greenhouse is used for teaching purposes, whereas Botany Greenhouse is strictly used for research purposes. Sonderman visits Botany Greenhouse a couple times a day to check on her growth chambers. 

"I really am very busy, and very rarely do I sit down - and that's good," says Sonderman.