Every year in early March, Perelman School of Medicine students Kevin Zhang and Sarah Santucci take their home grown exotic plants to showcase at the Philadelphia Flower Show.
Zhang, a third-year M.D./Ph.D student, and Santucci, a second-year medical student, have been growing and submitting their plants to the Philadelphia Flower Show in Center City for the past three years. Held annually at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the show is America’s largest indoor flower show, and it features awards given by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.
Both Santucci and Zhang have won multiple awards at the Flower Show. Santucci, who grows orchids, has placed first, second, and third in the show several times. Zhang has also accumulated dozens of awards, mainly for carnivorous plants such as Venus flytraps, butterworts, and pitcher plants.
The pair have grown thousands of plants together. In his apartment in Southwest Center City, Zhang has installed a terrarium that holds pitcher plants, steel shelves to house carnivorous plants, and a rooftop greenhouse where he and Santucci share growing space. Zhang takes care of more than 100 plant species, while Santucci grows about 60 pots of orchids.
Santucci, who grew up in Mississippi, said she discovered her love of orchids at a family trip to the Philadelphia Flower Show when she was in the seventh grade.
“[At the Flower Show], I was just amazed at the variety of plants, especially the orchids,” she said. “So I started with regular grocery store orchids. It kind of grew into an obsession from there.”
Zhang said he was introduced to plants and gardening at a young age because of his family.
“I was really interested in cacti just because of the way they looked in third grade,” he said. “I got my dad to bring me to a cactus nursery and it was there that amongst all the cacti I saw a few boxes of Venus flytrap."
Zhang and Santucci met at a student activities fair when they were both undergraduates at Princeton University. Zhang was tabling for Princeton’s Botany Club, of which he was president, and the two bonded over their love of plants.
“I was walking past this table and I saw a guy with actual plants, and he was happy to be there. He had really cool plants — and that was Kevin,” Santucci said.
Zhang is currently studying the effects of iron on retinal cells in Ophthalmology professor Joshua Dunaief's laboratory. Santucci, who is currently in her clinical rotations, has used her interest in plants to work as a research intern for Dow AgroSciences and the United States Department of Agriculture.
Folasade Sofela, a third-year M.D/Ph.D student who was on Zhang’s learning team, said Zhang gave her and other team members their own carnivorous plant terrariums for Christmas.
“I think it’s good for anyone to have a hobby like this. It's something you can come home to and make you happy,” Santucci said. “You can learn about so many things from plants and it can bring people together.”
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