The Horticulture Department has wound down from preparations and activities surrounding our annual Spring Garden Celebration, which turned out to be a smash. I hope you were able to attend, to walk through the Garden of Senses Trail, take a Botanical Bus Tour, or meander around learning about all things related to plants and conservation at the many booths set up around the front of the Zoo. Maybe you enjoyed a cup of organic fair trade coffee, or a taste of organic wine, or were lucky enough to have a sample of the garlicky pasta whipped up by our chef. Whether you joined us or not, there’s no need to wait until next year to experience the botanical aspects of the Zoo!
Archive for the 'Plants' Category
The day after Labor Day (September 4, 2007), construction began for the new Elephant Odyssey habitat at the San Diego Zoo. All the plants in the project area had been identified with different colored ribbon. A blue ribbon meant the LIMS (Landscape Installation Maintenance Specialists) crew would be responsible for their removal; these plants were mostly no larger than what would fit into a 15-gallon (56-liter) container. Orange ribbons were awarded to the largest plants that would need to be dug, boxed, and lifted with the help of a crane; an outside contractor would do this work. The lucky plants given a white ribbon would be able to stay in place; Elephant Odyssey would be built around them. The unlucky plants marked with red ribbon indicated they were to be demolished along with the roads, sidewalks, and old exhibits.
The San Diego Zoo’s Horticulture Department has been working on our “Reforestation” project for a few years now. One of the things that is so important when planting young trees is to think about the fact that they will be there, hopefully, for a very long time. We have been working on creating just that type of long-term happy tree in the Zoo’s Monkey Trails and Forest Tales habitat for the few years. The African mahogany trees Khaya nyasica will represent a major part of the canopy in the area. Thirteen trees were planted in 2004 during Monkey Trails’ construction from 36-inch box trees. When they went in the ground, they had already been in our nursery for a few growing seasons.
Camels, like all creatures, need nutrients to survive. But in the desert, food and water are scarce. So how is it that camels can survive in a harsh climate? They store fat in their humps and live off it in tough times. Certain unique plants and trees from desert or seasonal rainy regions have adapted ways of storing much-needed water in their trunks, and we call these plants caudiciforms. They can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and belong to a wide range of plant families. One exciting characteristic of these plants is that their trunks, branches, and bases tend to be swollen, which helps the plant out in times of drought, but also makes odd-looking plant specimens that people collect and treasure.
The San Diego Zoo’s field project in Cameroon recently said goodbye to our first fulltime volunteer. Jo Osborne (pictured), from England, came to Cameroon in August 2006 and spent the next seven months helping out with our botanical work. Jo has a master’s degree in plant taxonomy and spent most of her time at our research station collecting samples of leaves with flowers and/or fruit, which she was able to identify (mostly!) using often intricate floral characteristics that distinguish one species from another. This work is very important to our overall goals in several ways. The botanical composition of a rain forest is the foundation for the animals that live off the plants, whether directly (as in the case of folivores, or leaf eaters, and frugivores, or fruit eaters) or indirectly, by eating the animals that have eaten the plants.
If I were visiting the San Diego Zoo, an ideal morning would go something like this:
After entering the Zoo right at opening, go directly to the left of the flamingos to the coffee cart. They are now serving organic, shade-grown coffee that is delicious. I am a coffee-with-half-and-half guy, but they also offer the “fufu” drinks so many people love. Now, with a hot java in hand (in a “compostable” cup!), continue just a little way down the path which leads past Flamingo Lagoon into Monkey Trails. Between the flamingos and the coffee cart, there is a magical garden.
A major reforestation/browse project was completed this week at the San Diego Zoo, replacing a decades-old eucalyptus-forested hillside (located south of the migratory duck pond). In its place, many new browse plants and trees will grow up and produce food and enrichment for our animals. A major reason for the successful breeding practices we’ve had here is our ability to grow and provide plants that these animals would eat and play with in their native habitats.
Zoo InternQuest is a career exploration program for high school students. For more information see the Zoo InternQuest Journals. For more photos see the Zoo InternQuest Photo Journal.
Driving down the road to the back gate of the Wild Animal Park, we looked down below, admiring the beautiful view of the nearly 1,000 green acres of animal exhibits and gardens. After parking, we met up with Frank Escobedo, a lead gardener, and Bonnie Duff, a senior gardener, who were prepared to give us the royal tour of the grounds. Mr. Escobedo has worked at the Park since 1970, two years before it even opened to the public. Because of his passion, lifelong interest in plants, and a lot of stuff he taught himself and learned in college, he taught at community colleges and put together botanical gardens before planting himself at the Wild Animal Park. Ms. Duff attended UCSD and got her bachelor’s degree in biology. She worked for the Wild Animal Park’s Mum Festival for four years, taking care of the elaborate chrysanthemums before she branched out and became a senior gardener.
Throughout the Baja Garden there is a spectacular view of the East African enclosure. The Zoo and Wild Animal Park have more plant species than animal species.
Being a gardener at the San Diego Zoo has many responsibilities that a gardener anywhere would have, like pruning hedges and fertilizing trees. What makes being a gardener here so much more rewarding than elsewhere is the many unusual jobs in which we get to be involved. Planting flora from all over the world to create exotic environments at the Zoo is one example. Another might be researching what kind of plants can be used in a primate exhibit. One exciting project we started recently was very unusual and struck me as a great topic for a blog. The experiment involves growing the plant that chocolate comes from, a very tropical plant in our mild, non-tropical climate.