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By David Selk, zoo horticulturist

Here is a list of what is blooming on zoo grounds this month. Most of these plants can be found in several spots in the zoo but the most reliable and easy to find is what is given here. The dog days of summer are upon us and the combination of the heat, typical summer drought, and just being that time of year makes for a slim bloom list in August. But there are still a number of interesting and beautiful plants that are noteworthy:

Along the main loop path on the east side of the zoo between the Asian Tropical Forest zone and the African Savanna is a medium-size shrub with burnt red almost papery feeling flowers that some say look like miniature water lilies. This is Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus). Some people also say the flower smells like strawberries but that’s up to your nose. Nearby just across the path from the driveway near the giraffe barn is Acanthus spinosus or spiny acanthus. It sort of looks like a thistle on steroids but is a close relative of the bear’s breech (Acanthus mollis) that is common in the tropical zones of the zoo. Some nice specimens of the bear’s breech are across from Jaguar Cove on the Rain Forest Food Pavilion side of the path as well as a large one in the helmeted curassow exhibit in the Conservation Aviary. Both species have tall blooming spikes with the flowers tucked inside bluish-purple and white bracts.

These plants, native from Italy to Turkey, were used in horticultural in ancient times. It was so admired by the Greeks and Romans that motifs shaped like Acanthus mollis leaves were used to decorate the tops of Corinthian columns. On the south side of the south Elephant Forest path is a specimen of the bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora). Look for white spikes of flowers sticking straight up looking like candles. This native of the southeast U.S. reaches about 12-feet tall but can spread to twice as wide.

It is still hydrangea season and there are a number of species around the zoo that are blooming this month. Around the old bear grotto restroom are a lot of the old-style garden hydrangeas, Hydrangea macrophylla. These are all hybrids with another type, the ‘lacecap’ style, and are common here as well as around the zoo’s Administrative office near the zoo’s North Entrance. In the Trail of Vines exhibit zone is the oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) with leaves that, yes, look like oak leaves. The last type on grounds is Hydrangea aspera, which has fuzzy leaves and can be seen around the Rain Forest Food Pavilion and the exterior of the Komodo dragon exhibit.

Along the loop around the emu/wallaroo exhibit most of the blooms are finished but there are still some interesting plants. The chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) is showing its blue spikes of flowers. This grows in Mediterranean countries and central Asia and the dried fruit, which has a pepper-like aroma and flavor, is used in herbal medicine preparations. The Grevillea victoria is ready to bloom again. Look for a shrub about 6-feet tall with clusters of orange flowers hanging from the branch ends. It also has the lesser-used common name of monk’s pepper. Across from the Australasia building is a large rose of Sharon, (Hibiscus syriacus). It is native from India to Eastern Asia and is the national flower of South Korea.

Across from the north restroom are a few small shrubs of Japanese sweetshrub (Clethra barbinervis). Native to the wooded mountains of Japan, this shrub has spikes of pink flowers. Across the path in front of the restroom are the continuously blooming Rosa ‘bonica’, a highbred landscape rose.

Continuing in Jaguar Cove this month are the princess flowers (Tibouchina urvilleana). These Brazilian natives (very appropriate for the jaguars) are not winter hardy in Seattle so are moved out of the exhibit each winter. They put on a spectacular show all summer with sensuously soft leaves and spectacular large purple flowers that visitors will certainly ask you about. Next to these is a hybrid specimen of bougainvillea with bright purple, paper-like blooms. This South American native has rather small flowers surrounded by three large bracts, which is what looks like the flower. In the Ceiba spire is the Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosana) that has small flowers in papery, purple and white bracts. This is also forming fruits. One last plant to notice inside the exhibit near the waterfall is the gunnera (Gunnera manicata), which also goes under the common name of “dinosaur food” and is native to Colombia. You can’t miss the huge leaves but also notice the flower spike, which looks like a cob of corn. In the public viewing area of Jaguar Cove are small trees around the Researcher’s Tent. Look for a tree in bloom. This is harlequin glorybower (Clerodendrum trichotomum) trees. These are native to Japan and have whitish tubular flowers that have a wonderful fragrance.

In several places in the zoo’s tropical zones the heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) is blooming. It does sort of look like bamboo but it is a member of the barberry family and is a close relative of our native Oregon grape. This is native from India to eastern Asia and has clusters of small white flowers that turn into red berries that last a long time. It is not unusual to see a plant in flower that also has last year’s fruit on it.

In our Temperate Forest zone, our native plants are almost finished blooming. This is the reaction by our native flora to our particular climate. With our mild winters and early spring the most vigorous plant growth is March through May. When we get into June the weather gets considerably drier and when July arrives with our summer drought (except for the 4th!) our natives are pretty much finished. Near the zone entrance look for fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium), a plant many people who grew up in the Northwest think of as a weed as it is associated with open fields and logged areas. Actually it plays a very important role in plant colonization and succession in disturbed areas. It’s combination of quick germination in high light levels, being a fast grower, a prolific bloomer and seeds that easily spread by wind, it has evolved to take advantage of areas where fires, landslides or, in more modern times, logging have opened up. It helps stabilize the soil and paves the way for other more shade tolerant plants to come and regenerate the original forest. Another native is blooming across from the anoa exhibit. Look for a plant with dense spikes of tiny pink flowers. This is Douglas spiraea (Spiraea douglasii), a member of the rose family that is often associated with wetlands. The bunchberry (Conus Canadensis) is blooming again. It is on your right as you enter the Temperate Forest.

As I said, there is not a lot blooming these days. Beat the heat in the shade of a lovely tree.



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