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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. Some of these plants may not be in bloom yet but, with the right weather, will open up before month’s end.

In the Elephant Forest between the tack shed and the pool as well as near the back door of the Education Center are Sarcococca hookeriana and Sarcococca ruscifolia. These shade-tolerant low-growing shrubs have been blooming for the last month and should continue for a while. These Chinese natives have glossy leaves with sweet-smelling small white flowers almost hidden in the foliage. Another great spot for this is the jaguar exhibit. Walk through and just follow your nose.

The broad-leafed evergreen best seen along the boardwalk of the orangutan exhibit in the Asian Tropical Forest is Camelia sasanqua. It is native to Japan and is a very close relative to the tea plant (C. sinensis). By the way, the zoo’s fruit bats like these. Near the west end of this boardwalk as well as the south side in the Rose Garden look for the Chinese witch hazel, Hamamelis mollis. This Chinese native has fragrant yellow flowers that will be opening by the middle of the month and appear before the leaves.

The laurustinus (Viburnum tinus) is a common plant on zoo grounds. This broad-leafed evergreen has clusters of white flowers that started blooming in November and will continue into spring. Look further in on the stems for the almost porcelain-looking deep blue berries. There are a number of these Mediterranean natives planted around the north restroom.

Another closely related species is the Chinese native leatherleaf Viburnum, Viburnum rhytidophyllum. It has long, narrow, wrinkled leaves that are fuzzy on the underside. The white flower clusters are not noticeably fragrant. You can find them around the Rain Forest Food Pavilion. In the same area, look for bright yellow flowers belonging to the winter jasmine,Jasminum nudiflorum, another Chinese native. There are also several planted along the path from jaguar to gorillas as well as inside Jaguar Cove.

The last Viburnum this month is particularly prominent when in bloom because it also flowers before the leaves come out. This is Viburnum bodnantense, a deciduous shrub with very fragrant pink flowers throughout the winter. This is a hybrid of native Chinese and Himalayan plants. Look near the picnic table east of the zoo’s North Entrance.

In the backyard exhibit is a low, broad tree called a Cornelian cherry, Cornus mas. It has very small yellow flowers that are out before the leaves appear. It is native to Central and Southern Europe.

A plant that may be small but packs an amazing sweet odor is Chinese native winter daphne,Daphne odora. Look for the plants just outside the south staff door at the ARC and just as you enter the Elephant Forest on the left. Small clusters of pinkish-white flowers at the tips of the new growth pack an incredible treat for your nose.

There are two plants to look for in the exterior areas of the Tropical Rain Forest exhibit azone. The first is evergreen clematis, Clematis armandii. Yet another Chinese native, look for large, white flowers with a sweet odor that will start to open this month. They cover the trellis at the bridge near the lemur viewpoint and can also be seen in the Trail of Vines and at the zoo’s South Entrace. The second plant is the fragrant honeysuckle, Lonicera fragmantissima. Another Chinese native, the flowers are hard to find but look for six-foot tall bushes showing new leaf growth and check under the leaves. The fragrance lives up to its name. A very closely related plant and fellow Chinese native is L. standishii. It can be found along the path in front of African Village.

The Australasia exhibit zone has a few plants starting to bloom. The most noticeable is Eucryphis lucida, native to Tasmania. Look for the shrubs with lots of clusters of yellow fragrant flowers and no leaves. Also look for a very special plant Grevillea victoriae, which has been blooming all winter in this zone. A good example of it is near the north end of the north pathway (open, dry zone) that takes you through this botanical zone (there are three pathways all together). This Australian native has clusters of pinkish- orange flowers hanging from the ends of the branches. Take a close look at the flowers. What look like petals are actually the sepals (modified leaves that protect the flower before it opens and collectively comprise the calyx) that are fused into a tube that, when the flower is ready, split into four segments that curl back to expose the pistil (female part of the flower). It also demonstrates an interesting aspect of some flowering plants. Grevilleas are protandrous, which means the pollen (containing male reproductive cells) is released before the stigma (tip of the pistil that and what receives the pollen) is receptive. This helps prevent self-fertilization. Further on in the open dry zone is Grevillea ‘Canberra gem’ blooming with its small needle-like leaves.

Several Northwest natives bloom early as well. At the northeast corner of the Rotary Education Center and near the giraffe crossing are beautiful specimens of Garrya elliptica, the coast silktassel. The flowers appear in long, slender hanging clusters called catkins and there are male and female flowers on separate plants. You really need to check the one out at the Education Center, as it is spectacular right now.

Another native to keep an eye on is the longleaf Oregon grape, Mahonia nervosa. This low, shade-loving shrub is common in our forests and can be seen in the zoo’s Family Farm and Temperate Forest zone. Watch for the bright yellow flower clusters starting to show this month. A very close native relative is M. aquifolium, the tall Oregon grape. The leaves are shinier than the longleaf and, as the name implies, it gets taller and tolerates more sun. Look for it on the south side of the ZooStore.

Two other natives are starting to show color this month. The first is Indian plum or osoberry,Oemleria cerasiformis. Throughout the Temperate Forest you’ll find these small trees with white flowers hanging in clusters. Look closely at several plants and see if you can distinguish between the male and female flowers growing on separate plants, a phenomenon called “dioescious.” The common name comes from the use of this plant by local indigenous tribes. In the same area of the zoo start looking for red-flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum. The rose-colored, drooping flower clusters are notorious for attracting hummingbirds.

There are a number of other plants to keep an eye on that may open flowers if the weather turns unseasonably warm. These include Mahonia bealei in the Elephant Forest, various hellebores, Heleborus, at the exit to Trail of Vines, and Bergenia crassifolia near the sun bear exhibit. And this month the crocuses and daffodils will start showing color. All around the perimeter of the zoo will start glowing before long.



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