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.
Sarcococca hookeriana and Sarcococca ruscifolia. The sweet box is a shade-tolerant low-growing shrub having glossy leaves and sweet-smelling small white flowers almost hidden in the foliage. Look for them in the Elephant Forest between the tack shed and the elephant pool. Also walk through the public area of Jaguar Cove and follow your nose.
Camelia sasanqua. This broad-leafed evergreen can best be seen along the boardwalk of the orangutan exhibit in the Asian Tropical Forest. Near the west end of this boardwalk look for the Chinese witch hazel, Hamamelis mollis. The fragrant yellow flowers will be opening soon and appear before the leaves.
Viburnum tinus. The laurustinus 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. There are a number planted around the north restroom and on the south side of the Rain Forest Food Pavilion.
Another closely related species is the 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. It is a sort of vine with flowers that show well but, despite the jasmine name, do not have a fragrance. There are also good specimens of this hanging from the elevated planters to your right on the path leading 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. Look near the picnic table east of the north gate and along the path from the zoo’s West Entrance to the Tropical Rain Forest exhibit area.
Several Northwest natives bloom early as well. At the northeast corner of the Rotary Education Center is a beautiful specimen of Garrya elliptica, the coast silktassel. You can also find several of these around the African Savanna – especially near the giraffe crossing. The flowers appear in long, slender hanging clusters called catkins and there are male and female flowers on separate plants (dioecious-Greek for “two houses”). These are elongating now and should be blooming later this month and into February.
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.
No two years are the same. In 2004 in the Asian Tropical Forest the Mahonia bealei, a close relative of our native Oregon grape, bloomed in late January. Last year it was finished by early January. This year it is blooming right now. Various hellebores,Heleborus, at the exit of Trail of Vines, and Bergenia crassifolia near the sun bear exhibit are opening up. Don’t forget to enjoy the multitude of colorful berries throughout the zoo. Especially noticeable is the beautyberry,Callicarpa bodinieri near the tiger exhibit. And the bulbs are not far away.
Notice that many of these flowers are particularly fragrant. This time of year pollinators such as bees are uncommon and infrequently active. Therefore plants need every strategy to attract them and a particularly powerful fragrance is an advantage — and a delight for us as well.
SEE WHAT'S IN BLOOM BY MONTH: