Just starting to bloom in the Asian Tropical Forest zone are the southern Catalpa trees (Catalpa bignonioides) and the northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa). The species are very similar and are said to be distinguished by the former having a distinctive odor when the large, heart-shaped leaves are crushed and the latter none. These trees have a large cluster of white flowers at the branch tips. You can also see last year’s seedpods on the trees at the entrance to the Elephant Forest.
Around the Chowder House are the beautyberry bushes (Callicarpa bodinieri) that visitors and staff enjoy through the fall and winter for their shiny, purple fruits. These are native to China and are blooming right now with small purple flowers at the nodes (where the leaves come out) but these will not last very long.
In the Trail of Vines at the siamang viewpoint are a number of vines but one will start blooming this month and is quite striking. This is the trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) with clusters of large, orange, trumpet-shaped flowers that can attract hummingbirds as it does in its native Eastern US.
A bit further on the path at the Raptor Center the Rosa rugosa is still showing some color.
We are into the hydrangea season and there are a number of species around the zoo that will start 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, common here as well as around the zoo’s Administrative offices at the zoo’s north end. In the Trail of Vines exhibit is the oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) with leaves that, yes, look like oak leaves. Still another species is the climbing hydrangea, (Hydrangea anomala), which can be seen climbing the rockwork near the west siamang viewing windows. The last type on grounds is Hydrangea aspera, which has fuzzy leaves and can be seen around the Rain Forest Food Pavilion and in front of the Adaptations building (where tigers and Komodo dragons are).
In the Asian Tropical Forest climbing on the overhead trellis near the orangutan viewing window is the silver lace vine (Ploygonum aubertii). It has lots of small, white, almost frothy flowers and can be aggressive. Also throughout this exhibit are the tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera), the largest trees in this area that tower over everything else. Not only do they represent the emergent canopy of this tropical area but also are a close approximation to the shape of dipterocarps — one of the major tropical tree families in Southeast Asia. And they are still blooming. The flowers are hard to see as they are at the ends of the branches but there are a few smaller specimens along the east end of the orang boardwalk that allow close observation. The shape of the flower as well as the profile of the leaf is what give the tree its common name.
Along the loop around the emu/wallaroo exhibit are some interesting plants. Where the rocks and gravel cover the ground (the open dry forest) is the Senicio greyi with yellow daisy-like flowers and the Ollieria illicifolia or tree aster that has small white daisy-like blooms. This last plant also has very prickly leaves hence the name illicifoilia meaning holly leaved. Nearby is a large stand of Cassinia x ozothamnus with clusters of white flowers forming a flat inflorescence. Throughout this entire area are also the small bottlebrush plants (Callistemun subulatus) with thin, green leaves. They are budded up and before the month is out, they will have bright red blooms at the ends of the branches that, yes, look like bottlebrushes. Near these are plants with similarly small leaves but have small reddish flowers that are asymmetrical and quite unique. These are the spider flower, Grevillea victoriae. These are members of a unique plant family the Proteaceae mostly restricted to the southern hemisphere especially South Africa and Australia. One familiar member of this family is theMacadamia. Just across from the Australasia building is a spreading shrub with a long, white inflorescence. This is Hebe salicifolia, sometimes called woody veronica. There are a few other species of Hebe in this zone to look for. Look for plants that have opposite leaves (pairs of leaves coming out of opposite sides of the branch) at ninety degrees from the next pair. One last thing to keep an eye out for in this area is the eucalyptus trees. Some have buds on them and a few have been blooming for several weeks. Look for small, white, puffball-looking flowers.
Across from the north restroom are a few small shrubs with large, 3-inches in diameter, white, poppy-looking flowers. These are Carpenteria californica, the tree anemone native to the Sierra Nevadas. Across the path in front of the restroom are the continuously blooming Rosa ‘bonica’, a highbred landscape rose. In back of these is the striking, purple-leafed smokebush (Cotinus goggygria) native to southern Europe into Asia. The hairy pedicels (tiny stalk that supports a single flower) produce this smoky effect.
In and around Butterflies & Blooms are lots of butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii) in many shades from white to pink to lavender to dark purple. They are native to China but have become naturalized in some areas of this country and have become a noxious weed in parts of California. Just this year they have been declared a Class C Noxious Weed of Concern in King County (this means that containment and control of existing populations is encouraged. As a result we will be starting a replacement program to non-invasive species of Buddleia). But the butterflies sure like them.
Appearing in Jaguar Cove this month is the princess flower (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. Elsewhere nearby are the blue passionflowers (Passiflora caerulea), which are vines trailing down the Ceiba spire as well as the fallen giant log and should start blooming later this month. This species is native from Brazil to Argentina and represents a large genus (over 400 species) of mostly new world vines. The name passionflower does not come from any amorous concoctions made from the fruit but instead from the anatomy of the flower. The early Spanish missionaries thought they represented some of the objects associated with the crucifixion of Christ. Indigenous tribes throughout the Amazon have long used passionflower leaves for their sedative and pain-relieving properties and the fruit is used as a heart tonic and to calm coughs. Also in the Ceiba spire is the Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosana) that has small flowers in papery, purple and white bracts. Also check the southern magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) inside Jaguar Cove as well as elsewhere in tropical zones. The huge white flowers are opening now but will not last long. One last plant to notice inside the exhibit 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.
Along the path between the Rain Forest Food Pavilion and Zoomazium a number of plants are blooming. Near the south entrance to the Pavilion plaza is a tall shrub with billowing white flowers. This is Sorbaria sorbifolia or the false spirea. As the name implies this Asian native has leaves that look like the common mountain ash (Sorbus). And near the west entry look at the small trees on either side. There are a number of harlequin glorybower (Clerodendrum trichotomum) trees. These are native to Japan and have whitish tubular flowers with a wonderful fragrance.
Near the main restroom as well as many other places in tropical zones the heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) is starting to bloom. 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 that our native flora has to our particular climate. With our mild winters and early spring the most vigorous plant growth is in 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. There are several that bloom a bit later, however. Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor) and goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus) are both still hanging in there. You can see them throughout the Temperate Forest but you can compare them side-by-side on the west side of the beech tree plantings in the South Plaza. 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 having 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 in recreate the original forest.
As I said, this is by no means the total list but is a list of plants that will probably catch your eye as well as a few that won’t unless you look for them. Enjoy your summer!