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 also say the flower smells like strawberries but that’s up to your nose. The Portuguese laurels (Prunus lusitanica) are also blooming along the path. At the north entry to the Asian Tropical Forest is a large-leafed magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) with a huge white flower on it. Look for the tree with leaves 2-3 feet long.
We are getting 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, that is common here as well as around the zoo’s Administrative offices near the zoo’s North Entrance. 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 among other spots.
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 they are a close approximation of the shape of dipterocarps — one of the major tropical tree families in Southeast Asia. And they are just starting to bloom. The flowers are hard to see as they are at the ends of the branches but there are a few smaller specimens along the orangutan 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. On your way over to Willawong Station, check the island bed in front of the clouded leopard exhibit. There is the blue flowering California native blueblossom (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ‘victorea’).
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 area are also the small bottlebrush plants (Callistemun subulatus) that have 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 similar small leaves but also 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 the Macadamia. There are three pathways through this landscape. Along the middle one near the rocks is a eucalyptus in bloom with white flowers. This is Eucalyptus niphophila. In front of Willawong Station is the low blue flowered Hebe buxifolia ‘nana’ (nana means small). Also here is the hard-to-miss Leptospermum ‘burgundy’ with almost no leaves but lots of burgundy flowers. At the northeast end of the path between emu and this landscape is the sweet-smellingPittosporum tobirum. Look for a large, broadleaf evergreen shrub with pale yellow flowers.
Northern Trail has some color this month. Near the elk barn is a shrub with clusters of white flowers. This is goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus).Also look for the yellow-flowering cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa) in and around the entry. The leaves, as the name implies, are five segmented. Also start looking for the prickly rose (Rosa acicularis) and, in front of the snowy owls, the Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum).
Across from the north restroom are a few small shrubs with large 3-inches in diameter, white, poppy-looking flowers. This is Carpenteria californica, the tree anemone native to the Sierra Nevadas. Right next to them is a small bush with white flowers of petals fused to look like a bell. This is Zenobia pulverulenta, an East Coast native and a member of the Ericaceae (heath) family. It is therefore related to the heaths, heathers, blueberries, huckleberries, salal, madrona, and rhododendrons. 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. Near here is a low shrub with prickly leaves that is blooming now called prickly heath (Pernettya mucronata). It has small white flowers but in the fall and winter it will be covered with purple berries (no this is not the beauty berry everyone asks about in winter). It is native from Mexico to the Antarctic, New Zealand, and Tasmania — a very interesting distribution.
Throughout the Tropical Rain Forest and Tropical Asia zones, the Chinese windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) is just starting to bloom. Look for the clusters of tiny yellow flowers where the upper sets of leaves come out of the trunk. This palm, native to China, is the only truly reliably hardy palm for our area.
As you walk on the path between Jaguar Cove and the Rain Forest Food Pavilion, notice the bear’s breach (Acanthus mollis) blooming. Look for large leaves at the base of the plant with tall spikes of blue and white flowers. In the temperate wetland area are blooming Rosa rugosa, which is very fragrant.
In our Temperate Forest zones things are actually starting to wind down. This is a reaction of our native flora 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, however, a few plants in bloom at this time. Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor) in the south entry circle, columbine (Aquilegia formosa) nootka rose (Rosa nutkana) mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii), and salal (Gautheria shallon) are all starting to bloom.
And don’t forget the Rose Garden. This month it will be at its peak.
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 the remainder of spring!