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. 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.
Chaenomeles speciosa, Japanese quince, is showing some color. Look for the pink blooms around the African Savanna as well as a very large specimen near the old bear grotto restroom. The Savanna is also a good place to check out the barberries that are starting to show their yellow flowers. Look for the well-armed barberry wintergreen barberry, Berberis julianae, with its evergreen leaves that have spines even on the leaf margins. There is also the Darwin barberry, Berberis darwinnii, which is smaller but no less formidable.
Near the red panda exhibit is a low, broad tree called a Cornelian cherry, Cornus mas. This southern and eastern European native has very small yellow flowers that are out before the leaves appear.
Bridal wreath Spirea, Spirea prunifolia ‘plena’, is just starting to bloom. Look for these graceful arching branches covered with tiny, white flowers near the lion statues between the Elephant Forest and the giraffe barn.
A plant that may be small but packs an amazing sweet odor is winter daphne, Daphne odora. Look for the plants just outside the south staff door at the Activities Resource Center near the zoo’s West Entrance 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.
A special place to visit is the Australasian planting across from the wallaroo/emu exhibit. Look for the shrubs with lots of clusters of yellow fragrant flowers and no leaves. This is Eucryphis lucida, native to Tasmania. Nearby is Azara microphylla, or chinchin. Look for a bush with very small, shiny leaves and in the axle of the leaf (where it connects to the stem) are small yellow flowers. Chinchin is native to Chile and Argentina and is a member of the Flacourtiaceae, a family of primarily tropical and subtropical plants. Further on is Tasmanian pepper Drymes lanceolata. The fruit, when dried, resemble black peppercorns. When eaten pure, the berries have a sweet taste in the first second only, followed by intensive pungency which again does not last very long, but gives way to a strange sensation of numbness, similar to white pepper and Sichuan pepper. Further on is a very special plant in which to take note, Grevillea victoriae, that has been blooming all winter in this zone. A good example of it is near the north end of the middle pathway that takes you through this botanical zone (there are three pathways altogether). 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.
There are two plants to look for in the exterior areas of the Tropical Rain Forest zone. The first is evergreen clematis, Clematis armandii. Large white flowers with a sweet odor are just starting to open. They cover the trellis at the near the lemur viewpoint and can also be seen in the Trail of Vines and at the zoo’s South Entrance. The second plant is the fragrant honeysuckle, Lonicera fragmantissima. 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. Another close relative is L. standeshii around the African Village.
Two natives to keep an eye on are the Oregon grapes. The longleaf Oregon grape, Mahonia nervosa is a low, shade-loving shrub is common in our forests and can be seen in the zoo’s Family Farm and the Temperate Forest zone. Watch for the bright yellow flower clusters starting to show this month. The tall Oregon grape, Mahonia aquifolium, is, as the name suggests, much taller and prefers more light. The Discovery Loop and tower in the Temperate Forest are good places to see it. Also look for the Asian native M. bealei that is planted in the Asian Tropical Forest zone.
Other natives are starting to show color this month. The first is Indian plum or osoberry, Oemleria cerasiformis. Throughout the Temperate Forest zone 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. Check out the red alders, Alnus rubra, in the Family Farm to see the small, cone-like structures at the ends of the branches. These are actually small flowers, but since they are wind pollinated they are not showy. In Northern Trail the green alder, A. crispa, are blooming as well as the birch (Betula).
There are a number of other plants to keep an eye on that may open flowers if the weather turns unseasonably warm. Check the Bergenia crassifolia near the sun bear exhibit, the Osmanthus in Tropical Rain Forest, and English laurel throughout. And this month the crocuses and daffodils are showing color. All around the perimeter of the zoo will start glowing before long. There are also lots of plums and cherries on grounds that are blooming. Most are hybrids and add a lot of color this time of year.