Throughout the African Savanna is a broadleaf evergreen shrub that has both the fruit from last year and this year’s flowers. It is the strawberry bush, Arbutus unido. Look for the small inverted urn-shaped flowers that tell you it is a member of the heath family (Ericaceae). This is a well-represented family in the Pacific Northwest containing many familiar plants such as salal, pacific madrona, blueberries, huckleberries, heaths, heathers as well as rhododendrons and azaleas. Also check out the area near the giraffe driveway off the main loop path. There are clusters of native African herbs with whorls of orange flowers along the stem. This is Leonotis leonurus and goes by many common names including lion’s ear, lion’s claw, lion’s tail, wild dagga, wildedagga or duiwelstabak (Africans), or imvovo (Zulu). It is a member of the mint family (feel the square stems) and is native the grasslands of South Africa.
In the Elephant Forest as well as other tropical zones are Sarcococca hookeriana and S. ruscifolia. The former has black berries and the latter dark red. Both of these Chinese natives are in bud and will open soon to emit a lovely fragrance. Also in this area, look for the Japanese aralia, Fatsia japonica. This plant is usually noticed for its large, palm-shaped leaves but this time of year there are clusters of small white flowers at the growing tips.
In front of the Australasia building are some small Hebe ‘Patty’s Purple. This New Zealand native has purple flowers along the stems.
Everyone is now noticing the beautyberry, Callicarpa bodinieri native to China. Now that the leaves have fallen off all that remains are the clusters of small purple berries. A good place to see them is around the benches across from the tiger exhibit.
A very special plant to take note of, Grevillea victoriae, is starting to bloom and will continue all winter in the Australasia zone. A good example of it is at the east end of the path in the open-dry section of the landscape. 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. Nearby is Grevillea ‘Canberra gem’ blooming, a much lower plant having small needle-like leaves.
In Jaguar Cove where the path leads down to gorillas is a vine growing out of the high planters. It is winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) native to China. Look for bright yellow flowers. Further down the path almost to the gorilla day shelter on the left is a tall shrub leaning over the path. In December it will soon be sporting a bright yellow spike of small flowers. This is Mahonia bealei, the same genus as our Oregon grape.
The viburnums are starting their winter show. Look for leatherleaf viburnum (Viburnum rhytidophyllum) in front of the Rain Forest Food Pavilion; David’s viburnum (V. davidii) at the main loop intersection south of Zoomazium; double-file viburnum (V. plicatum ‘tomentosum) and Viburnum bodnantense with its rosy fragrant flowers near the Activities Resource Center.
Across the path are small bushes with small leaves that are spiky and the plant has lavender berries. This is Pernettya mucronata native to the Straits of Magellan in Chile.
On the way towards keeper central on the west side of the path are the winter blooming Camellia sasanqua. There are both white and pink varieties.
Check the native snowberry (Symphoricarpos albas) with white berries around the beech tree in the South Plaza.
As I said, there is not a lot blooming these days but what’s there is choice. Enjoy the changing season.