By David Selk, zoo horticulturist
Here is a list of what plants are of note 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. Most flowering is over for this year but there are still a number of interesting and beautiful plants to take note of. I have listed plants that are showing colorful fruit as well. Listed here are the most noteworthy ones:
A few places around the African Savanna are tall herbaceous plants that have whorls of orange flowers at each pair of leaves. 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. Look for them near the lion sculptures.
Also many places around the savanna are strawberry bushes (Arbutus unido). These are broadleaf evergreen shrubs that are sowing clusters of small, white, urn-shaped flowers as well as last year’s fruit. The fruit looks like a strawberry and is edible but is mealy and not very good tasting. Also blooming around the Savanna is a lot of thorny Elaeagnus (Elaeagnus pungens). There is a lot of it near the bridge at the hippo pool. This is another broadleaf evergreen with very pale undersides of the leaves. Look for small white flowers along the stems that have a lovely fragrance. There are a number of plants in fruit around the Savanna as well. Along the perimeter fence near the Jimi Hendrix Memorial viewpoint is autumn berry (Elaeagnus umbellata) with lots of small, red berries that are also edible. Nearby are several cockspur hawthorn (Crataegus crus-galli) with thumbnail-size fruits. Near the hippo pool are a number of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) that have large clusters of fruits at the branch tips that must remind some people of deer antlers.
Along the loop around the emu/wallaroo exhibit most of the blooms are finished but there are still some interesting plants. A very special plant, Grevillea victoriae, to take note of is almost finished blooming 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 all together). Earlier this summer you may have noticed the Grevillea ‘Canberra gem’ blooming with its small needle-like leaves. This is a very different looking shrub being larger with larger leaves and 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.
In front of the Australasia building are some small Hebe ‘Patty’s Purple. This New Zealand native has purple flowers along the stems.
Continuing in Jaguar Cove this month are the princess flowers (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 love. In the Ceiba spire is the Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosana) that has dark purple berries at this time of year.
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. While you are close to the flower bed near the Activities Resource Center, stop and smell the air. As long as the katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) still holds its leaves, there will be the smell of cotton candy in the air.
Check the native bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) at the entry to the Family Farm. Look for a groundcover with lots of bright red berries. Also in this area is the snowberry (Symphoricarpos albas) with gleaming white berries.
There is not a lot blooming these days but enjoy the changing season and the remaining fruits of summer.
SEE WHAT'S IN BLOOM BY MONTH: