The chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) is showing its blue spikes of flowers. This grows in Mediterranean countries and central Asia and the dried fruit, which has a pepper-like aroma and flavor, is used in herbal medicine preparations. It also has the lesser-used common name of monk’s pepper. A very special plant, Grevillea victoriae, to take note of is now 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. So is that enough botany for one month? In front of the Australasia building are two plants blooming now. One has spikes of white flowers which is native to the eastern U.S. This is the sweet pepperbush, (Clethra alnifolia). Clethra is the only genus in the family, Clethraceae, which is very closely related to the heath family, Ericaceae (this family includes a number of Northwest natives including salal, rhododendron, madrona, and the blueberries and huckleberries). The other plant is a short bush with blue flowers. This is Hebe (Hebe buxifolia ‘Patty’s purple’). Hebe is native to New Zealand and this is a garden hybrid. Hebe is named for the Greek goddess of youth who served as a cupbearer to the gods before her marriage to Hercules. Across the path from the Australasia building is a large rose of Sharon, (Hibiscus syriacus). It is native from India to Eastern Asia and is the national flower of South Korea. Nearby is a blooming black sally (Eucalyptus stellulata). Look up to see the small, white puffball type flowers that are very popular with bees.
In both the Jaguar Cove public area and in the planted island that separates the sun bear viewpoint from the larger path outside the Butterfly Conservation Garden are crepe myrtles, Lagerstroemia indica (those near sun bears are older and are the ones blooming). This Asian native likes long hot summers so it isn’t as prolific a bloomer here as it is in the southeast United States where it can bloom for up to four months. As these plants mature their outer bark will peal off in thin flakes and reveal beautiful cinnamon or gray inner bark. Look for a tall shrub with clusters of pink flowers that look like, well, crepe.
Continuing in the jaguar exhibit 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 will certainly ask you about. Next to these is a hybrid specimen of bougainvillea with bright purple, paper-like blooms. This South American native has rather small flowers surrounded by three large bracts, which is what looks like the flower. In the Ceiba spire is the Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosana) that has pretty much finished blooming but is now forming fruits. Also take note of the small begonia blooming in the beds around the front of the Research Tent. This is Begonia grandis, one of the few members of this tropical genus that are even marginally hardy in our climate. Look for the small pink flowers on one-foot high plants tucked in between the trees and shrubs.
Many of the plants discussed in these monthly reports have had their flowers pollinated and are now bearing fruit. Check the bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) at the entry to the Family Farm and the autumn berry (Elaeagnus umbellata) on the right side of the loop path going from African Village towards the Jimi Hendrix viewpoint. Many of the viburnums are also showing clusters of berries.
And lastly many of the ornamental grasses are forming seed heads all over the zoo. A good place to check them out is African Village.