JULY BLOOMS AT THE ZOO
Here is a list of what is blooming 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. Some of these plants may not be in bloom yet but, with the right weather, will open up before month's end. The main flush of flowers is pretty much over and the very warm early summer has pushed many plants faster than normal. But there are still a number of interesting and beautiful plants to take note of. Listed here are the most noteworthy plants.
Along the main loop path on the east side of the zoo between ATF and the 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 people also say the flower smells like strawberries but that's up to your nose. As the name implies this is native to the southeast U.S. Nearby just across the path from the driveway near the giraffe house is Acanthus spinosus or spiny Acanthus. It sort of looks like a thistle on steroids but is a close relative of the bear's breech (Acanthus mollis) that is common in the tropical zones of the zoo. Some nice specimens of the bear's breech are across from the jaguar exhibit on the rainforest pavilion side of the path. Both species have tall spikes of flowers tucked inside bluish purple and white bracts. These plants, which are native from Italy to Turkey, were used in horticulture in ancient times. It was so admired by the Greeks and Romans that motifs shaped like Acanthus mollis leaves were used to decorate the tops of Corinthian columns.
Just starting to bloom in the ATF are the Southern Catalpa trees (Catalpa bignonioides) and the Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa). The species are very similar and are said to be distinguished by the former having a distinctive odor when the large heart-shaped leaves are crushed and the latter none. These trees have a large cluster of white flowers at the branch tips. You can also see last year's seedpods on the trees at the entrance to the Elephant Forest.
Around the Outback Café are the beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri) bushes that visitors and staff enjoy through the fall and winter for their purple fruits. These are native to China and are blooming right now with small purple flowers at the nodes (where the leaves come out) but these will not last very long.
In the Trail of Vines at the siamang viewpoint are a number of vines but one will start blooming this month and is quite striking. This is the trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) with clusters of large orange trumpet-shaped flowers that can attract hummingbirds as it does in its native Eastern US.
A bit further on the path at raptors the Rosa rugosa is still showing some color.
We are 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, common here as well as around Camp David. In the trail of vines 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 Rainforest Pavilion and in front of the feline house.
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 also are a close approximation to the shape of dipterocarps - one of the major tropical tree families in Southeast Asia. And they are still blooming. The flowers are hard to see as they are at the ends of the branches but there are a few smaller specimens along the east end of the orang 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.
Along the loop around the emu/wallaroo yard 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 entire 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 have 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. Just across from the Australasia building is a spreading shrub with a long, white inflorescence. This is Hebe salicifolia, sometimes called woody veronica. There are a few other species of Hebe in this zone to look for. Look for plants that have opposite leaves (pairs of leaves coming out of opposite sides of the branch) at ninety degrees from the next pair. One last thing to keep an eye out for in this area is the Eucalyptus trees. Some have buds on them and a few have been blooming for several weeks. Look for small, white, puffball looking flowers.
Across from the north restroom are a few small shrubs with large 3” diameter, white, poppy-looking flowers. This is Carpenteria californica, the tree anemone native to the Sierra Nevadas. 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.
In and around the butterfly exhibit are lots of butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii) in many shades from white to pink to lavender to dark purple. They are native to China but have become naturalized in some areas of this country and have become a noxious weed in parts of California. They have now been declared a Class C Noxious Weed of Concern in King County (this means that containment and control of existing populations is encouraged.) As a result we will be starting a replacement program to non-invasive species of Buddleia. But the butterflies sure like them.
Appearing 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. Elsewhere nearby are the blue passionflowers (Passiflora caerulea), which are vines trailing down the Ceiba spire as well as the fallen giant log and should start blooming later this month. This species is native from Brazil to Argentina and represents a large genus (over 400 species) of mostly new world vines. The name passionflower does not come from any amorous concoctions made from the fruit but instead from the anatomy of the flower. The early Spanish missionaries thought they represented some of the objects associated with the crucifixion of Christ. Indigenous tribes throughout the Amazon have long used passionflower leaves for their sedative and pain-relieving properties and the fruit is used as a heart tonic and to calm coughs. Also in the Ceiba spire is the Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosana) that has small flowers in papery, purple and white bracts. Also check the southern magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) inside the jaguar exhibit as well as elsewhere in tropical zones. The huge white flowers are opening now but will not last long. One last plant to notice inside the exhibit is the gunnera (Gunnera manicata), which also goes under the common name of “dinosaur food” and is native to Colombia. You can't mistake the huge leaves but also notice the flower spike, which almost looks like a cob of corn.
Along the path between the Rainforest Pavilion and the Zoomazium site a number of plants are blooming. Near the south entrance to the pavilion plaza is a tall shrub with billowing white flowers. This is Sorbaria sorbifolia or the false spirea. As the name implies this Asian native has leaves that look like the common mountain ash (Sorbus). And near the west entry look at the small trees on either side.
Near the main restroom as well as many other places in tropical zones the heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) is starting to bloom. It does sort of look like bamboo but it is a member of the barberry family and is a close relative of our native Oregon grape. This is native from India to eastern Asia and has clusters of small white flowers that turn into red berries that last a long time. It is not unusual to see a plant in flower that also has last year's fruit on it.
In our temperate forest our native plants are almost finished blooming. 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 dryer and when July arrives with our summer drought (except for the 4th) our natives are pretty much finished. Normally the Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor) and goat's beard (Aruncus dioicus) would be blooming now but there are only the brown developing seeds left. Near the zone entrance look for fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium), a plant many people who grew up in the Northwest think of as a weed as it is associated with open fields and logged areas. Actually it plays a very important role in plant colonization and succession in disturbed areas. It's combination of quickly germinating in high light levels, being a fast grower, a prolific bloomer and having seeds easily spread by wind it has evolved to take advantage of areas where fires, landslides or, in more modern times, logging have opened up. It helps stabilize the soil and paves the way for other more shade tolerant plants to come in recreate the original forest.
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 your summer.