Springtime is finally here, which means that vibrant and colorful plants and flowers that we love are finally in bloom! During this time, several species of plants are starting to blossom throughout the zoo, including those in the butterfly garden, the carnivorous plants, Chinese Fringe trees, and Ground Orchids just to name a few – it’s no wonder that the horticulture team at the Houston Zoo spends almost 600 hours a week keeping all of the plants healthy and lively across our 55-acres.“During the spring season we get a lot of people asking about the Texas Mountain Laurel because it smells like grape bubblegum,” horticulture supervisor Anna Land said. “Also, people always love taking pictures in front of the azaleas when they are in bloom.
Azaleas can be easily spotted throughout the zoo – over by Cypress Circle and next the Reflection Pool. Land said that among other guests’ favorites include milkweed during the monarch season and many guests ask about the Jacaranda tree when it blooms, which is the next “big” plant that guests can look forward to. It commonly blooms in May (while some bloom as early as April) with trumpet-shaped deep blue or lavender clusters of flowers.
In addition to tending to the general landscape, the horticulture team also pays close attention the needs of the animals that call the zoo home.
“We do try to match up animals and native plants that are from that area of the world. For example, we predominantly use African plants in the African Forest,” Land said. “We aren’t always able to stick strictly to that because growing conditions are not always the same, so we’ll choose something that grows well here, but looks similar to a plant native to the animals’ home range to give the overall look we want.”
By the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo, near the Bug House, guests are met with a small colony of blooming carnivorous plants such as the Venus fly trap and the Pitcher plant. Named the “Children’s Zoo Carnivorous Plant Project,” this project was initiated by horticulture team lead Ariel Sklar last year to engage young bug enthusiasts about the relationships between bugs and plants.
With more than 740 known species of carnivorous plants, it’s no wonder that this species developed in many different ways to fill the different needs within the ecosystem. For example, some carnivorous plants have developed symbiotic relationships with other insects and reptiles that benefit both species to benefit the overall health of their habitat.“It ties in nicely with the Bug House and the butterfly garden,” Land said. “We chose a location where we could do talks about pollinators and the diverse interactions that insects have with plants and the importance of those interactions. Now that we have plants in an area that use insects in two very different ways is really interesting for kids and makes it easier to get them interested in bugs.”
Important to note about pollinators is that they account for up to 30 percent of what we eat – maple syrup, chocolate, and ice cream just to name a few foods that we all know and love! So how can you help? It’s as easy as buying organic products or creating a wildlife-friendly backyard. To learn more about pollinators, visit https://www.houstonzoo.org/saving-wildlife/texas-conservation/pollinators/.