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Plants flourish in new Bamboo Forest Reserve

Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, Communications

As we gear up for the May 4th opening of phase one of our new Bamboo Forest Reserve exhibit, some of the details are starting to blossom! Here is a little sneak peek at the landscape horticulture elements that are part of the new exhibit.

It’s all about landscape simulation—the zoo’s horticulture department seeks out plants that will thrive in our Pacific Northwest environment, while mimicking the flora found in the thick forests of Southeast Asia. Shaping a new exhibit’s greenery has three key components: 1.) the comfort and safety of the animals, 2.) allowing visitors to observe our animals in an environment inspired by natural habitats, 3.) and telling clearly the story of the entire biome, its diverse plant and animal species, and its conservation connections. Our horticulture team helps tell the conservation story of sharing the forest; the health of the forest being dependent on all its wildlife, from the fiercest tiger to the tiniest orchid.

Meet Magnolia virginiana, trees that create an umbrella of green for many animals at the zoo. The broad leaves protect animals from sunlight and rain showers. In April their impressive flowers began to bloom. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Magnolia trees, with their glossy evergreen leaves, feign the foliage of many tropical species, particularly figs. The lofty white flowers formed each spring are an added bonus.

Daphne odora is the most unbelievably fragrant winter bloomer ever. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Daphne odora has delicate pink blossoms with sugar encrusted petals. This plant will bring a fragrant bouquet of tropical perfume to the paths of the Bamboo Forest Reserve. 

Hart’s tongue fern, Asplenium scolopendrium. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Get lost in the creepers! The Hart’s tongue fern, Asplenium scolopendrium, is a cool fern with broad leaves and twisty details.

Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

The architecture of plants in an exhibit can transform the entire look and feel of the space. Here, a simple shadow creates a beautiful design. 

Fargesia rufa (Green panda), Daphne odora, Fatsia japonica (Japonese aralia), Polystichum polyblepharum (Tassel fern) and Adiantum venustum (Maiden hair fern). Photos by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

The myriad of plants in the new exhibit space invoke the luscious tropical forests of Southeast Asia. The texture, fragrance, color, height, sunlight conditions, amount of water needed and growth period all have to be considered in laying out the exhibit.

An Asian small-clawed otter says "hey" amid the greenery of its new exhibit. Photo by Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.

There are plants whose job it is to provide a green playground for rollicking Asian small-clawed otters. Other semi-aquatic plants are used to fill in the water features. Grasses are part of the innovative filtering system for the otter stream and twisty branches provide perches for the five new bird species in the aviary.

Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Of course, there is a ton of bamboo, especially our favorite group of bamboo, Fargesia. You can spot bamboo throughout the zoo—it’s easy to work with, grows well in our climate and its bright green stalks and thick shadows encourage imaginations to go wild. 

Up close you can see the opalescent petals of the Daphne odora. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

The description for the foliage in the new exhibit reads like an adventure story:  vines, climbers and creepers twine around heavy trees in the canopy of the Asian tropical forest, while the dense undergrowth is thick with shrubs…palms and bamboo flourish along its outer edge.

This Saturday, phase one of the Bamboo Forest Reserve exhibit opens to the public, and if you study these plants like a good botanist, you will be able to identify them on your visit!