The plant collections at the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens include some interesting rarities—Chilean wine palm, bald cypress, cycads—but some of the most important plants are among the most common. Unlike zoos in less temperate climates, the L.A. Zoo is able to grow much of the browse that is an important part of the residents’ daily menu. Acacia, ficus, mulberry, and eucalyptus trees are found throughout the Zoo. Other plants provide supplemental foods. The edible garden across from the Papiano Play Park produces tasty treats such as roses, figs, and beets, as well as banana tree leaves, corn stalks, and herbs such as catnip that provide hours of play.
The Zoo also features specialty gardens. Most noticeable are the native gardens at the front entrance, which feature a fine selection of distinctive Southern California plants including many that are found nowhere else. There are also several succulent groups throughout the Zoo. The Baja Garden between the Winnick Family Children’s Zoo and the meerkat exhibit features predominanty Southwest natives, and two other succulent gardens on the service road (one near the chimpanzee penthouse and another near the entrance to the American black bear exhibit) include spectacular specimens from Africa and South America as well.
The Zoo is also a plant rescue center for illegally imported specimens confiscated by government agencies. Among the confiscated plants that have found a home at the Zoo are rare bulbs and orchids, succulents and cactus, and the magnificent cycad collection that awaits guests at the entrance to the main Zoo.
As zoos everywhere focus more intently on conservation, plants are becoming a more vital part of their collections. Every food chain on earth begins with plants, and animals depend on them not only for sustenance, but also for shelter, medicinal purposes, and even tools. So the next time you come to the Zoo, be sure to explore the plants that anchor the web of life.