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Created under the trees of a citrus farm and blessed by the sunny, mild climate of Southern California, the Santa Ana Zoo is a varied oasis of diverse plant life. You might smell the rosemary or the lemon scented gum tree as you stroll along the pathways. You can pause beside rubber plants and banana trees from the jungles of South America, or admire the giant bromeliads growing in the trees. From the tropcis to the desert, our gardens at the zoo are as diverse and interesting as the animals. So stop, look, and take the time to admire the Hong Kong orchids as you wander through this botanical paradise. On this page you will find a brief profile of some of the interesting botanical species you will find at the Zoo.
Bamboo is just grass, but it varies in height from dwarf, one foot (30cm) plants to giant timber bamboos that can grow to over 100 feet (40m). It grows in a lot of different climates, from jungles to high on mountainsides. Bamboos are further classified by the types of root they have. Some, called runners, spread exuberantly, and others are classified as clumpers, which slowly expand from the original planting. There are also varieties of root systems that are a mixture of these types. Generally, the tropical bamboos tend to be clumpers, and the temperate bamboos tend to be runners.
Fever Tree (Acacia xanthofloea)
This tree from South Africa has a beautiful yellowish colored trunk and sulfur yellow flowers. Early pioneers of the area thought this tree caused a fever, since people traveling or living in the areas where it grew contracted bad fevers. Therefore, they associated the fever with the tree. This, however, was erroneous as the swampy places where fever trees grow are also ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which carry malaria. Through these early settlers, the myth was born and the plant acquired its name, the fever tree.
There are several variations of the aloe plant, but only one variety has a legendary medicinal reputation dating back thousands of years: the Aloe Vera. Vera, which means "true" in Latin, was added to the appellation of this particular specimen in order to distinguish it's primacy among the aloe plants.
There are many species of bromeliads. Their unusual shapes and colors have inspired collectors all over the world. Most grow on trees (called epiphytes) and some can catch water in their leaves. Tiny jungle frogs and mosquitoes live in the trapped water holes of some species of the bromeliads.
Ponytail Palm (Nolina recurvata)
A very interesting looking tree (not a palm) from arid Mexico, this tree has an enormous trunk, also known as a caudex, that can store huge amounts of water to sustain it through periods of drought.
Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia nicolai)
The Bird of Paradise is a hardy, interesting, fast-growing shrub. It blooms all summer, with clusters of yellow flowers adorned with protruding bright red, and 4-5 inch long stamens. The flowers attract hummingbirds. The leaves of this plant are fed to the monkeys. The name "bird of paradise" comes from the spectacular flower shape, which resembles a bird's beak and head plumage. Its country of origin is South Africa.
Phalaenopsis Orchid (Phalaenopsis amabilis)
Large (5-6 inches wide), showy, orchid-like flowers in fall and early winter; colors vary from deep maroon and purple to pale rose pink. A beautiful specimen is located in the center of the Zoo.
Banana (Musa species)
Banana plants are the largest non-woody plant in the world. They are native to Southeast Asia and cultivated in tropical countries around the world. At the Zoo, the plants bear fruit that is fed to the animals.
Agave (Agave parryi, or Century Plant)
Agave is a fast growing succulent, mostly gigantic, with large clumps of fleshy, strap-shaped leaves. Gray-green, 2-3 foot wide rosettes resemble giant artichokes. They take 8-12 years to mature. The starchy core of the plant was baked in rock-lined pits by desert-dwelling Indians to form a nutritious energy-rich staple food. Baked agave can still be purchased in Mexican markets. Some species of the agave are used to make tequila.
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