Botanical Garden Concept Plan: Setting a New Standard
For decades, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has given Jacksonville and Northeast Florida residents a place to love animals. Now our mission is to offer our community a public place to love plants, while setting a new standard for zoos in the process. We are in the process of building a first-of-its-kind botanical garden inside our Zoo that, unlike other zoos, is integrated among the animal exhibits. Unlike most other growing and culturally-rich cities, Jacksonville cannot list a botanical garden as one of its cultural treasures.
Beyond filling an educational need, botanical gardens benefit their communities in many ways. They become tourist attractions, benefit the green industry, serve as an employer and pump millions of construction dollars into the regional economy. Over the past 400 years, botanical gardens evolved from a menagerie of medicinal plants to entering the 21st century with a strong focus on the concept of environmental sustainability. While some zoos have enhanced the natural habitat of their animal collection, none to our knowledge have committed to the idea of combining a zoo and botanical garden. This combination will only serve to strengthen each institution’s ability to foster a clear vision of sustainable conservation of our natural resources. With the help of a nationally-renowned botanical garden design firm, the Zoo developed three major garden zones in its Botanical Garden Concept Plan:
The Main Path, known as the River of Color: Visitors will begin their garden journey in the Main Camp Garden greeted with a celebratory display of striking foliage and flowering plants. They will be drawn toward the River of Color by drifts of colorful bloom swirling through ribbons of contrasting foliage and textures in the distance. Throughout the Zoo, the River of Color will be a linear garden that links garden destinations and animal exhibits.
Themed Pocket Gardens: Distinct and unique garden jewels of horticultural display that immerse the visitor in through plant themed forecourts to the animal exhibits that follow. Each garden is about 2 acres in size. Currently our Pocket Gardens include the African-Savanna Blooms Garden, South American-Range of the Jaguar Garden, the native gardens of Wild Florida and Play Park, the formal Gardens of Trout River, and the Asian Garden.
The Primary Gardens: In Jacksonville, visitors to the Zoo have recognized the unique relationship the Zoo shares with the Trout River. The beautiful native water-edge plants and spectacular panoramic views over the River set this area aside as something quite special. Recognizing this potential, we selected this area as the home for the Primary
Gardens which will cover approximately twelve acres and include Collection Gardens and the Conservatory.
Chapman's Fringed Orchid Conservation Efforts
By Harry Owens, Horticulture Technician II
One of the more rewarding parts of being on the horticulture team at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is actively taking part in plant conservation. We are not only donating funds to plant conservation but putting boots on the ground and getting dirty to help ensure the survival of endangered plant species. We teamed up with the Atlanta Botanical Garden to help locate and protect populations of one of the rarest orchids in the United States, the Chapman’s fringed orchid (Platanthera chapmanii).
The Chapman’s fringed orchid is a terrestrial orchid that can be found in wet savanna, pine flatlands, and hillside seeps. They are only found in southeast Georgia, northern Florida, and eastern Texas. They are losing their habitat to pine tree farms, deforestation, and lack of a natural fire regimen. They cannot grow in the tree farms because the canopy is too dense and the ground is covered in pine needles inhibiting growth. Deforestation levels their habitat for human benefit, more than likely for housing developments. The orchids prefer open, prairie-like conditions and without regular burns they are being smothered by gallberry shrubs, saw palmettos, and pine trees. All of the current populations in southeast Georgia and northeast Florida are located in roadside ditches under powerlines, their final refuge.
We go out three times a year for days at a time, each time serving a specific purpose. In May, we go out in search of companion plants or plants that we know grow in the same conditions as the Chapman’s fringed orchid. These companion plants could indicate that it is possible for the orchids to grow in this location. We also go to known sites to make sure these companion plants are present and blooming, ensuring the site still has proper growing conditions for the Chapman’s fringed orchid. In August, we set out in search of blooming orchids. This is easier said than done, as the bloom is very small, with a cluster of yellowish-orange flowers. If you see a yellow flower, it may not be a Chapman’s fringed orchid but one of two related species, which only have subtle differences. We go to existing sites to see if the known populations are still thriving. We also check the spots where we located companion plants, hoping to find new populations of orchids. In October, we go back to active sites and clear-cut brush and woody saplings that would eventually shade out the Chapman’s fringedorchid. Before we cut, we collect seed to safeguard the plant, growing new plants in case a population decline is detected. We also work with land managers to have signs put up to ensure the locations are not sprayed with herbicide or mowed.
When we first got involved with this project we were just tagging along with the Atlanta Botanical Gardens on their surveys of Georgia. After a few years of training, the Atlanta Botanical Gardens has passed the torch to us, and we are now doing the same surveys in Florida, as well as tending to the Georgia sites. Chapman’s fringed orchid is not listed as endangered yet, but we are currently trying to get it listed by the Florida Endangered Plant Advisory Council. It is a lot of hard work but well worth it to help shepherd such a rare species of orchid in our own backyard.