Botanical Gardens

Gardener's Corner


Our Fluttery Friends in the Garden
Jen Best, Horticulture Supervisor

Who doesn’t like to walk through the garden and have a butterfly swish by their head on its way to the next flower?! Or examine a host plant in search of the bizarre little caterpillars? When most people think butterflies they think Spring, but actually Fall is butterfly time. All the plants are flourishing and flowers are in full bloom.

Butterfly gardens are simple to create and a great learning experience for the whole family. There are a few simple rules that must be followed that will attract the butterflies to your garden and keep them coming back each year.

  - You should locate your garden in a sunny, protected spot in the yard so the butterflies can enjoy their meal without getting blown away.

  - If you have a spare shallow bird bath or even an old frisbee or pie plate, fill it with sand or gravel and water to offer your butterflies a drink between flights.

  - No pesticides or sprays in or around the garden. Butterflies and their caterpillars are sensitive creatures.


A butterfly garden must have 2 types of plants; nectar plants and host plants. Nectar plants are the flowers that the adult butterflies drink from. Host plants are specific plants that the caterpillars eat. Host plants are very important in butterfly gardens. Caterpillars are fussy eaters and if you don’t have the proper plants that they like to eat the butterfly will go somewhere else to lay her eggs. Be prepared to have the host plants munched to the stems, caterpillars are hungry creatures. Don’t worry this won’t kill the plants. They will re-grow in time for the next generation of butterflies to lay their eggs.

Some nectar plants to look for are: all types of Salvias, Lantanas, Pentas, Plumbago, Stokes Aster, Porterweed. These are some of the hardier and easiest to grow nectar plants for our area. Butterflies are particular about their host plants and will only lay eggs on certain plants. Monarchs want Milkweed, Giant Swallowtails want Citrus, Black Swallowtails want Fennel or Dill or Parsley, Yellow Sulphurs want Cassia, Gold Rim and Pipevine Swallowtails want Dutchman’s Pipevine, and Gulf Frittilaries and Zebra Longwings want Passionflower Vine. By adding host plants to your garden, you will not only attract butterflies to your yard, but the host plants will help keep them there and grow your population.

These are just a few ideas but a good start to a beginning butterfly garden and the bonus is the same flowers that attract butterflies attract hummingbirds too!


Time to BEE Responsible

Cheo Rodriguez, Senior Horticulture Tech

Many of us are aware of the importance of honeybees and the role they play when it comes to their contribution to pollination. I think it’s past time that we shed light on a group of some of the hardest working pollinators often overlooked but their impact is felt every day. I’m talking about our 325 native bee species found right here in Northern Florida.

What are Native Bees?

Native bees include many different sized solitary species who don’t live in communal hives. They are nomadic as well as opportunistic. They are responsible for the vast majority of pollination and they are the ones rushing to get things done behind the scenes, never getting the notoriety that they truly deserve. Let’s change that... Our native bee species are the ones picking up the “pollination slack” to ensure all those fruits and veggies we enjoy end up right where they are supposed to, on your table.

Why are they so important?

Well simply put, without these hardworking Bees our native ecosystems would collapse. Many of our native species are in serious trouble. Habitat loss, the overuse of pesticide, and over fertilization of lawns all contribute to the demise of species. An example being the Rusty patch bumblebee (Bombus affins) whose numbers have decreased by 87% in the past 15 years.

But we have honeybees……Right?

Honeybees simply can’t keep up with the pollination demand, which would intern cause an overall food shortage due to lack of overall pollination. But have no fear! Getting involved is easy it just takes some time and elbow grease to make a positive impact for our future.

That small pile of sticks you’ve been putting off picking up that resides as a fixture in your backyard, why not let the native bees utilize it? Fallen branches make perfect homes and provide suitable nesting structures for homeless bees. You want something more functional and aesthetically pleasing? Offer a “Bee House”, a non-treated piece of wood that different sized holes can be drilled into to offer the perfect size and space for our natives to lay their eggs. Planting native fruiting trees and flowers will increase the number of pollinators you will see in your yard. If you aren’t sure what plant material to use, please contact your local nursery and they can help you select plants that are bee friendly. As an added bonus you get a yard full of different pollinators and increased biodiversity. These hardworking girls need our help and it’s our duty to answer the call, together we can SAVE THE BEES.

Summer Sweetness

Scott Koll, Senior Horticulturist

Synonymous with summer, picnics, and cookouts - what could be more wonderful than a sweet slice of watermelon?

Watermelons have a long and distinguished history. Believed to be native to west Africa, watermelons have long been cultivated in the Nile valley. Watermelon seeds were even found in the tomb of King Tut! Brought to the new world by Africans and Europeans, watermelons have been grown in Florida since the 16th century.

Watermelons require a long growing season and rich, sandy, well-drained soil. For these reasons cultivation is well suited to the deep South. Make sure you have plenty of room! Vines will soon overwhelm a small garden.

At the Zoo, watermelons are planted on hills, to provide good drainage, and watered close to the stem with micro-irrigation. This keeps the leaves drier, cutting down on fungal type diseases. Although watermelons require drainage, they also are heavy feeders and drinkers. Be sure to amend your soil with compost and perhaps an organic fertilizer and provide plenty of water.

Knowing when to harvest at the peak of delicious ripeness is an art. Some folks swear to thumping the skin, searching for a hollow sound. I prefer another method. Check the bottom of the fruit, where it rests on the ground. When the skin on that spot becomes more yellow/green then white (you may even see some slight striping in the spot) I harvest. I love my melons chilled, providing relief during the hot summer weather, but many prefer their fruit at room temperature.

Watermelon is really a very healthy item. Loaded with vitamins and lycopene (the same chemical that makes tomatoes red) which battle free radicals in the body and help to prevent many cancers. Watermelon also contains good amounts of fiber and is relatively low in calories.

At the Zoo we once grew a large variety of watermelon, ‘Carolina cross.’ We had one fruit measure in at 140 lbs! An amazing treat for our elephants, who love them, along with other animals including our great apes.

So tip your hat to this juicy fruit, and make sure you have plenty of napkins!

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.

Garden Tours


Savanna Blooms

Gardens at Trout River Plaza

Asian Bamboo Garden

Future Gardens

Garden Tours


Rivers of Color Garden