Botanical Gardens

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

Gardener's Corner

Defense Mechanisms of the Plant World
By Harry Owens, Horticulture Technician II

Plants are for the most part, immobile: they cannot run away from predators or feet stomping on them. Over thousands of years, vulnerable plants have developed defense mechanisms to ensure their survival and ability to reproduce. Defense mechanisms can be broken into two categories: structural and bio-chemical. Structural defense mechanisms are simply modified parts of the plant’s form, such as thorns, prickles, and spines. Bio-chemical defense mechanisms are a more complex process in which the plant produces toxins or other irritable chemical compounds that can have an array of effects on the intruder including a nasty taste or smell, irritation, mind alteration, and sometimes even death.  

Thorns, spines, or prickles can be found along the plant’s stem, leaves, or in some cases both. Thorns are modified branches that are long and sharp like a toothpick and are common on citrus trees. Spines are modified leaf parts like on cacti or palm fronds. Prickles can be thought of as coarse hairs coming out of the “skin” of the plant; these can be found on roses. Despite popular belief, every rose does not have a thorn, every rose actually has a prickle. Prickles are more easily removed than spines or thorns because they lack vascular bundles, so they are only attached to a plant and not a part of the plant. Think of the spines and thorns as fingers and toes and prickles as hair. They can all be removed but prickles are easier to remove and have a less lasting effect on the plant. Overall, physical defense mechanisms stab, cut, and poke trespassers.

Bio-chemical defense mechanisms are created by the plant. Milky sap is a white liquid secreted by certain plants when their tissue is torn. It contains latex and glycosides which can be detrimental when ingested and can cause irritation upon contact with skin. Milky sap can be found in milkweed, jasmine, oleander, and many others. Monarch butterflies have adapted an immunity to the sap in milkweed and it in turn makes them toxic to predators. Another bio-chemical defense mechanism is urushiol, an odorless, colorless oil found in the leaves of poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. These plants are not actually poisonous but can cause very painful rashes and irritation. The oil is easily transferrable and could take days to show any signs of rash. There are a countless amount of plants that produce toxins that can be deadly if ingested. Nightshade, mistletoe, and pokeweed are a few examples on our toxic browse list here at the zoo.  

Allelopathy is another type of bio-chemical defense plants use to kill or inhibit growth of near-by competing plants by hoarding all the soil nutrients, water, light, and space for themselves. This is common in some invasive plants. Australian pine is a problem in southern Florida. It has an allelochemical in its leaves that inhibits understory growth once they fall and begin to decompose. Nutsedge may be one of the farthest-reaching weeds in the world, taking root in over 90 countries. It releases allelochemicals through its roots negatively affecting all vegetation around it. Garlic mustard was introduced to North America in the 1860s as a culinary herb and is now invasive due to the lack of insects and fungi that would eat it in its homeland. Garlic mustard produces allelochemicals that suppress mycorrhizal fungi which is essential for most plants to reach optimum growth. Elderberry, black walnut, and eucalyptus are also suspected of being allelopathic.

There are too many defense mechanisms to fit in this article. A majority of plants have adapted at least one, which is hard to believe since they have no brains for memory or central nervous systems to feel pain, only a will to survive, reproduce, and the ability to protect themselves that has been developed over millennia. So next time you are on hike you may want to be more aware of the flora around you, in some cases it can be just as dangerous as the fauna.

Savanna Blooms

Gardens at Trout River Plaza

Asian Bamboo Garden

Future Gardens

Garden Tours


Rivers of Color Garden