San Diego Zoological Society is world renowned for its animal collections at the San Diego Zoo and the Zoo Safari Park. What few people realize is that the Zoo and Safari Park’s have world-class collections of more than a million plants, too.
The Society’s plant collections serve several purposes:
- The plants beautify the two parks
- Plants support the naturalistic displays that resemble the animals’ native habitats.
- Plants brought into the US illegally and confiscated by US Customs officials are sent to designated Plant Rescue Centers around the world. Orchids are sent to the Zoo’s Plant Rescue Center. Some are returned to their country of origin, while the rest remain at the Zoo to be propagated and shared with botanical gardens where they are used for educational purposes.
The result is an international plant collection that is nearly unrivaled. In this episode, we explore Aloes and Cycads, two of the society’s special botanical collections. We tour the orchid house where we ooh and aah over their fabulous and diverse flowers. We also learn about the browse program – plants grown strictly to feed the animals. In the world of zoos, San Diego Zoological Society is renowned for its browse program. An entire crew is assigned the task of growing and gathering plants to feed and entertain animals. It is no small task. The pandas eat 15 tons of browse each year. It takes 20 tons of acacia to feed giraffes, elands, bonobos, gorillas and other animals.
We stroll through the zoo with some of the browse staff who point out plants they harvest on-site, then take us to the offsite farm where they grow and harvest more browse. What there isn’t room to grow on-site gets collected along highways and in neighborhoods around San Diego County We visit reserved koalas whose strict eucalyptus diet is prepared in a special kitchen, tortoises who enjoy a range of fresh greens, and more.