Plants: Covering the Globe

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Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here!

Horticulture, the science of cultivating plants, is directly connected to our everyday life. Plants supply vast amounts of resources such as oxygen, crops, structure, medicine, and much, much more. Michael Letzring, horticulture collections manager, and Judy Bell, senior horticulturalist, welcomed us into their world of horticulture. We had the chance to get an inside look at just a mere sample of the rare and valuable plant collection at the San Diego Zoo.

Have you ever noticed the big palm trees in the flamingo exhibit near the front of the Zoo? They are called fishtail palm trees and are just one of the many unique plants here at the Zoo. A fishtail palm produces sap that has a high sugar content and is used to make syrup and alcoholic beverages. This palm is unique in the fact that its fruit is poisonous and inedible. This is because of the acid in juices of the fruit. The fruit can actually burn your skin if you touch it! An average fishtail palm can live 30 to 35 years and grow between 30 to 50 feet high. The palms’ native range is from sea level to the mountain slopes in India and Burma. Wow, who would ever have thought that there was so much information to learn about a single plant? I was amazed, and it left me eager to learn more about horticulture.

Believe it or not, plants are susceptible to disease just like animals and humans. It’s our responsibility to help preserve the precious plant life on our planet, and the San Diego Zoo is helping to do just that. Ms. Bell told us about the amazing “seed bank” project the San Diego Zoo Institute of Conservation Research is doing to help protect native plant life in San Diego County. A seed is collected, cleaned, and then stored in either long-term or short-term collections. Over a time period seeds will be randomly tested for germination to make sure they are still viable. The Institute is hoping to collect 400 native plant species in San Diego County over the next 3 years.

While touring some beautiful areas of the San Diego Zoo with Mr. Letzring and Ms. Bell, we were shown how many of the enclosures have been built around the natural growing foliage such as the large trees that are used to support the netting located around the monkey enclosures. Many bushes and shrubs have been left in place to provide décor, natural barriers, and a sense of “home” for the animals.

The next time you visit the San Diego Zoo, take a moment to not only see the animals but take some time to look at fantastic greenery around you! People are often told to take a moment to stop and smell the roses. Well, I say take a moment to look at the trees and enjoy the beauty of the abundant plant life around you. It is simply beautiful.

Sierra, Real World (week 2)