Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and senior. 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!
Mike Letzring, Horticulture Manager at the San Diego Zoo, gave us a tour of the Zoo’s wide variety of plant life on Reptile Mesa. On the tour, Mr. Letzring talked about the different factors contributing to the endangerment of some of the plant life. This includes poaching and destruction of its habitat. He also mentioned some of the programs that the Zoo is involved in that help acquire and protect their plants from the endangerment factors affecting them in the wild.
Just like animals, the biggest threat facing plants is habitat destruction. This is very common in the world today whether it be clearing land for farms or building homes, roadways, and much more. All of these are regular every day occurrences that all contribute to the destruction of these plants’ habitats. At the San Diego Zoo, the horticulture tries to find the perfect habitat for all of their plant collections, sometimes even adding special element to help with survial. For example, the Zoo has only one true coconut palm. In order to mimic its tropical habitat, it is planted in a raised platform to allow for more sun light, and a drainage system has been installed in the soil to flush out any excess water.
The San Diego Zoo participates in a program where the seeds of over 6,000 native plant species are dried and stored. This allows for the sharing of seeds with different banks. It helps to build up a collection and attempt to revive endangered species. The more seeds that are stored, the rate of being able to retain it’s survival is greater. An interesting story Mr. Letzring told us was about a plant Cuba, named the erythrina elenae. This plant was becoming extinct due to habitat loss. A horticulturist sent a request to Fidel Castro himself to ask that he send the seeds of this particular plant. Some time had passed, but eventually the seeds arrived! To learn more about the native seed bank, visit http://www.sandiegozoo.org/CF/plants/seed_bank .html.
So what can we do at home to help contribute to the conservation of these plants? There are some very easy solutions to help protect our planet that can be done in your very own backyard! One simple task that Mr. Letzring talked about is planting species native to California since they are easy to buy and require less water than non native plant species. Also shade grown coffee is another easy backyard solution because it is simple to take care of and requires little water to maintain and you can even pick, roast, and brew your own coffee at home without worrying about going to the store for it!
Mr. Letzring has opened my eyes to the world of horticulture and the issues that these wonderful plant species are facing. It was an interesting experience to also learn about the different programs and organizations that help protect the endangered species, whether it be keeping track of the different seeds in the seed bank or bringing in and protecting smuggled plants. It was overall a wonderful presentation and a great learning experience.
Hayden, Conservation Team
Fall 2012, week three