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.
Hawaiian Variegated Banana
By Harry Owens, Horticulture Technician II
Would you believe me if I told you that Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has a plant species so cool, it was at one time only allowed to be owned by Hawaiian royalty? We do, and it is one of the rarest species of banana plant called the Hawaiian variegated banana (Musa ‘Ae Ae’). The common name is a little misleading - although the plant and fruit are variegated, it did not originate in Hawaii. There are no banana species native to Hawaii. It probably came from the east. Other names include the Royal or Sacred banana and Koa’e, a Hawaii native white-tailed tropicbird. This banana is a true triple threat because it is considered a dessert fruit, good for cooking, and an ornamental plant. Most bananas are one or the other or maybe two at most.
The leaves, pseudo stem, and fruit of these plants are all variegated, green with white/crème colored stripes. They also have some pink margins along the petiole, which makes it easy to see why they are considered ornamental from the description alone. They can reach up to 18 ft. in height. One of the reasons these are so rare is because only one quarter of the pups retain the variegation. They are also one of the banana species they have never been able to successfully propagate via tissue culture. This is why they are usually expensive when you can find them.
Besides being expensive and rare, they are also demanding to grow. Considered one of the hardest bananas to grow, it prefers acidic soil, part shade, and protection from wind to avoid drying out and sunburn. They should do fine from zones 9a to 10b but will definitely need a location to over winter, preferably a greenhouse and at the very least a shed/garage with windows. Ours remains in a pot so that it can be easily transported from greenhouse to display point, which also made it a lot easier to move to safety prior to hurricane Irma.
What’s cool is that Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has the rarest, most expensive, most difficult to grow banana species in the world on display right now. This tropical triple-threat is a sight to see in person and if you want to check it out, the Hawaiian variegated banana is located at the back of Land of the Tiger, where the tigers are not the only ones with stripes.