Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Rainy Day fun at the zoo

My garden club plans events for the second Wednesday of each month during the school year.  Rain or shine, we rarely cancel for weather.   In early November, on a rare rainy day, we gathered for a horticultural tour of the San Antonio Zoo.  The heaviest rain held off and we had a great time.  I'd never visited this zoo and I was so impressed I'm sure to visit more often now that I've seen the lovely lush gardens and fascinating animal exhibits.

Zoo Lights holiday display was set up and ready to welcome visitors each evening.

Despite the cloudy, damp look to these photos, the weather was cool but not cold making our visit very comfortable.  Since we were here to see the plants, we were properly welcomed by agave, sotol, yucca, cactus and a big cat sculpture just inside the entrance.

Panther, cougar, jaguar?  All can be found in Texas though sightings are rare.

A good caution necessary for visitors who may not have experienced what our sun can do to metal.  It can get very hot visiting the sights of our city in the summer so it's nice to be here on a somewhat cooler day.

Nicely done, we're off to a good start.  Watch out for the Coral Snake in the sidewalk though.  A few real ones have been spotted in my neighborhood recently though I haven't seen one at my place yet.

Setting the holiday mood with cyclamen in a container display.

The reptile house is all decked out.

 Tropical gardens benefit from the zoo's in town location where microclimates can be warmer.

Butterfly attracting Tropical Milkweed dominates a border.

Reindeer awaiting the big holiday show.

More cyclamen, one of my favorite sights around town during the holiday season.

Beautifully landscaped all around.  A gift shop doubles as the North Pole.

The North Pole looking especially tropical this year.

No bananas but with last year's mild winter there should be some fruiting bananas around.

Bright spots of color on a cloudy day.

The Mays Family Plaza is now home to the Johnson Family Light Show made famous after their appearance on ABC's "Great Christmas Light Fight" a few years ago.  As you might imagine, the attention the show attracted became too much for their neighborhood and they've set up at the zoo this year.

I don't remember the name of this Dr. Seuss looking tree but I think it's from Australia.  It's not cold hardy and we've had some freezes this year so I hope it's okay.

Our tour guide zoo horticulturist John Strickland and the group.

This exquisite carousel was added for "Zootennial" in 2014 and features local Texas animals like a Whooping Crane, Horned Toad, Whitetail Deer and Jackalope.  The bird's nest spins.  We were here on a weekday, I can imagine it's quite busy on weekends and holidays.

Hibiscus mutabilis flowers turn from white to deep pink as they mature.

Porterweed, makes a nice shade plant.  The wire tree is part of the light show.

Around the other side of the flamingo pond.

Lush and tropical with Philippine Violet (right) and Esperanza in bloom.

A garden parterre.

Get Dirty!  Zoo School, a full-time preschool on site gives children an opportunity to spend 50% of their day outside in the zoo.

Callistemon, tree form.

I like this, don't know the name though.

Frosty should be more at home this week.

Faux bois window trim stands out on this vintage stone building.  The placement of the front window indicates it might have been a ticket office.

Salvia cascades over "rocks".

In one area ornamental grasses dominated along walkways.  Native muhlys with the same pennisetum I'm pulling from my garden.

Pennisetum grasses were reseeding and taking over just as they do in my yard.  At least here they are contained by walkways.

A friendly serpent mosaic.

Nice job of repurposing what appears to be an unused exhibit into a sunken gravel garden.

Drainage is key and there's a runoff spot to one side.

Aloe World across the way on a small hill.

Heading over to "Big Cat Valley" our arrival coincided with opening day of a new lion exhibit.  Thick glass walls replace railings and moats.

Wow, that lion just walked right up to the glass and it was an amazing experience which I was too mesmerized by to take a photo.  There's a spot in the wall where you can play tug-of-war with the lions.

Next door a tiger dozes in the conventional enclosure which will likely be replaced as well.  The new lion exhibit cost $1 million so they may need to do a little more fundraising first.

Natural looking rock formations in the background courtesy of The Kleberg Foundation.  The Kleberg family owns the famous King Ranch and have given generously to projects all around South Texas for decades.

On to Australia and kangaroos

But what is that thatched shrub over to the left?

It's a sleepy bird, looks more like an emu instead of an ostrich.

Speaking of Australia, I've been enjoying wildlife posts from Sue at My Wild Australia.  Among my favorites are her posts on Rainbow Lorikeets and I was delighted to see these charmers in an aviary at the zoo.

Families can interact with the birds under zookeeper supervision (not pictured) by purchasing food in a small container which the birds are quite adept at opening.

It was a day of firsts since a new Jaguar mom was showing off her cubs to the public for the first time.  Her enclosure has the same thick glass as the lions.

Faux bois planter boxes along a walkway near the reptile house.

Chameleon inside and lots of big snakes too.

Another look at the spiky entrance garden.

A fun day at the zoo combining a tour of the established plants and new exhibits.  One member of our group returned in December with her family for the Zoo Lights show which they enjoyed very much. 


  1. Our zoo here in Tacoma is interesting horticulturally too. That looks like it was a fun day! I think I've seen shots of that serpent mosaic on Pinterest.

  2. I've been impressed by how much zoos have done in terms of horticulture within the last decade or so. I think it's wonderful that your zoo has a childcare facility on site - that's a brilliant idea other zoos should emulate. Your post is a good reminder that I need to drag my husband to the LA and/or San Diego Zoo this winter to see what's going on.

  3. what beautiful shots of a great zoo! is it any wonder that the twins love working there?

    1. It is a beautiful place. We saw them both during our visit and Sam alerted us to the Jaguar cubs debut.

  4. It's been ages since I went to a zoo! Looks like this one has lots of fascinating plants (and animals) and lovely gardens.

  5. I wonder if our zoo has picked up on the horticultural trend...will have to visit to find out. Your zoo has certainly done a bang-up job of it.

  6. Oooo, I like the Cyclamen planters and the Mexican Heather. They've done a great job with the landscaping. The animals look like they're happy there, too. I think that plant you were asking about is Moses in the Bullrushes (Tradescantia spathacea). We grow it as a houseplant here in the north, but my mom planted a nice patch of it outside her house in Florida. Fun plant!


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