Significant Trees and Plants
As you go to grab some lunch at the Leaping Lemur Café, don’t forget to take a moment to admire a prime example of a Monterey cypress tree. This beautiful tree is native to the Monterey Bay Area and loves our foggy coastal climate. Mature trees can reach 70 feet or more, but ocean winds frequently bend the trees into flat-topped profiles.
Monkey Hand Tree
Growing in front of Grizzly Gulch is probably the most unique tree at the Zoo. Called a monkey hand tree, or sometimes a “devil’s hand,” this cloud forest native of Mexico and Guatemala possesses one of the strangest blooms in the plant kingdom. In late spring and into early summer, five red stamens extend from a cup of sepals and resemble a small, red hand. Yellow pollen lines the “fingers” stopping before the tip, giving the impression of fingernails. Both bats and perching birds have been observed pollinating the flowers in the wild. Look for this large tree the next time you visit the grizzly sisters.
As you walk along the lake from the koala exhibit towards the Australian WalkAbout exhibit, you’ll pass one of the most well-loved trees at the Zoo. Called a “swamp gum eucalyptus,” it was one of the original lake-shore plantings at the Zoo, planted sometime around 1925. There are only about 20 of these trees known to exist in California, and this is one of the largest! Swamp gums can thrive in wet areas like the edge of this pond and may reach 80 feet tall. However, this tree adapted to our windy coastal habitat and has spread out wide instead of tall.
If you walk the path between the Australian WalkAbout and the South American Tropical Building, you can stand under beautiful mature eucalyptus with their fragrant leaves and peeling bark. These Australian natives take to our climate very easily and their fallen leaves inhibit other plants from growing underneath, so they often grow as a “monoculture,” without other species. Eucalyptus trees soak up large amounts of water and have been used to help drain swampy areas, helping to eliminate mosquito breeding areas.