In 2005 this exhibit was awarded Exhibit of the Year by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and its really no wonder. From the minute you enter this replica of a Latin American town, you already feel like you've stepped into another country!
Sure, as expected, the food prices are steep. It's worth the sacrifice though, just so you can eat under the palm trees or inside with the air conditioning, where you can look directly into the Jaguar exhibit.
The jaguars, river otters, and nutrias are remarkable in themselves, but the brilliant environmental design and plantings are what make it all convincing. To give the illusion of age, the town's walls were painted in layers over cracks, and different layers were allowed to show through the outer coat. Stone walls are laid at a steep angle much like Mayan walls, and succulents like aloe and dyckia are allowed to grow in the cracks and ramble over the edge to soften the harsh edges.
To add to the convincing hardscaping and ornament, the plants chosen were mostly Latin American as well. If you want to see the northernmost Jacaranda tree, this is probably your best bet. Underneath the canopy of palms, exotic and native trees, you'll find lush plantings of tropical flowering shrubs, gingers, bromeliads and palms.
Flowering shrubs from the Americas like Dwarf Poinciana (caesalpinia) and Powderpuff (calliandra) create bursts of color along the intentionally slapdash looking wooden edging, and reasonably cold hardy feather palm trees such as chamaedorea microspadix and seashore palm provide a lush backdrop.
The cold tolerant bromeliads that they took advantage of include aechmea gamosepala, aechmea distichantha, billbergias, neoregelias, a bunch of dyckias, and several different forms of each species as well. Bromeliads are some of the best plants to incorporate into a Latin American theme garden, since they hail almost exclusively from the Americas.
Under a Sycamore tree you'll find a scarlet macaw alongside a scarlet ball of hanging neoregelias. This is a great idea that you can incorporate in your garden, and these prolific puppers will create a sizable clump in no time!
The crown jewel of The Range of the Jaguar is the jaguar. However, this huge mayan temple really steals the show from those sleepy big cats! Trees, shrubs and succulents are grown on each of the terraces to really create the look of a ruined temple, covered with centuries of jungle growth. Ornamental details take on the guise of abandoned archaeologist's equipment like wooden supports, mining lamps, and even that dyckia suspended from a crane that I shared in the last post!
Even if you can't make the trip, I hope you found some great ideas that you can implement in your own garden and be sure to share your own ideas in the comments too. Also, be sure to check out my guest post on vertical gardening over at Life on the Balcony!
For more inspiration...