signs in a botanical garden

serenoa(z8b, FL)December 4, 2004

At the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, we are getting ready to develop the first area devoted to plants. I have the opportunity and challenge of coming up with ideas for three or four interpretive signs in this area. The difficulty for me is chosing which of the many potential horticultural and botanical topics are best for this situation. This site will be near the entrance and will be a chance to bring visitors' attention to the plants throughout the zoo. If you had to chose just four plant topics for an audience that is not necessarily interested in plants, what would you do?

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albert_135(Sunset 2 or 3)

When I lived near San Diago I went to the zoo, not to see the critters but to admire the bamboo.

I have never seen many varieties of banana but I would like too, especially the purpleish varieties.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2004 at 11:08AM
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How much info will you have room for on each sign? Are some of the plants unfamiliar Florida or southeast natives? Are some plants used in the animal enclosures for shade, food, climbing, etc.? Can you give us a little more info on the plants?

I always enjoy knowing where plants originated and what uses they have in their native country. Bamboo for instance must have at least 100 uses. Of course some palms produce edible fruit, fronds are used for shelter, etc. (I can envision child-size huts built to show these uses).

What a fun job you have...josh

    Bookmark   December 7, 2004 at 1:36AM
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serenoa(z8b, FL)

Good questions, Josh. The education department will have final say. I expect the final product will be about 50 words written at a 5th grade level. The plants will be a garden assortment of flowering perennials, shrubs and trees. I am looking for broad, basic topics for an audience that probably did not come to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens for the gardens.

In your posting, you mention the broad topics of plants: the uses of plants by people and animals, their geographic origins, and natives vs. exotics in the garden. These are all potential topics. I want to catch the attention of people who are not necessarily interested in plants and give them something meaningful to think about - in just a few simple words.

If you think my approach is wrong, tell me why. At this point, I am open to ideas as long as they are not too costly in time or money.

Success opens more doors. If this works, I expect to be able expand plant education with more gardens, more signs, classes, tours, brochures, etc.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2004 at 7:26PM
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Serenoa, I was just throwing out questions I myself would have about the plants. I imagine most visitors are from out of state, and would wonder about the more tropical trees/shrubs we might see, if they were FL natives, and/or useful to FL wildlife or the Zoo animals. I'm assuming most visitors probably have pets at home, and are generally interested in native/zoo animal welfare, so thought perhaps something along these lines would pique their interest. (I have NO idea how you could do this in a 50-word sign~smile~).


    Bookmark   December 10, 2004 at 4:35AM
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How about something along this line of thinking .. just a very crude idea on my way out the door ...

Welcome to our Zoo and Garden. Take some time to see the plants while you are here. Man has depended on plants for his survival for millions of years. Food .. clothing .. medicine .. building materials .. energy and even space age engineering technology. Wherever he goes Man will always bring his plants with him on earth and beyond.

Good Day ...

    Bookmark   December 10, 2004 at 10:33AM
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The Jacksonville zoo is in a great location. Does the zoo have any of the rarities native to your area? Baystar vine (schisandra glabra), Franklin tree (Franklinia), Florida nutmeg (Torreya taxifolia), etc. If so, perhaps you could use these species to peak interest in plants that are as rare and wonderful as the animals that the zoo showcases?

The Franklin tree has a wonderful story, and the Torreya also with it's potential as a cancer treatment. Just my two cents! Best of luck, let us know how it comes out!

    Bookmark   December 12, 2004 at 11:33AM
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froggy(z4/5 WI)

focus. make sure that you are not confusing the customer or providing little bits of useless material. maybe try to keep just one topic running thru the park, maybe 4 is too many right out of the first year shoot.

an idea comes to mind from fred; medicine plants. all the signs have something to do with medicines.

just bamboos or bananas and how both humans and other animals use each as staples.

anyhow, make sure you dont confuse your clients, K.I.S.S.


    Bookmark   December 13, 2004 at 10:22PM
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serenoa(z8b, FL)

Thank you for the comments.

In response to questions, Schisandra glabra is native further north. I will look into it. I have Franklinia and a source for Torreya. In our immediate area of the Jacksonville metropolitan area, we have few endangered plant species. I'm not complaining.

Regarding 4 signs being too much, we have no plant interpretation in over 90 acres. I'm not going to ask for less. The idea of developing a single theme is not a bad idea for a relatively small area, though. One of the broad concepts suggested earlier could be developed further easily.

Additional thoughts and comments are welcome.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2004 at 6:44PM
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For me, a major theme would be diversity. try to approximate how many different plants you have growing in the park. Maybe Highlight some of the genuses that are most represented. Mention a plant or two that stands alone as a representation of its own genus.

Along those same lines, make people think about plant family relationships. As zoo goers, they probably already wonder how man is related to chimp and chimp to the baboon... get them to extend this curiosity to the plant world. Highlight prehistoric plants and cultivars that were born yesterday. Perhaps you have an albino animal of some type- draw an analogy with some variegated plant. Family thinking should come natural to kids and personalize the plant world a bit. Hyperbole! These banana plants aren't really trees. This bamboo is just a type of grass. That could inspire a looking glass trip of the safe, educational kind. Basically, find ways to relate plants that are seemingly very different and ways to distinguish between plants that are seemingly very similar.

And gender. Kids seem preoccupied with that. Mention how only female hollies have berries, etc. Then twist their brains a little and explain (or mention) how male/female thinking doesn't apply to most plants.

And : ), from the perspective of someone looking out the window as I type at the blowing snowand coming from Northern OH, I would think to a kid in Jacksonville, FL that the 4 seasons must seem as exotic as the Lions, Tigers and Bears. Surely they exist, but perhaps attention could be drawn to them thru the life, bloom and growth cycles of the various plants in the Zoo and Gardens. A sign per season, perhaps?

Lastly, Perhaps a challenge to count or find something plant related as they move thru- the number of a certain type of tree, the location of a plant that smells like (whatever) or has a certain shape or style of leaf. The first step may be just getting them to look at the plants. Academic curiosity would hopefully follow.

Whew! I know that was more of a brainstorm than a tightly focused suggestion, but I hope something of worth will shine thru and inspire. Good Luck!

    Bookmark   December 19, 2004 at 2:37PM
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hoe-hoe-hoe, With your statement "Highlight prehistoric plants", you've reminded me of how fascinating I found Cycads as a beginning gardener (although in my thirties, not a child!). The fact that they go back 300 million years. Food for dinosaurs. So very s-l-o-w growing...maybe estimate age of one on exhibit? The fact that they are toxic yet (Florida?) Indian tribes learned to safely prepare them for food. The endangered status, including those native to Florida. (Is Florida the only state in which they are many species?) Gosh, theree's still a lot I'd like to learn! josh

    Bookmark   December 20, 2004 at 5:28AM
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serenoa(z8b, FL)

Thank you, hoe hoe hoe. I appreciate your brainstorming. They are all good ideas. Diversity is my theme in developing the Zoo's collections. It is a big topic but your idea of comparing numbers is good - maybe the Zoo's plants, species in Florida and in the world.

Your idea of gender is one I had not considered. With plants, it can be more complex than just two sexes but we can start there.

The concept you mention as "prehistoric plants" is a difficult one for me to relate for the general public. Isn't prehistory is everything before the written word? I think that makes all plant species prehistoric. Biologists tell us that the terms "primitive" and "advanced" are not appropriate terms for living plants, either. I have called them plants of an ancient lineage, but that is an awkward statement. Maybe Josh has the right idea about connecting them to dinosaurs or other markers in the fossil record.

By the way, Josh, take a look at the cycad pages at this link - There must be about 300 described cycad species, now. There are some interesting pollination stories here, too. Cycads are great but ferns, mosses and other spore-bearing plants trace their ancestry back even further.

All of these ideas are things I can use as plant interpretation is expanded. For this first set of signs, I am leaning toward the role of plants in the world. I have been thinking of something like: plants as primary producers, the interdependence of plants and animals in pollination, plants and animals in seed dispersal, and some of the many uses of plants by people.

I have a couple of weeks to think about this and am still open to ideas.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2004 at 6:51PM
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GingerBlue(z6 MO)

I think it is important to not have a garden of "pretty" and typical plants. People are used to seeing these everywhere and their eyes will go right past them.

So instead, focus on the weird, fantastic, and unusual plants. Like Century plant (with pictures of bloom) or carnivorous plants. Especially with children, they have a natural fascination with "Ripley's Believe it or Not" type things. Oh, maybe Frankenstein.

Or take something everyone's familiar with and show the diversity of it. Such as show all the different types of banana or pineapple or melon. Showcase all the different types of oak leaves, for instance.

When I had botany years ago I was completely fascinated to learn about plant adaptations. Like a cactus is a stem and spines are modified leaves. An interactive guessing thing...what part of a plant is a cucumber, carrot, poinsettia bracts, etc.

I liked the post about likening albino to variagation. Teach people to see that plants also have "anatomy" and anomalies.

Eventually, when you can expand a bit more, it would be really neat to have a "treasure hunt" game where people have to look for a certain tree or plant throughout the zoo. Maybe at each one you could have a clue that they use to find the next one, or a color on a plaque by the tree that fills in the blank for the next clue. The advantage of this is it keeps their interest longer and they absorb the plant info without even knowing it.

    Bookmark   December 25, 2004 at 1:44AM
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botanybob(Northern Idaho)

Since you have a zoo and gardens, this might be a good place to consider the relationship between plants and animals - how animals use the plants for food, shelter, water; and how the plants defend themselves against the plants; and how the plants use the animals to help them (seed dispersal, nutrient cycling, etc.).

    Bookmark   February 25, 2005 at 7:58PM
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