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New Drought-Tolerant Garden Spouts at the Sacramento Zoo

Echeveria gibbiflora x.

The plant life at the Sacramento Zoo offers visitors natural and pleasant scenery to enjoy as they observe animals from around the world. Nestled in the historic Land Park, both native and non-native plant species can be found throughout the Zoo’s 14-acre grounds.

A team works together to maintain the grounds and also to grow browse (non-toxic plants) for the animals to eat. Describing how plants add to visitor experience, Horticulturist Michaele Bergera states, “There’s a peaceful retreat feeling when you’re here and it adds to the park setting with shade and beautiful things to look at.”

Michaele Bergera, Horticulturist, Sacramento Zoo
Michaele Bergera, Horticulturist, Sacramento Zoo

It was the plant life at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago that inspired Bergera’s career. During her visit in Chicago, it was the plants, rather than the animals, that commanded her attention.

Though she had a BA in English from Humboldt State University, Bergera pursed her renewed passion for plants and began working toward an associate’s degree in science in horticulture at Cosumnes River College. As part of the curriculum, she had to intern for 240 hours. She had a connection at the Zoo and was a welcomed volunteer. Shortly after, Bergera was hired full-time and has been thriving since. “Everything worked out. I got inspired at a zoo and now I get to work at one.”

In the midst of California’s drought, an area in the Zoo needed attention as it has had trouble growing due to old irrigation pipes and mature trees. Bergera decided to make a drought-tolerant succulent garden. “Last November, Gerhard Bock blogger of Succulents and More came to the Zoo. “He represented the fall foliage beautifully but mentioned he didn’t see any succulents, and this got me thinking.”

Michaele and Gerhard Discussing the Creation of a Succulent Garden
Michaele and Gerhard Discussing the Creation of a Succulent Garden

After gathering information and requesting recommendations from Bock, a succulent garden has been planted. It’s located across from the Snow Leopard exhibit and will serve as an entrance path to the Small Wonders of Africa exhibit that is currently under construction for a mid-summer debut. The goal is to xeroscape the garden, a technique where plants receive all of their water from natural moisture without supplemental watering.

Succulent Plants: Euphorbia tirucalli (Pencil Plant), Aloe 'Crosby's Prolific', Echeveria gibbiflora x (flower shapped) and the Crassula corymbulosa (Red Pagoda)
Succulent Plants: Euphorbia tirucalli (Pencil Plant), Aloe ‘Crosby’s Prolific’, Echeveria gibbiflora x (flower shaped) and the Crassula corymbulosa (Red Pagoda)

Bergera shares, “People can see how our caring for the landscape is a continuation of the care we give the animals.” Grounds maintenance continues to make the most of the available space while conserving water and keeping the animal’s interests first. Perhaps next time you visit, you’ll take a moment to stop and smell the roses.

Fun Facts*:  All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.

  • Succulents are plants with cells in parts of their body that retain water.  Some plants have these cells in their roots; others have them in their stems.
  • What define true cacti are areoles. Areoles are small, fluffy, cotton like lumps on the body of the cactusare where spines, glochids, branches and flowers may sprout from. All cacti have them, while succulents do not.
  • Still some cacti don’t have spikes or spines while a succulent may. This creates a challenge for people to properly identify the plants.

*Information gathered from the FicklePrickles.com

New Drought-Tolerant Garden Spouts at the Sacramento Zoo via @sacramentopress

About the author

April Mae Saenz Johnson

April Mae Saenz Johnson

On a daily basis, I see animals from all over the world in one special place: the Sacramento Zoo. I am happy to share inside info, fun facts and photographs of the zoo's animals, staff and events.

In my personal life, I enjoy the sleepy, gross and amazing moments of motherhood, time with my husband and our labradoodle, with a bit of traveling, yoga and volunteering on the Leadership Team for Social Media Club Sacramento.

I am embarking on a new adventure as co-founder of Aging UP, a nonprofit empowering youth with experience in foster care to successfully transition into adulthood.

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