Out with the old and in with the new! As we say goodbye to winter at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, we begin to welcome spring with open arms. Though the Zoo is filled with over 500 different animal species, guests can also experience over 5,500 plant species within the Zoo!
As an accredited botanical garden, the Zoo is home to a large collection of flora that is native to the United States and various other countries to enhance the Zoo’s landscape. The Zoo’s horticulture team is able to enrich different animals’ habitats with plants that are native to their regions. The Zoo has also partnered with the Oklahoma County Master Gardeners for five years now, who help maintain and learn about the Butterfly Garden, located alongside Zoo Lake.
A first sign of the new budding season is the blooming of the Lenten rose, a member of the buttercup family. The Lenten rose begins its bloom in early January and can continue to bloom throughout Spring. Its popular purple hue can be found throughout the Zoo, alongside another familiar flowering plant, the daffodil! Often yellow or white in color, daffodils are bulbs and will often come back annually—enduring the coldest of winters and hottest of summers with proper care.
Credit: Christopher Hoffman
The budding of the state tree of Oklahoma, the Eastern redbud, is another early indicator of winter going away. This hardy tree species can be recognized by its unique purple-red flowers that form in early March and give way to heart-shaped leaves in late spring. Native to China, the winter jasmine shrub also begins blossoming in late winter. This white-flowered bush is so well known for its early blooming season that its Chinese name, “Yingchun”, translates to “the flower that welcomes spring”. Besides the growing and blooming of plants, a prominent sign of the changing seasons is the annual migration of monarch butterflies. In spring, monarchs begin their journey in Mexico, where they fly North to Canada, laying eggs on milkweed, its only host plant, along its migration path.
Monarch caterpillars rely heavily on milkweed as its only food source. Oklahoma is a major state along the monarch migration highway. Monarchs can travel between 50 and 100 miles per day, taking up to two months to complete their journey. In spring, monarchs will travel up to Southern Canada and Eastern United States, nearly 3,000-miles, migrating back to Mexico in the fall. In 2020, the monarch population dropped 26% from the previous year. This year’s migratory season is especially crucial for the conservation of the monarch population. Luckily, the first monarch was already spotted in Oklahoma on March 7! Soon, monarchs will be seen all throughout Oklahoma. As the Zoo begins to bloom, the Butterfly Garden will soon blossom into a flower-filled habitat for monarchs and other pollinator species. The Butterfly Garden is filled with plants species that provide nutrients and shelter that help supplement the diet and provide shelter for the different pollinator species for various pollinators.
An easy way for Zoo fans to help monarchs and other pollinator is by planting native nectar-plants and milkweed. Both potted patio plants and large green gardens can provide pollinators a much-needed pitstop as they travel through Oklahoma. To learn how to create a monarch oasis in your own backyard, visit http://www.okiesformonarchs.org. Butterfly fans can also help monarch by becoming a citizen scientist and reporting monarch sightings at https://journeynorth.org/monarch.
- Dr. Rebecca Snyder, curator of conservation and science, and Christopher Hoffman, director of botanical gardens