Lions, Tigers & Bears . . . Oh My!

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I live in a botanical garden, not a zoo. Lion's earHowever, I am not surprised that some people think about animals when they are here. Walking around the garden there is a veritable menagerie of plants with animal names. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

Visitors on safari outside the education offices will spot Lion’s ears (Leonotis leonurus) in abundance. This South African native is in full bloom both in the Sensory Garden and the Hummingbird Garden which flank either side of the education building. Tawny tubular flowers spray forth from stalks growing four and five feet tall. Fringing on the upper lip gives the appearance of hairs growing from a lion’s ear. It is not hard to imagine how this plant got its name.

Not far from the lion’s ears iTiger jawsn the Hummingbird garden is a display of succulents on the education terrace. Several of these have animal names, including zebra plant, ox tongue, panda plant and tiger jaws (Faucaria tigrina). This last is a small mat-forming succulent with a ferocious look. The short stout leaves grow in nesting pairs with each leaf featuring 9-10 spines bent towards the partnering leaf. The effect is the appearance of a mouth featuring fearsome fangs. Clearly it is a tiger you don’t want to tangle with.

Bear's-paw fern To find a bear, we need to head to the woods. The Fern Glade is just the spot. Surrounding the bench near the small wooden bridge at the entrance of the glade are several pots of ferns, including two tall Australian tree ferns and several bear’s-paw ferns (Aglaomorpha meyeniana). Native to the Philippines, this is usually grown as a houseplant, but our gardeners are letting it get a little air while the weather is still warm. This fern is epiphytic, meaning it will grow on other plants without actually being a parasite. At first glance the casual visitor may not see why it gets its name. The large, deeply lobed leaves don’t look anything like a bear’s paw. But look a little closer at the base of each leaf. They sprout from rhizomes growing along the surface (and in some cases over the edge) of the pot. The rhizomes are covered in slender rust-colored scales that give the appearance of fur. As they grow larger, the idea of a bear’s paw is pretty easy to envision.

Bear's Paw Fern rhizome


Finally, there is yours truly – the humble dandelion. The French sometimes call me dent-de-lion,  which means “lion’s tooth.” This is Dandy Lionfrom the fact that my leaves may look like lion’s teeth to some people. From the French word, you can see how the English derived my name. In actuality I don’t think my leaves are all that fearsome looking. The only people who might be scared of them are the gardeners.

So come see the animals/plants. Don’t wait too long though. As the weather cools, the tiger jaws will head back to the jungles of our greenhouse and bear’s-paw fern will hibernate indoors. Us lions will stay outdoors through the winter, however. And you never know what other interesting plants you will find with animal names.