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In mid-March, staff from Woodland Park Zoo came by the Arboretum to pick up a big load of fresh sword fern trimmings, which will be used to feed their gorillas and other animals. It’s the first of many pick-ups to come and is part of a new partnership, which will see the Arboretum gardeners provide a year-round source of browse for the zoo’s resident fauna.

Credit for the idea goes to the Zoo’s curation team and Arboretum Foundation Executive Director Jane Stonecipher, who served as vice president of business development and finance at the Zoo from 2011 to 2016.

“The Arboretum and Woodland Park Zoo have many shared connections,” said Jane. “For instance, Dave Towne, former Zoo director, served many years on the Arboretum and Botanical Garden Committee. David Selk, the Zoo’s horticulture manager, volunteers as a docent for the Arboretum’s display garden at the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival!”

Recently, Jane, UW Botanic Gardens horticulture manager David Zuckerman, and Seattle Parks and Recreation gardener Karen Stener toured the zoo’s browse program facilities and met with program staff.

“We got to see giraffes and rhinos chewing away on the browse,” said David. “A lot of animals enjoy it, and it’s not just fern fronds. The zoo’s approved browse list features about 50 species and genera of plants, including strawberry tree, tulip tree, camellia, Douglas fir, and Himalayan blackberry. And it’s not just for eating: Larger plant material helps facilitate foraging behavior and provides habitat for the herbivores.”

The Arboretum can potentially provide quite a lot of browse to the zoo, continues David, because gardeners have pruning rotations for the plant collections.

“In general,” he says, “we prune trees and shrubs in the summer and fall for size control. Clearance of trails and view corridors are done at this time. In winter and spring, we do renovation pruning of shrubs to invigorate growth. Some prunings—such as those of sword ferns in high visibility areas—are mainly aesthetic, though we’re actually thinking of changing our approach to ferns, having learned that they can provide habitat for ground-nesting birds and salamanders. Of course, when we found out that blackberry was on the list, we were thrilled. We can provide the Zoo with all the blackberry they need!”

The Arboretum doesn’t compost its clippings on site anymore. As with homeowners, the City collects the greens and delivers them to Cedar Grove, where there are eventually composted. However, since the trip to the Zoo is shorter, the browse program can help the Arboretum reduce its carbon footprint.

Right now the browse collection and storage at the Arboretum is pretty bare bones.

“We decided to start out slowly at first, putting browse on tarps in Parking Lot 10,” said David. “Hopefully, the Zoo staff will be able to make at least one run a week to pick it up. However, there may be an opportunity to really get the program going if interested donors were to provide funding to improve our corps yard area, including the purchase of a new bin to house the browse.”

If you’re interested in donating to support the new Arboretum-Zoo partnership, please email us at info@arboretumfoundation.org.

Banner photo: Courtesy Dennis Connor/Woodland Park Zoo.

Fern photo: Courtesy David Zuckerman