At the end of a long uphill trek, a fantasy garden erupts from the arid hillside. To a Midwesterner accustomed to touchable cultivars, these plants were alien creatures extending aggressive protuberances with threatening spines. But they’re only displaying their perfect adaptation to the dry, Mediterranean climate – awesome plants in the truest sense of the word. This is a straight-out-of-camera photo — the colors were truly that brilliant.
I am quite ignorant of the correct botanical names for these species — cactus, aloe, and succulent is the extent of my knowledge of here, and even those I’m only guessing. My impression was that the gardens included both native and exotic plants, with many species from South Africa and the coastal Mediterranean region with a similar climate.
Cryptobiotic soil crust in action! At first glance, the soil throughout this garden looks like a sandy wasteland, but a closer examination reveals tiny plants and lichens clinging to a miniature landscape. Tiny black “cliffs” of cyanobacteria filaments form an intricate network on the surface, holding soil in place, fixing nitrogen and carbon for plant uptake, and increasing water absorption during infrequent rains. These vital but delicate parts of the ecosystem are easily damaged by trampling hooves or feet and vehicle traffic. Due to their slow growth rate, damaged crusts may never recover from grazing and recreational uses, leading to lifeless sand dunes. For more see: Cryptobiotic Soils: Holding the Place in Place
I enjoyed Dr. Seuss books as a small child, but never realized that the fanciful illustrations were based on genuine plants until my first visit to San Diego in 2006. I expected to see palm trees and cacti, the standard backdrops of TV and films, but had no idea of the diverse beauty of the chaparral. There is no such thing as “just a desert” in nature — it’s an amazing ecosystem of evolutionary marvels.
I feel ambivalent about wild animals in captivity. I understand the argument that people need to encounter these animals on some level in order to care about them, and that modern facilities are vastly superior (if funds are available, of course…) to what I remember as a child. But one can argue that the public can get a more authentic and less expensive view of wildlife in its natural habitat through 3-D IMAX theaters. Wouldn’t it be preferable to invest in preserving the species in its native habitat, benefiting its own local/regional/continental economy, rather than recreating limited imitations primarily for public entertainment? I appreciate that modern zoos and animal parks contribute to research and breeding programs for many species, and that funds from visitors fuel this work, but if the original habitats disappear altogether, what’s the point? It’s a difficult issue, compounded by the fact that for better or worse, fascinated animal watching is part of our cultural and genetic heritage. As a society we are making progress by criminalizing cruelty and addressing exploitation, but we have a long way to go. So I hope that my membership dollars will contribute to the big picture while we enjoy the day observing these amazing creatures.
An extraordinary creature, giraffes are threatened by habitat loss and poaching.
Following the megafauna K-strategy of slow reproduction rates, high maternal investment, and longevity, elephants face their greatest threats from human over-exploitation.
Designed to be less obtrusive on the habitat areas, the tram in the background replaces the old monorail system.
The gene pool of cheetahs is drastically restricted in the wild — captive animals represent an important reserve.
Finally, a Flamboyance of Flamingos…