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Plants: Gardens: Fern Canyon

Look carefully on the right side of the San Diego Zoo's Flamingo Lagoon and you'll see a shady path just beyond the bus loading area. Look for the inviting shade on your right and follow the steps down into Fern Canyon, a peaceful rain forest refuge that's perfect for a meandering stroll.


In upper Fern Canyon, be sure to look in the treetops to see bromeliads, orchids, and staghorns in the branches. As you follow the pathway down, you'll be surrounded by lush green ferns of all sizes under a lacy canopy of purple-flowering jacarandas. Intertwined giant Burmese honeysuckle and Easter lily vines, Formosa palms, and other magnificent flora grow near the path and on the banks of the canyon's winding stream. Near the end of the pathway, you'll see one of the largest red ball trees Dombeya cacuminum in the continental United States.


As you might guess from its name, Fern Canyon is a fern fancier's paradise, with ferns ranging from small sword ferns to 40-foot (12-meter)high tree ferns. Some of the first plants to evolve, ferns reproduce with spores rather than seeds (flowering plants came along much later in plant evolution). When you meander down Fern Canyon's lovely path, shaded by giant, primeval-looking tree ferns, you can imagine that you've gone back to the era of dinosaurs and carboniferous swamps. Hardy and adaptable, fern species have propagated almost everywhere since those prehistoric times, even in the Arctic!


During springtime and summer, Fern Canyon displays a sublime canopy of purple and yellow lace with red highlights, thanks to the blooming of its yellow Schizolobium parahybum and purple jacaranda trees Jacaranda mimosifolia, and the Australian flame trees Brachychiton acerifolius out front.