Monday, March 28, 2011

To the Rainforest and Back in an Hour

Victoria Crowned Pigeon

Winter has made a comeback this week with cold rain and the threat of frosty nighttime temperatures.  Sometime between the second and third loads of the usual ton of Monday morning laundry, I remembered a visit that I never posted about, to the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro a few weeks ago when the weather was similar.

The North Carolina Zoo is slow this time of year -- many of the animal exhibits are closed when the temperatures drop below 45 degrees. But, what I wanted to tell you about is the Aviary.  It is a warm, humid tropical rainforest, even on a day like today, and worth going to the Zoo for all by itself.  In fact, this aviary has been called the only major conservatory between Philadelphia and Atlanta.

There are more than 3000 plants in the Aviary and dozens of birds.  Clove and cinnamon and other economically important plants such as coffee and chocolate grow here.  Sweetly scented ylang-ylang and a multitude of gingers thrive.

Scarlet Ibis

Years ago, my sister and I took my (then) three year old daughter, Emily,  into the Aviary on her first trip to the Zoo.  She was fascinated!  I was surprised, thinking she would prefer elephants and giraffes.  But there is a fantastic array of birds and plants in there and they are up close and easy to see.  The bird in the top photo was about three feet away from me!   (Bonus:  The Aviary doesn't smell bad like the Africa Pavillion -- your child will probably hold her/his nose the whole time in there!)  Emily spent at least an hour matching the birds she could see in the Aviary to the birds in the Zoo's pamphlet about them.

Impressive leaf scars.  These were probably 6" across.

Calathea crotalifera 'Golden Fleece'

Guzmania sp.

Yellow Lobster Claw (Heliconia)

Guaiacum sanctum

Giant Angiopteris fiddlehead

I took in the plants that day (like everyday, everywhere!) and marveled at the sizes of those "houseplants." (Here is The NC Zoo Guide to the Forest Aviary Plants.) In the years since, fig trees and some of the other specimens have attained quite a size, making for an even greater sense of actually being in a rain forest.

If you drive to Chapel Hill or Raleigh from Charlotte, take Highway 49 instead of I-85 and stop in Asheboro.   (It's about halfway in between.)  Take in one of the best botanical gardens in North Carolina.   And while you're at it, see a few hundred animals.