21 Oct 2020

We delve into the depths of the South East Asian jungle, to find out more about the rich biodiversity of Monsoon Forest’s plant life.

With such diverse species living in Monsoon Forest, they all rely on a thriving natural environment to live a happy life. Plants play a huge role in this. Not only do they make you feel like you are exploring the jungles of South East Asia, but they are also vital for its wildlife.

We catch up with Phil Esseen, Curator of Botany and Horticulture at the zoo, about the incredible backstories to the tropical plants inside Monsoon Forest.

What makes Monsoon Forest special?

“Monsoon Forest is an incredible habitat, the planting, temperature, humidity and the birds which fly freely inside, makes you feel like you’re in the jungles of South East Asia. It’s also a great place to educate visitors on the threats a number of species face in the wild. All the plants we have in Monsoon Forest have been brought in especially from specialist nurseries in Holland to create a dense jungle environment.”


What plants can visitors expect to see?

“Some really interesting trees to look out for are coconut palms, mango trees, ylang ylang and starfruit, so lots of plants that people may have heard of. We even have cinnamon trees in Monsoon Forest, a lot of people don’t realise that cinnamon sticks comes from the bark of a tree, which can be found in tropical climates. So we’ve incorporated plants that people actually use lots of in everyday life, and probably don’t realise they were originally sourced from South East Asian jungles.

We also have vanilla, which is actually a type of orchid. It’s a long vining climber, which can be seen in Monsoon Forest. There are dozens of species of vanilla, with some of them commercially grown for consumption.”

Some of the fruiting trees you’ll spot are perfect for the birds too. For example, fig trees are ideal for birds to pick at and eat, when they’re fruiting. Insects that also live on the plants, will be great for the birds too when they’re foraging for food.”

Are there any rare plants that are unique to the zoo?

“Nepenthes are pitcher plants and one of our National Plant Collections, with over 120 species of these at the zoo. As trailing plants, they scramble up rock faces in the wild, and several can be seen around Monsoon Forest. They are actually carnivorous plants, feeding on an array of insects, especially flies, wasps, beetles, and ants. There are also lots of different hybrids of Nepenthes, which are fantastic with vibrant colours and really big pitchers.”

“From a conservation perspective, Nepenthes are super important, and we’ve been working hard behind the scenes growing and expanding our Nepenthes collections. As a result of deforestation, agricultural expansion and illegal collection in the wild, these plants are often lost, posing a major threat to these species.”

Is there anything new in Monsoon Forest that wasn’t there last time?

“We have added an African oil palm plant; these are found in large plantations across South East Asia. This plant is linked to deforestation and habitat loss as a result of them being planted in such large quantities. But a lot of people have never even seen an oil palm in real life, so we thought it would be valuable to show them. We had some sustainable palm oil seeds imported a few years ago from our partners, so we are growing them from seed.

The plants will be constantly managed, as Monson Forest evolves and outgrows. We will be adding in more orchids when we’re able to, which is exciting. Most orchids are actually epiphytes, so they grow on trees rather than in soil, so when you walk around Monsoon Forest, be sure to look up into the trees to spot them.”

Nepenthes Collection

Find out more about our incredible collection of Nepenthes. With over 2,000 carnivorous plants, we have the largest collection in the UK!

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Monsoon Forest

Explore the jungles of South East Asia and discover incredible species, from orangutans to crocodiles. Pack your bags, and start your expedition to the rainforest. 

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