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The Magical Gardens of Disney
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Brian Bennett

Horticulture at Disney's Animal Kingdom

A Whole New Species of Disney Garden

Horticulture at Disney's Animal Kingdom takes on a whole new role, with plants acting not only as supporting cast, but as stars of the show! Symbolized by the new park's icon, The Tree of Life, members of the plant kingdom participate with the animals in showcasing and celebrating the richness and diversity of life on earth.

Like other Disney gardens, the landscape is an integral part of the themed experience. However, the formal plantings of annuals and neatly trimmed shrubs that are common throughout the Walt Disney World Resort give way here to lush tropical jungles and expansive African vistas. To create these informal or "natural" themes, Disney designers and horticulturists had to take a very different approach to landscape development. Lush foliage, tall and arching over walkways, envelops you with the feeling of that jungle. Orchids and other unusual flowering plants provide splashes of color. Mass plantings of grasses gently sway in the breeze that trips across the African savanna.

In addition to the effects the landscape has on you, our guest, there is the vital role the habitats play in the health and happiness of the animals. Providing a home that resembles their natural habitat is essential to keeping our animal cast happy and exhibiting natural behaviors. Both the material planted in the landscape, as well as cut browse, provide the animals with nutritious food that would be part of their natural diet.

Plantkeepers at Disney's Animal Kingdom have been called upon to provide a very different horticultural function: growing a crop of plants - called browse - to feed animals. In the natural landscape, animals munch of foliage everywhere, sometimes stripping leaves from entire trees! To prevent the plants in our show landscapes from being chewed up, alternative food is provided for our animal cast. A variety of plants are grown backstage so our animals can eat their favorite leaves without destroying the landscape. Examples of plants we are currently growing for browse and the animals that eat them are:

Animals and their Browse Food

  • Elephant – grasses, bamboo and willow
  • Nile Hippo – banana leaves
  • Giraffe and Black Rhinos – acacia leaves
  • Rhino Iguana – hibiscus flowers
  • Tree Kangaroo – willow leaves

The horticultural team's practices are consistent with the conservation message of Disney's Animal Kingdom. The computer controlled irrigation system reduces water use through the use of rain sensors and efficient sprinkler heads. Also, landscape waste such as leaves and small branches are reclaimed through composting, reducing landfill waste.

Disney's Animal Kingdom Fun Facts

  • The park covers just over 500 acres - The African savanna of the Kilimanjaro Safari alone covers 100 acres!
  • About 2.5 million individual grass plants and about 100,000 trees were planted in the creation of the park.
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom has several specialized plant collections:

    • The largest collection of flowering trees in North America.
    • The largest collection of African species outside of Africa.
    • The 3rd largest cycad collection in the United States.
  • 15,000 computer controlled sprinkler heads deliver water to the landscape.
  • Just as the cast members who care for our animal cast are called "Animal Keepers," the Animal Kingdom horticulture cast members are called "Plant Keepers."
  • The Tree of Life is fourteen stories tall (nearly the height of Epcot's Spaceship Earth) and is more than fifty feet wide at it's trunk. Over 100,000 "leaves" and over 325 animal forms carved into the trunk bring this icon to life.

A Whole New Species of Garden Display

The "Salute to Animal Kingdom" display, located at the main entrance to Epcot (at the 1998 International Flower & Garden Festival), is like none other in the world. Various elements work together to create this horticultural snapshot of the African savanna.

The ear tree (Entrerolobium Cyclocarpum) located in the display was discovered growing in the woods here on Disney property! Skilled horticulturists dug the tree and transported it to its' temporary home. Chosen for its' unique form and interesting branch structure, the tree mimics those found in the rolling grasslands of Africa.

Many of the grasses used in the display can be used in home gardens as ornamental plants. Ornamental grasses bring a rustic, natural look to the landscape. Some grasses produce unusual flowers and offer brightly colored foliage with interesting textures. Also, they often require much less water and care than traditional plantings. With sizes ranging from an inch or two high to plants that are taller than people, ornamental grasses are an great alternative to bedding plants or shrubs. Also, they can be used in conjunction with more traditional landscape plants to create truly unique looks. Check your local garden center to see what types of grasses grow well in your area.

The animals of the savanna are represented by six topiary giraffe. The thirteen-foot-tall adults and eight-foot-tall baby giraffe are covered with creeping fig (Ficus Pumila), a plant used on many of the topiary throughout the Walt Disney World Resort.



Garden Tours

Barb's Top 10 Disney Garden Attractions

Brian's Top 10 Disney Garden Attractions

Tips: Right Plant in the Right Place

Tips: Interior Plants

Backyard Habitats

Butterfly Gardening

Bonsai and Penjing

Water Gardening

Flower Gardening

Cutting Gardens

Disney StyleTopiary

Disney Style Horticulture at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Disney Style Hanging Baskets

Disney Style Floating Gardens


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