Los Angeles Zoo Botanical Gardens – Los Angeles, California - Atlas Obscura

Los Angeles Zoo Botanical Gardens

The L.A. Zoo has a secret garden of rare bootleg cycads, a palm specimen dating back 280 million years. 


Most zoos have some sort of native botanical landscape that for flora fans can sometimes rival the fauna, the L.A. Zoo is no exception. While the landscape is covered with strange succulents and clumps of Mexican sage, there is something much more exotic planted here, with a much more interesting history.

Away from the expected California wildflowers and blowing grasses, there is a secret garden of rescued plants, ancient gymnosperms called cycads. Kidnapped by poachers from their native homes and smuggled in by nefarious plant dealers, this rare, palm-like specimen dates back to the Permian Period. 280 million years in existence, cycads (which exist in as three families in most warmer parts of the world) can live for a thousand years, and fetch a pretty penny on the black market. A two-year investigation led to an international sting that reclaimed nearly 1,000 cycads, 94 of which were acquired and are now cared for by the L.A. Zoo horticulturist.


Know Before You Go

From Westbound 134: Use far right lane approaching I-5 (Golden State) Freeway. Follow signs indicating 134 (Ventura) Freeway. Exit Zoo Drive, continue past soccer fields, across the bridge to the parking lot. From Eastbound 134: Exit at Victory Blvd. Turn right, then make an immediate left on Zoo Drive. Continue on Zoo Drive to Zoo parking lot on right. From Northbound 5: Use right lane approaching 134 east to Pasadena. Exit at Zoo Drive. Turn right at stop sign and follow street across the bridge to Zoo parking lot. From Southbound 5: Exit at Western Ave. Go west on Western Avenue. Turn left at Victory Blvd., and left onto Zoo Drive. Follow Zoo to Zoo parking lot on right.

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