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About the Collection

As an officially accredited  public garden through the American Association of Museums and as a member of the American Public Garden Association, the Botanical Garden is charged with maintaining detailed records of its plant collection.

The collection is extensive. At present we maintain over 3500 species and selections of trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, grasses and bamboo. Many plants in our collection are exceedingly rare in gardens. Unfortunately, some are extinct or on the brink of extinction  in the wild.

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Come Grow With Us!

Our Zoo’s Best lists are concise lists of the very best plants based both on our Plant Trials Program and our Plant Evaluations. These plants will be the cream of the crop for regional use of each class of plants.

Left on its own, our region would become almost entirely forest in fairly short order. Trees are the native plants for Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky. Correctly chosen trees can be expected to grow, bring beauty, and provide the greatest ecological benefit with the least amount of input.

We are very fortunate that the Zoo has maintained a longtime commitment to trees. Numerous iconic old trees grace the grounds, including catalpas, bald cypress, the Centroid Oak, and many, many more. We plant many new trees every year.

Grasses offer much to gardens and landscapes—color, texture, movement, and more. They are excellent forage and habitat for a wide range of wildlife, and play a huge role in conservation and storm water management.

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens has been a proponent of using grasses in the landscape for many, many years, and we have acquired an extensive collection of good garden grasses and quite a bit of experience. By staying abreast of new varieties, we have an excellent understanding on the best grasses for regional gardens. Recently, we have developed a protocol for monthly evaluations of grasses for performance and appearance. This system gives results weighted for seasonal interest, which takes into account the importance many grasses play in the landscape through all four seasons. Our Zoo’s Best Grasses List is a great tool for choosing the perfect grasses for area gardens.

Shrubs give structure, order, and meaning to garden beds. Without them herbaceous plants can seem adrift, and there is no transition from tall trees to smaller plants. Good placement of the right shrubs creates natural spaces for perennials, grasses, and annuals to naturally be, they create a second tier of canopy below large trees, and they provide their own beauty. Additionally, they are an important provider of food and habitat for insects, birds, and other wildlife.

Our extensive collection of shrubs, over a century in the making, has provided the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden with an excellent base of plants to evaluate. Further, we maintain a keen eye on the marketplace for new introductions and use as many of the expected best performers as we can.

Vines are an often overlooked group of garden plants. However, they can be used for a large number of purposes, and they often offer unique aesthetic and ecological benefits. But, perhaps in no other type of plant is there a finer line between an important biologically integral species and a belligerent weed! Choosing the right vine is tricky and very important. Our Zoo’s Best Vines is be a great list from which to launch into this intriguing and wonderful family of plants.

Of course a zoo is a natural place to grow many types of bamboo, and over the years we have amassed an extensive collection. Bamboo is great for barriers, habitats, and forage, and it gives our animal exhibits an exotic ambiance. Greatly variable in sizes, textures, and colors, bamboo can add a lot of beauty to a garden. Often shunned for its aggressive, spreading tendencies, we feel that bamboo can play a huge role in sustainability when sited properly. Almost invariably, this means it must be contained. However, if controlled, bamboo will effectively and beautifully colonize otherwise extremely difficult pieces of land, including such areas as parking lot islands, waste areas, roadsides, and medians, while requiring virtually no inputs.
Every garden is improved through the deft usage of perennials. They add color, texture, and form, and many are a great benefit for wildlife. A big problem in recent years has been the introduction of hundreds of untested perennials into the marketplace, many of which have little or no staying power. We believe that a perennial should reliably return year after year. It must have vigor. Our perennials trials are conducted over a three year cycle. Only after three full years of survival in the garden will we actually rate the plant for performance and aesthetics.

Perennials are trialed throughout the grounds. They are grown in real garden situations, similar to conditions home gardeners typically provide. We amend our soil with organic matter, keep things lightly mulched, and irrigate as necessary. Our soil is heavy clay of neutral to high pH. Our climate is continental and can be depended on for continuous extremes of temperature and precipitation in every season.

Annuals are a fun, easy way to add color and flower power to the garden, and they offer a way to easily change things around in the garden every year. Find out more about annuals here:

How Can I Help?

To support the zoo’s horticultural mission by donating plants, money, or time, please contact us at horticulture@cincinnatizoo.org.