Plants from Around the World

Seeing plants on Alcatraz catches visitors by surprise. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Seeing plants on Alcatraz catches visitors by surprise. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

 

As visitors arrive on Alcatraz, they are greeted by a Park Service ranger who gives them an orientation to the island. The ranger needs to keep the crowd entertained until the entire boat is empty before they can dispense the vital information of where to get the audio tour and a few words of safety.

 

Each ranger shares different snippets of the island’s history, little teasers to keep people occupied. Having listened to the ‘dock talks’ for more than 6 years now, I’ve heard most of them and to be honest, it’s where I’ve learned most of the more interesting pieces of Alcatraz history.

 

One of my favorite talks is a true or false quiz. The ranger makes a statement, and then gets people to raise their hands if they think it is true or not. One of the questions is ‘True or False – Alcatraz hosts plants from every continent except Antarctica’. There is usually a split amongst the crowd of those that believe it is true, and those that doubt the statement. But, the answer is TRUE!

 

Even before we began to introduce plants

Chasmanthe softening the harshness of the recreation yard. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Chasmanthe softening the harshness of the recreation yard. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

to restore the gardens, the plant survey done in 2005 found that there were more than 200 species of plants still surviving on Alcatraz from the gardening days of the military and the federal prison.

 

 

 

 

 

The range in plants from the different continents is quite surprising – how could plants that are from drastically different parts of the world all survive on a tiny 22 acre island?

 

 

 

This is one of the aspects of the story of gardens that I love – these surviving plants, introduced years ago, could survive on their own because they each found the right microclimate on Alcatraz to make it.

 

 

 

 

Here is a partial list of the surviving plants by continents:

 

North America –  Monterrey cypress, Agave americana, Douglas iris, various ferns

 

South America – Nasturtium, Fuchsia

Fuchsia magellanica that grows on the island. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Fuchsia magellanica that grows on the island. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Nasturtium from South America. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Nasturtium from South America. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

 

Asia –  bearded iris, Fig tree,

 

Europe – Bear’s breeches, perennial sweet pea, periwinkle, ivy

 

Australia – Australian tea tree, New Zealand Christmas tree, Eucalyptus, Cordyline

Periwinkle from Europe. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Periwinkle from Europe. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

 

Africa –  Lily of the Nile, Chasmanthe, Pelargonium, Crocosmia

 

Not only do we have plants from around the world, but we also have visitors from around the world. Again, with the exception of Antarctica.

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