Horticulture and Grounds
Horticulture and Grounds
Did you know that the Oklahoma City Zoo is also an American Association of Museums-accredited botanical garden? Only seven other zoos hold that distinction. The Horticulture and Grounds team works diligently to keep our grounds looking beautiful, from mowing the grass and landscaping new habitats to planting exotic flowers, trees and bushes from around the world! Whether it is 100 degrees outside or 25 degrees, you will find this Zoo crew braving the elements! Below, Horticulture Curator Pearl Pearson talks about her team, their responsibilities and life on the "green" side.
Name: Pearl Pearson
Title: Horticulture Curator
Tenure at the OKC Zoo: 30 years
Residence: Oklahoma City
1. How many members of your team are there?
One curator of the plant collection, eight gardeners and four grounds keepers
2. Why is your job important, both to you and in general?
Zoos are an important addition to any city in regards to adding something special and personal to anyone who visits them and I like being a part of that. Over the years as I’ve learned about all the partnerships zoos have with conservation and educational organizations, not only with animals but with plants and with conserving endangered habitats, it’s truly amazing what they have accomplished.
3. What is the most challenging part of your job?
There are a lot of challenges but most are good learning experiences when it comes to exhibiting plants that can be prolific and beautiful as well as tell an educational story. The most challenging however, as I’m sure everyone this summer would agree, is the Oklahoma weather and how unpredictable it is. Staying ahead of the storms, heat, drought, cold, snow, ice and winds have been the toughest and most challenging part of the job.
4. What kind of jobs do the members of your team do on a daily basis?
Every day we have something different to do. In the summer we work on keeping lawns, gardens and trees healthy, and with the summer we are experiencing that has been quite a chore. We also help the animal areas with their needs, plants, pests, mowing, erosion control, irrigation etc. In the winter we can do a lot of tree work and animal and garden area restorations. We also have two large greenhouses and grow in-house a lot of the plant material we put out every spring for the public to enjoy. The horticulturists also maintain a beautiful compost pile with lots of good additions from the Zoo’s herbivores and a small browse garden full of tasty organically grown vegetables and plants, like banana and sugar cane, for the animal keepers to use in their enrichment programs.
5. What is your favorite Zoo memory from when you were young?
As a little girl who grew up in Oklahoma City, I always enjoyed riding the small train that ran along the lakeshore. I also enjoyed just running wild, like a kid does, through the park (I’d be telling myself to slow down now if I saw me doing that).
I began working as a Horticulture Supervisor at the Zoo in December 1980. In 1989, I was promoted to Horticulture Curator, in charge of managing the Zoo’s extensive plant collection and a staff of horticulturalists who work constantly to keep the Zoo’s botanical areas beautiful and well-maintained. I also coordinate research, design and interpretation of the Zoo’s plant collection for educational, research and conservation needs and contribute to designs of new projects and exhibits. I was also instrumental in helping the Zoo attain its American Association of Museums accreditation as both a living museum and a botanical garden in 1998. Only seven other zoos have this distinction.
I am a Professional Fellow of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and a professional member and past Conservation Chair of the Association of Zoological Horticulture. I live in Oklahoma City with my husband, Eric and have a daughter, Jamie.