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Landscaping the World - Disney's Animal Kingdom

Jack Spence Masthead


Disney's Animal Kingdom is the largest of all the Disney parks around the world. And since the theme of this park is animals and nature, it also contains the most growth. A staggering amount of growth. On opening day, over four million plants, big and small, had been added to the landscaping here. Africa alone included 70,000 trees and 770,000 bushes.


Planting Trees


Since the Imagineers wanted the park to look fully established on opening day (April 22, 1998), the landscapers began planting the land over two years in advance. To help in the process, they imported fully grown trees from around the world and used accelerators in their on-property tree farm to vastly speed up a sapling's growth.

Just like at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, a berm was constructed around portions of the park to hide the real world from the one they were creating for guests. And not only would these berms act as a barrier, they would also be a place where additional plants and trees could be grown and "stored" if needed to replace a dying species somewhere in the park at a later date.

This next picture shows the berm as seen from the parking lot. Behind this pile of dirt and dense growth lies Dinoland U.S.A. But you'd never know it from this angle.


Berm


When exiting the parking lot tram, guests pass between four planters filled with bushes and palm trees. Not only are these planters attractive, they also serve to direct passengers away from the walkway Disney bus guests are using. This creates a more uniform traffic flow.


Tram Planters

Tram Planters


When viewed from above, the pavement coloration found in the entrance plaza creates a large tree.


Pavement Tree

Pavement Tree


The Rain Forest Café marquee was designed not only to display the restaurant's name, but at the same time act as a fountain and planter. Although not obvious in this picture, water is flowing from the letters.


Rain Forest Café


I've mentioned in past articles that once the Rainforest Café had vast waterfalls cascading from its roof. Unfortunately, the landscaping grew and grew until this view was completely obscured. Today, scaled backed falls have been created on the side of the building.


Rain Forest Waterfall


Near the back entrance to this restaurant is a miniature rainforest complete with playful animal recreations and some giant toadstools.


Rain Forest Garden

Rain Forest Garden


The Oasis is that area located between the Animal Kingdom turnstiles and the bridge that spans Discovery River on the way to Discovery Island. The Oasis is equivalent to Main Street at the Magic Kingdom. It was the Imagineers intention that this area be used as a decompression spot - an area where guests could transition between the real world and the world of nature and animals.

The Oasis recreates a lush tropical jungle. The only open spaces you'll find here are the pathways that lead guests deeper into the park. Greenery surrounds you at every turn. Yet, there is nothing here that stands out and grabs your attention with the exception of epiphytes.

And epiphyte is a plant that requires no soil to grow. Instead, it attaches itself to other plants but is non-parasitical. It derives its nutrients from the air, rain, and accumulating debris near its base. If you look up into the trees and rocks of the Oasis, you'll see a number of these unique plants. (In some cases, Disney has helped the process along.)


Hanging Plants

Hanging Plants

Hanging Plants

Hanging Plants


Discovery Island at the Animal Kingdom acts like The Hub at the Magic Kingdom. It ties all of the outlying lands together in a harmonious manor. But rather than depict a real geographic location, Discovery Island uses humorous, almost cartoon-like representations of animals to create a whimsical locale that does not conflict with the other areas of the park. One example of this can be seen on the clay pots that act as planters.


Clay Pots

Clay Pots

Clay Pots


Flame Tree Barbeque offers a good example of how the Imagineers don't always get things right the first time around. In the first picture below, you can see a large area of growth surrounding the restaurants marquee. In the second picture you can see this has been scaled back greatly to offer better pedestrian traffic flow.


Flame Tree Barbeque

Flame Tree Barbeque


One of the most beautiful gardens in all of Walt Disney World can be found in the dining area of Flame Tree Barbeque. Here, water, trees, sculpture, and plants combine to create a peaceful atmosphere that has the capacity to calm the most ruffled guests.


Flame Tree Barbeque Reflecting Pool

Flame Tree Barbeque Reflecting Pool


But what I found interesting about this garden is that it uses several potted plants to complete the picture. If I had been designing this park-like setting, I would have made everything look as if it was naturally growing from the earth. Yet these terracotta pots fit right in. In fact, they add a new layer of detail.


Flame Tree Barbeque Reflecting Pool


On several occasions, I have overheard young children ask their parents if the Tree of Life is real. In each case, the parents held back their amusement and patiently explain to their child that the tree was created by Disney. But the question does speak volumes. It shows that the Imagineers created something that looks real when viewed with emotion and without logic.

Notice in this next picture how the landscapers have framed the Tree of Life with real growth. This helps add to the illusion that this is a real tree.


Tree of Life

Around the Tree of Life are the Discovery Island Trails. These take guests on journeys past animals and through dense growth. When walking through some of these overgrown areas, a person's imagination can run wild.


Tree of Life


You might think that the landscaping over at Dinoland U.S.A. would try to recreate the humid tropics in which dinosaurs lived. But for the most part, that's not the case. The backstory for this land tells us that dinosaur bones were discovered near a hunting lodge that was nestled in a forest. To help with this story, a number of deciduous trees can be found around this building.


Dinoland U.S.A.

Dinoland U.S.A.


Years later when time travel was invented and the Dino Institute was established, the developers of this endeavor supplemented the adjacent forest with tropical plants. They wanted to create a primeval world that would appear suitable for dinosaurs. Then they placed recreations of these prehistoric beasts around the property to help promote the Institute and attract tourists.


Dino Institute

Dino Institute

Dino Institute

Dino Institute


Take a look at the Dino Institute's entrance. Sago Palms have been placed atop the monoliths.


Sago Palms

Sago Palms


It's interesting to note, the Sago Palm is not a palm but a cycad. Fossils of this plant have been found around the world and have evolved little since the days of the dinosaurs.

Over at Chester & Hester's Dino-Rama, license plates have been used to create containers for shrubs and spell out the amusement park's name.


Dino-Rama, license plates

Dino-Rama, license plates


At the old gas station, an abundance of discarded tires have been put to good horticultural use.


Tire Planters

Tire Planters


And shrubs and trees help us believe we're actually on Diggs County Road 498.


Diggs County Road 498

Diggs County Road 498


The Theater in the Wild building is big and ugly. Once again, the landscapers have used plants to help hide this structure. In addition, they added a plant motif to the walls.


Theater in the Wild

Theater in the Wild

Theater in the Wild


Asia represents two distinct areas. The first of these is the wet and tropical village of Anandapur. The backstory tells of the Chakranadi (CHAWK-rah-nah-dee) River that is born from the snowmelts in the Himalayas. Its nurturing waters soon reach warmer regions where it feeds the dense jungle. Unrestrained growth is everywhere in Anandapur. What civilization there is in this area needed to be carved out of this jungle growth. Even now, it is a constant battle for the townsfolk to restrain this constant intrusion.

The first example of the ever-infringing jungle can be seen at this ancient idol. Here, a seed found a crack in the stone and began to set down roots. Then another and another. In no time at all, trees sprang forth and the structure began to crumble.


Crumbling Shrine


Over at the Flights of Wonder show we see how the jungle is reclaiming this stone structure.


Flights of Wonder


And in the floodwaters of the Chakranadi River, another tree is wreaking havoc on a temple.


Crumbling Shrine


Along the Maharaja Jungle Trek, the thick growth continues. Take a look at this tree trunk located near the Komodo Dragon. It looks centuries old.


Maharaja Jungle Trek Tree


From this tree, we walk along a thickly forested walkway. It takes no imagination at all to believe you are deep in the heartland of tropical Asia. Even the rocks are being consumed by encroaching greenery.


Maharaja Jungle Trek Walkway

Maharaja Jungle Trek Walkway


As this area was once the private hunting preserve of King Bhima Disampati, it was designed in a fashion befitting of royalty. This even included the landscaping. Take a look at how these once manicured gardens have fallen into disarray. Notice how the stone borders have begun to misalign and shift over the years.


Asian Garden


The blackbuck antelope grazes on a grassy knoll. Here, the Imagineers have tried to trick us into believing that this meadowland goes on forever. But in reality, just beyond the crest of this hill are barriers that keep these animals carefully cordoned off from their nearby tiger predators.


Asian Grassland


Expedition Everest provides tours through the Himalaya Mountains. Guests wishing to explore these mighty peaks charter excursions near the base of this massive chain. In this area, the climate is much dryer than that found at Anandapur. Although trees are present, most of the plants grow low to the ground in an effort to conserve what precious water they receive each year.


Dry Landscaping

Dry Landscaping

Dry Landscaping

Dry Landscaping


Tea is the primary beverage consumed by the people of Asia. So it is no wonder that it can be seen growing in a number of areas around Expedition Everest.


Tea

Tea

Tea


Bamboo is another plant that grows in abundance in Asia. Here at the Animal Kingdom, the landscapers plant this member of the grass family in sturdy containers. If they didn't, it would take over and grow unchecked. Notice in this next picture how the bamboo is growing in clumps. This would not happen in nature.


Bamboo


The walkway that connects Asia with Africa traverses a lush jungle. Along the way you just might run into Devine, the four-legged walking plant.


Asia Africa Walkway

Devine


Harambe is a port town located somewhere on the east coast of Africa. For the most part, the climate is hot with seasonal rains. Although plant life is abundant here, it isn't so thick that the town is fighting continual encroachment as the citizens of Anandapur must endure. If fact, the people of Harambe have used shrubs and trees in planters and gardens to help spruce up their town.


Harambe Landscaping

Harambe Landscaping

Harambe Landscaping


In Harambe we find a Kigelia (or sausage) tree. Today, the tree is primarily grown for ornamental purposes, but the fruit does have its uses. Although the fruit's liquid is poisonous, the flesh can be turned into an alcoholic beverage similar to beer. The gourds are also used by the locals to make herbal medicines that are believed to cure snakebites, syphilis, and rheumatism, among other things.


Kigelia (or sausage) tree

Kigelia (or sausage) tree


Kilimanjaro Safaris first travels through a lush jungle. Here, the plant life creates a canopy of growth that shades much of the roadway. After viewing black rhinos, crocodiles, bongos, and hippopotamuses, we burst out into the savanna where vast grasslands sustain wildebeests, antelope, giraffes, and ankole cattle.


Kilimanjaro Safaris

Kilimanjaro Safaris

Kilimanjaro Safaris

Kilimanjaro Safaris

Kilimanjaro Safaris

Kilimanjaro Safaris


When designing Kilimanjaro Safaris, the Imagineers knew that they could never grow enough plants, trees, and bushes to sustain the animals. Yet, they wanted the area to look natural. To that end, they hid many food troughs behind fake rocks so guests couldn't see these feeding areas. In addition, plants in containers are deposited each night in pre-dug holes. During the day, the animals can munch to their heart's delight, then at night, these spent plants are simply picked up, container and all, and replaced with a new container. This procedure is invisible to the guests and greatly simplifies the landscaper's job.

Several baobab trees can be seen in Harambe and out on the Kilimanjaro Safaris. These trees only bear leaves three months out of the year and the trunks contain vast amounts of water to sustain them during dry periods and droughts. A baobab tree can easily live to be over a thousand years old.


baobab tree

baobab tree


The baobab tree has many uses. The fruit contains three times the vitamin C of an orange, fifty percent more calcium than spinach, and is high in antioxidants. The leaves can be used to make a relish and a sauce or powdered to create a spice. And cooking oil can be extracted from the seeds.

Spoiler alert next two paragraphs:

For those of you who visit often, have you ever noticed that you never seem to call during the three months of the year when baobab trees are sprouting leaves? Well, there is a reason for this. None of the baobab trees you see in the Animal Kingdom are real. As I mentioned earlier, this species can easily live to be over a thousand years old. The trees depicted in Harambe are huge and would be hundreds of years old if real. And since the baobab tree is not native to Florida, Disney had to create reproductions out of concrete and wire. If you look closely at the upper branches, you can see they are actually rebar. Note: There a few real sapling baobab trees in Harambe, but the big ones are fake.


baobab tree


By the way, the termite mounds seen on Kilimanjaro Safaris are not real either. However, the ostrich eggs are authentic. They're just not going to hatch anytime soon as they have been filled with a non-organic material to give them longevity.


Termite Mound

Ostrich Egg

Ostrich Egg


At the end of the safari, we are returned to the jungles of Africa where we can survey the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. Once again, the landscaping in this part of the park is lush and verdant.


Pangani Forest Exploration Trail

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail


When it comes to Rafiki's Planet Watch, the landscaping is unremarkable. For the most part, it is just a continuation of the growth found at Pangani Forest. However, I bet most of you didn't realize that you cross over a canal on the way to Conservation Station. The landscaping is so thick along the trail that it almost completely hides the waterway that runs on both sides of the walkway.


Rafiki's Planet Watch Canal

At Conservation Station, be sure to visit the Song of the Rainforest attraction. Here, Grandmother Willow discusses the importance rainforests play in the earth's ecology and how vital it is to preserve them.


Song of the Rainforest


This concludes my look at the landscaping found at the four Walt Disney World theme parks. I hope you've enjoyed this series and have a new appreciation for the hard work and serious thought that goes into every plant that is grown at Walt Disney World. Except for the rare weed, every plant was placed where it was for a purpose.


The previous post in this blog was Landscaping the World - Disney's Hollywood Studios.

The next post in this blog is The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

Comments (21)

Tony:

Hey Jack,
I am really enjoying these recent blogs about landscaping around WDW. It is one of the things I really pay attention to when I visit. I will be really curious to see what the imagineers do with the landscaping in creating Pandora at the Animal Kingdom. I guess we will never get the beastly kingdom that was part of the original plans for Animal Kingdom, but Pandora can give us that fantasy type land that never was.

p.s. Do you know what type of grass they use all across the property? I see it in large areas all across the property especially at the resorts. Is it St Augustine?

Jack's Answer:

Disney uses many types of grass throughout Walt Disney World. St. Augustine is used in some place, but not exclusively by any means. It is seen everywhere in Florida. Most homes use St. Augustine for their lawns. This grass has thick blades, is long, and a water hog.

Josh Weiss:

Hey Jack
Animal KIngdom certainly has its fair share of beautiful landscaping. It really makes you feel as though you are really in Africa and Asia. Can't wait for your next blog and as always keep up the great work.

Aaron Ryan:

Jack,

Great and informative blog, as always. I'm curious to know if you have any idea how long it took to create the baobab trees?

Jack's answer:


Nope. Sorry. I really don't know. If I had to guess, I's say a couple of months. They are hollow inside. All they really consist of is a frame of rebar and a coating of cement that has been carved and painted.

Mike F:

Jack,

Great blog! How about continuing the theme of landscaping over at the various resorts? You've probably touched some of it in your blogs on the individual resorts, but it would be nice to have a more in depth view at the landscaping like you did with the parks. Thanks for the insights.

P.S. I thought I heard that one of the baobab trees in the park where real?

Jack's Answer:

When I do a theme blog series, I rarely discuss the resorts. Four parks takes a lot of effort. Covering 20+ resorts would be too much. So I leave these to you to discover on your own.

You are correct about the baobab trees. There are a few real "saplings" in Harambe. But the large trees are fake.

Adam:

These are definitely my favorite kind of The World According To Jack entries! One after the other packed with tons of great information and observations about all of the parks! I'm sure they take a lot of time, research and patience to do and I think we all really appreciate them.

Do you ever wonder if it might not be worthwhile to look over your blogs and pull them together into something like a spotter's guide or active encyclopedia, a book that both provides a look at the history and attention to detail but which can be taken with a guest to see all of the details, nudging them to look a little further than they usually do so they can find some of the details themselves.

I do miss Google Reader during times like this. I've allowed myself to get a little behind and the nature of blogs means having to find where I want to be and read backwards!

Eve:

Jack,

I really enjoy your posts on Landscaping The World. Such an important part of the Disney Parks experience. Keep it coming!

Susan:

Thanks for a great article on AK. It is by far my favorite park as far as landscaping-- it is so lush and beautiful, and you can see the care that has been taken with every single little detail. So many people will tell me there's not enough to do in AK, and they can "do" it in a few hours. I just don't understand--I could spend hours on the Maharaja Jungle Trek alone!

Jack's Comment:

I agree. It always bothers me when someone says the Animal Kingdom is a half-day park. To me that means they are only seeing half the park.

Sarah:

Hi Jack! Thanks very much for the recent series. A big reason why I love Animal Kingdom so much is the beautiful plant life. I think more than any other Disney park it really does transport you to a totally different place.

It's just my husband and I going to the park next month, and I'm really looking forward to getting a much better look at some areas I haven't been able to stop and explore on past trips, like the Discovery Island trails. I've been seeing some recent pictures where it seems there are walls up everywhere at the park right now. Hopefully there will still be some plants and animals along the walkways to enjoy!

Jack's Comment:

I was just at the Animal Kingdom a few days ago. You are correct. There are many construction walls up right now in many areas. I'm sorry to say, it does detract from the atmosphere a little. However, there are still many areas that can be enjoyed. So now that you know the facts, you can get in the right mind-set and try not to let these walls interfere with your pleasure.

Patti DeLuca:

Jack, as usual you have outdone yourself and I really think you should write a book about all you "world" blogs. They are so in depth and extremely informative. I usually take 2 days to do Animal Kingdom as it's my favorite. There is no way to see all this amazing park has to offer in half a day unless all you do is run for the rides and shows. I arrive at opening and leave at closing and go back another day to see more. I always find new things even after so many visits. Reading your blogs I learn so much more and look for new things with each visit and my next one is the 27th of this month. Keep these blogs coming no matter what the subject is.......they're always interesting and informative.


Jenny Sperandeo:

Hi Jack! I really enjoyed your blog. I think Animal Kingdom's landscaping was thoroughly thought out and strategically placed just like in the other 3 WDW parks. I am always amazed by the details, imagination, research and history that goes into designing anything that Disney does. For instance, Devine. What an awesome idea that was brought to life by some very creative Imagineers!! I actually had my picture taken with her last March. I almost missed her, because she blends in so well... :)

Tim:

Disney's Animal Kingdom is truly a masterpiece of landscape design, to the point that the work is almost "invisible" in how easily it transports guests to another place.

We have always loved the seating area for Flame Tree Barbecue. I'm a little concerned that it will be negatively impacted by the new Rivers of Light nighttime show. While I am very excited to see how the show turns out, it would be a shame to lose too much of the Flame Tree seating to viewing areas (and probably VIP and/or FastPass+ areas) for the new spectacular.

Hi Jack -

Again, thanks so much for all the hard work you do creating these amazing blogs. It always seems like Animal Kingdom is the hottest park. My theory is that the landscaping was also designed to block breezes, thereby recreating a sub-tropical type climate, adding another layer of detail to the park.

- Jeff

Jack's Comment:

I hear people all the time say the Animal Kingdom is the hottest park. I never notice this, but so many others do I guess it could be true.

I like your theory about a lack of a breeze. However, I have another thought. The Animal Kingdom has very few air conditioned venues. This means you can't "escape" the heat as easily in this park so you stay warm for a longer period of time.

J Hunt:

I agree, we need a book by Jack. :-)

Rebecca:

Book by Jack! Book by Jack!

Eileen Miller:

Jack,
Fabulous blog, as always. I had to laugh at your 'Spoiler Alert' - the first trip we took with our son to AK in 2003, we sat right behind the driver on the Safari. When we saw the baobob tree, I couldn't believe it was real, since I knew the logistics of digging up an existing tree in Africa and transporting it to Florida (if that would even be allowed)would be mindboggling. So I quietly asked the driver if the baobob tree was real. He looked up into the rearview mirror and noticed my 7-year old son listening avidly. He said with a smile, "It's a real Disney tree." I understood what he meant, but my son took it to mean the tree was real - and we were able to let the magic continue for a few more years. I thought that was a perfect response!

And to go with the others, yes! Book! Book!

Nathan:

I've really enjoyed this series on landscaping, Jack! Thanks for your hard work!! I especially enjoyed this week's entry. My wife and I took the Wild Africa Trek last year and loved it--your blog did a great job of bringing that trip back to mind!

Have you done any write-ups of the various tours at the parks? I tried skimming the index and didn't see anything. Would love to get your take on the tours I have (and haven't) taken--it'll help me plan the next trip!

DianeN:

Jack, I think this recent series about landscaping in the parks is exactly the kind of thing that would make your book sell, because no other guide has anything like it. After you wrote about looking up, my son and I spent a subsequent trip doing just that, and discovering that all those ceilings and light fixtures are just as well thought out as any detail you'll find in a ride. My next visit I'm planning to take pictures of all the water features, inspired by another of your series. Stuff like this is what makes the Disney parks so special. Isn't it sad to realize how many people focus so much on the rides that they're missing out on the extraordinary attention to detail and the sheer beauty of the parks and resorts?

lydia:

Book, please! No one covers Disney like you do. Your "voice" is entertaining and authoritative! Thank you for all your details of WDW!

Mary Beth:

Jack, I have found this series very interesting. In fact all of your blogs are excellent! I look every Monday to see what is new glad your back (I know it has been awhile)Thank you for all your work and I also say write a book. I for one would buy it.

Louise from England:

Hi Jack. We met at the Allears Meet last month & you signed a "Jack Spence" trading card for me! You told me you were doing the landscaping blogs & I've really enjoyed reading them all. Judging by all the comments you've had each week everybody does so never doubt that your fans don't want to read a series. These are the best way for us to gleam so much information. We all love them! Keep up the great work & hope to meet you again one day.

I would LOVE to see a post like this focusing on the the landscape of Animal Kingdom Lodge...just a thought. Keep up the great work. :)

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 15, 2014 5:19 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Landscaping the World - Disney's Hollywood Studios.

The next post in this blog is The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

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