Debbie Arrington

Seeds: When pruning, think about feeding Sacramento Zoo’s animals

Sacramento Zoo giraffes appreciate tree trimmings for munching.
Sacramento Zoo giraffes appreciate tree trimmings for munching. Sacramento Bee file

Residents of the Sacramento Zoo are avid browsers. We don’t mean readers, but eaters.

“Browse” is non-toxic vegetation that the zoo’s 500-plus animals can eat, but these leafy branches do more than provide a meal.

To the zoo’s animals, tree trimmings can be both delicious and fun. A freshly cut limb entertains them. They strip the bark, chew the stems, nibble green buds like snacks. A nice big branch can keep a chimp busy all day.

Plus foliage is used to provide shade. It can be cool and comforting, both bed and cabana. It makes for very happy lemurs.

But not all 130-some species at the zoo want or like the same thing, noted spokeswoman Tonja Candelaria.

“There’s a different diet for every species and for individuals as well,” she said. “Just like people, they have different likes and dislikes. … Some animals eat the browse, some play with it or use it to create shade.”

Take the giraffes, for example. They love acacia, a common ornamental tree in Sacramento.

That’s where the zoo’s Land Park neighbors come in. Residents are welcome to donate fresh limbs pruned from their home landscapes. For folks who live within 5 miles, zoo staff will come pick it up.

Otherwise, the public may drop off donations at the zoo – but call or email first.

“Our animals eat a lot of local browse,” Candelaria said. “We have lots of community members drop off browse at the back of the zoo. In the farm-to-fork capital, animals are eating local, too.”

Because landscape plants come from around the world, the zoo can find specific species of trees and shrubs that their animals prefer. The list includes many common landscape trees such as birch, elm, sycamore and willow as well as liquidambar and Japanese maple. Several flowering trees are popular, too, including magnolia and crape myrtle. Among the fruit tree trimmings needed are orange, lemon and pear.

Also on the shopping list are camellia, grapevine, bamboo, bottlebrush, photinia and much more. For full details, go to and look for “donate browse.” ( Or call 916-808-5888.

The zoo and its residents are picky. The plant material must be free of any pesticides including organic oils. And it must be fresh; contact the zoo before trimming limbs.

The zoo prefers whole branches, not small trimmings. For nearby residents, a pickup of big pieces can be arranged.

This donated food helps stretch the zoo’s budget. Annually, it spends more than $50,000 just on fresh fruit and vegetables for animals.

“The giraffes eat a lot of romaine, too,” Candelaria said.

More ‘Tree Heroes’

The heritage oak on the Sacramento Zoo’s grounds was among this year’s “Tree Hero” award winners, honored by the Sacramento Tree Foundation. Other friends of our urban forest also received accolades this past week.

David Robinson, winner of the C.K. McClatchy Award, has served the city of Davis as a tree commissioner for 30 years. He’s been a passionate leader of Tree Davis for decades, nurturing the community’s tree planting efforts.

The Sacramento Association of Realtors was lauded for its efforts to support the foundation’s shade tree program. Since 1990, SAR members get credit for planting more than 30,000 shade trees, according to the foundation.

The city of Woodland received the foundation’s Growing Greenprint Award for its efforts to live up to the title Tree City USA.

Some more trees also were honored. The canopy over a stretch of Elk Grove’s Mackey Road – and the residents who nurture those majestic oaks and other trees – received a Legacy Award.

Feed the animals

Here are some of the trees and shrubs that the Sacramento Zoo needs to help feed its animals:









Bottle Brush














Tulip Magnolia

Citrus (orange and lemon)

Japanese Maple

Crape Myrtle