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Exotic Landscapes

Friday, March 10, 2017
Article by: Certification News

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Among the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ incredible collection of animals and plants, lies a seasoned team of horticulture professionals working to make the Florida tourist attraction a horticulture refuge for guests and animal residents alike.

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The zoo’s horticulture department sees to it that every inch of the zoo’s roughly 100 acres is well-pruned, and animal-approved.

“Zoo horticulture is a very specialized profession,” Chris Dailey, the zoo’s horticulture manager, explained. “We’re horticulturists working in the zoo environment to create and maintain habitats for animals.”

This includes inside animal exhibits, Dailey added.

“We work with the animal team to create and maintain naturalistic habitats that are good for the animals, and at the same time, engaging for our guests,” Dailey said.

The zoo’s horticulture team also maintains several specialty gardens throughout the property. The gardens serve as connectors within the zoo, and correlate with the geographic location the animals in that corresponding exhibit originate from, Dailey said.

“We have an African grass garden, we have an Asian bamboo garden, we have a tropical American garden, and these are all interconnected with the animals,” Dailey said.

To keep their team prepared for the evolving challenges that working in such a specialized environment invariably present, Dailey explained that zoo horticulture officials began utilizing FNGLA certifications around 2009 as both an education and advancement tool.

“The FCHP certification is key for us; we use it regularly,” Dailey explained. “We show our new employees, ‘This is the standard. This is what we expect you to do.’”

In order for the department’s entry level horticulture technicians to move up to the next level after one year, one of the requirements is they must become FNGLA Certified Horticulture Professionals, Dailey said.

The bump in title from technician I to II also comes with a 15 percent pay raise, according to Dailey.

Cheo Rodriguez, a horticulture technician II, has been with the Jacksonville Zoo for the past four years.

“When I first got here, I basically knew just the basics of the green industry,” Rodriguez said.

As part of his advancement to technician II two years back, Rodriguez obtained his FCHP certification.

“It’s been a wonderful tool to use,” Rodriguez added. “It’s an ever-changing experience here, but through the things that we have learned through our qualifications, and getting our certifications, we are given the tools where we can succeed.”

Rodriguez currently works in the Zoo’s Range of the Jaguars exhibit where he helps to maintain a large variety of plant material including seven different species of palms, salvias, monsterra, and angel trumpets.

Dailey added that one of the ways employees can move up to a senior position after three years is to obtain FNGLA’s FCLMT certification.

“We wanted to develop a development program for the horticulture staff – a way for them to gain knowledge, to evaluate their performance, prove their value, and show their skills – and then be able to elevate their pay, and give them a title,” explained Dailey. “Having that certification kind of elevates their status - It elevates their status in the horticulture community, and here at the zoo.”

For more information on FNGLA’s certifications, visit their website


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