HIGHLAND TROPICS

The Conservatory of Flowers is one of only four institutions in the United States to feature a Highland Tropics display. The gallery mimics the misty cloud forests of tropical mountaintops. Dense mosses, Impatiens, and Gesneriads engulf rocks. Majestic Rhododendrons and tree ferns grow from the forest floor. Also featured is the renowned collection of delicate high-altitude orchids. Many of these orchids are epiphytes, which are plants that grow on other plants, including the infamous Dracula orchids that hang throughout.

You can visit all the galleries: Potted Plants | Lowland Tropics | Highland Tropics | Aquatic Plants

Click images to enlarge.

Coelogyne
Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: India, Southeast Asia, Philippines, and Indonesia

The orchid genus Coelogyne is comprised of about 200 species. A number are on display in the Potted Plants Gallery. Most of the species are relatively easy to grow and produce long-lasting, fragrant flowers, and they can go weeks in their winter dormant season without water. They often have elaborately marked lips to attract pollinators, which include bees, wasps, and beetles.

Dracula
Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: South and Central America

This plant is a Dracula orchid in the subtribe Pleurothallid. You might assume that the name is a reference to the fictional vampire, Count Dracula, but in Greek, Dracula literally means ‘little dragon’. When fully open, the flower resembles a dragon’s face.  Living in the cloud forest of the tropics, Dracula orchids are a remarkable example of mimicry. Mimicry is an adaptation that allows an organism to look like another plant, animal, or in this case, a fungus. Dracula flowers look and smell like fleshy mushrooms to attract pollinating flies.

Impatiens mengtszeana
Family Name: Balsaminaceae
Native to: China

Impatience species have evolved to appeal to a particular pollinator such as birds, bees, moths, and butterflies. The lowermost sepal of this I. mengtszeana is elongated and forms a spur that is filled with nectar to attract pollinators. The petals of I. mengtszeana are pale yellow and blush color. The four lateral petals of the flowers are always united in pairs and each pair appears to be one large petal. This rare plant can grow in Bay Area gardens under the right conditions.

Impatiens niamniamensis
Common Name: Parrot Impatiens, Candy Corn Impatiens
Family Name: Balsaminaceae
Native to: Tropical Africa

Impatiens niamniamensis is an evergreen, perennial species that usually grows 2 to 3 feet tall. The unusual flowers bloom all year and dangle off the branches like little tropical birds.  An interesting adaptation of this plant is its method of seed distribution. The scientific name Impatiens is Latin for “impatient” and refers to the plant’s seed capsules. When the capsules mature, they explode when touched, sending seeds several yards away.

Magnolia liliifera
Common Name: Egg Magnolia
Family Name: Magnoliaceae
Native to: Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam

The egg magnolia is highly valued in Asia for its fragrance. The flowers are small relative to many species of magnolia, but the scent of the flowers is intense. When blooming, the fragrance of tropical fruit fills the air. The flowers grow on the upright tips of stems and last only a day. The common name ‘egg magnolia’ is derived from the egg-like shape of the blooms.

Masdevallia
Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: Mexico to Brazil

Masdevallia is a genus of 350 cool growing orchid species. They are best known for their unusual triangle-shaped flowers made up of sepals fused into a tube-like structure. Though the flower shape is similar from plant to plant, the difference in size and color is wide and wonderful.  Most Masdevallias are from high altitude cloud forests from Mexico to Brazil and require very cool conditions and abundant moisture throughout the year.  An interesting adaptation of this plant is the diverse scents, colors, and texture of the genus that relates to the small fruit flies that pollinate them. Scents range from rotting gorgonzola to a ripe peach or apple.

Medinilla
Family Name: Melastomataceae
Native to: Africa, Madagascar, Asia, and Pacific Islands

Medinilla is a genus of about 150 species in the family Melastomataceae. Most species are evergreen shrubs with white, pink, or orange flowers. The flowers are arranged on a panicle, a branched cluster of flowers. When pollinated, the plant bears showy berries. The leaves of many Medinilla species are arranged in a whorl or are alternating. This allows the maximum amount of sunlight to hit each leaf.

 The genus Medinilla was named in 1820 after J. de Medinilla, governor of the Mariana Islands, which are off the coast of the Philippines. There are more than 100 endemic species of Medinilla in the Philippines alone.

Miltonia/Miltoniopsis
Common Name: Pansy Orchid
Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: Andes of Columbia, Panama, Ecuador; Brazil

This cheery orchid looks like a cross between a pansy and a butterfly. Native to cloud forests of the Andes, this orchid demands high humidity and cooler temperature. A number of species display markings on their lips that glow under ultra-violet light and are visible to bees, their likely pollinator. The Miltoniopsis orchid was once considered a Miltonia. A separate genus was later formed, but the two are so often hybridized that all but the most serious orchid growers call Miltonia orchids Miltoniopsis.

Oncidium
Common Name: Dancing Lady Orchid
Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: Cental and South America

Some species of Oncidium have long bouncing stems with abundant flowers that flutter in the breeze and look like male bees. Pollination occurs when actual angry male bees attack the flowers thinking they are a competitor. The common name, dancing lady orchid, refers to the elaborate lip that looks like a dress with a full skirt. The petals and sepals look like the arms and head of a tiny lady. The Greek word “onkos” means pad or mass and refers to the fleshy, warty callus on the lip of many species. Some calluses are known to provide oil droplets, which are consumed mainly by bees.

Pleurothallis
Common Name: Bonnet Orchids
Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: Central and South America

There are over 1,000 species of Pleurothallis orchids. Although often very small, as a group they show the vast diversity and a huge range in vegetative form, growth habit (terrestrial or epiphytic), and can be found as tall cane-like plants, clumped or trailing, pendant or climbing, or delicate moss-like species that can grow on the thinnest of twigs.  Pleurothallis flowers are among the most diverse and unusual. Due to their small size, Pleurothallis orchids often specialize in using tiny insects such as gnats for pollination. The flowers of many of the species at the Conservatory grow from the base of the heart-shaped leaves. Also emerging from the leaves are ariel roots and new plants. Pleurothallis orchids reproduce vegetatively. These new plants are often called a keiki (pronounced key-key), which is Hawaiian for “baby”.

Pleurothallis gargantua
Common Name: Giant Bonnet Orchid
Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: Ecuador

This terrestrial orchid can be found in the steep mountain forests in Ecuador, between 4500 and 7500 feet above sea level. It grows in cool and wet conditions but can tolerate wildly fluctuating temperatures such as those found in its native habitat.  While the flower is only a few inches wide, the Pleurothallis gargantua has the largest bloom of its genus. Its lower sepal is a dark burgundy, while its upper sepal is lighter with veins of the same color. The flower grows out of the base of the leaf and is pollinated by tiny insects such as gnats or grass flies. It has two pollinia, a trait that it shares with the rest of its genus.

Pleurothallis restrepioides
Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru

Pleurothallis flowers are among the most diverse and unusual orchid genera. Due to their small size, Pleurothallis orchids often specialize in using tiny insects such as gnats for pollination.The flowers of many of the species at the Conservatory grow from the base of the heart-shaped leaves. The Pleurothallis restrepioides inflorescence also emerges from the leaf. The purple and white flowers dangle in a claw-like position and the foul smell attracts its pollinator.

Sobralia
Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: Central and South America

The large fragrant flowers of Sobralia orchids have beautiful multi-colored lips. The striking blooms appear sequentially on the inflorescence and range widely in color from purple to pink, yellow, and white. The flowers are very short-lived, lasting a day or less. The plants have lance-shaped leaves arranged along a reed-like stem and some species can grow 20 feet in length. 

Vireya Rhododendron
Family Name: Ericaceae
Native to: Southeast Asia

Vireyas grow in cool mountainous regions of Southeast Asia, either as epiphytes high in the tall trees of the cloud forest or on open ground in shrubberies. There are over 300 Vireya species, comprising approximately one-third of all rhododendrons. Many rhododendrons make poisonous nectar. This poison helps to keep herbivores away but is harmful to humans who consume honey made with the nectar.

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Golden Gate Park | 100 John F. Kennedy Drive | San Francisco, CA 94118| 415-831-2090