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.

Anthurium
Family Name: Araceae
Native to: Panama, Columbia, Brazil, and Ecuador

This Anthurium inflorescence is called a spadix, and is framed by a red, orange, white, or green spathe, which looks like a leaf or petal. The spadix holds the plant’s microscopic flowers. Each inflorescence has dozens of male and female flowers; however, these flowers are active at different times, so self-pollination rarely occurs. When Anthurium flowers are pollinated, the spadix fills with round, berry-like fruit.

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.

Columnea
Common Name: Flying Goldfish
Family Name: Gesneriaceae
Native to: Central and South America

Columnea is a genus with approximately 200 species of herbs and shrubs. They are known for their brightly colored tubular flowers, which come in shades of red, orange, or yellow in order to attract hummingbirds for pollination. Many species’ blossoms resemble the head of a dragon or the body of a goldfish, which inspired their common name, flying goldfish. The petals of this species are striking with the contrast of deep purple and chartreuse.

Columnea species are epiphytic plants, and grow on other plants for support. In the wild, they can be found climbing on tree trunks and branches. Constant precipitation provides the roots with moisture, and the excellent drainage prevents the water from standing and rotting the roots.  Carl Linnaeus named Columnea after Fabio Colonna, a 16th-century Italian botanist. Colonna was honored for his historical compilation of botanical data published in 1592, the first of its kind illustrated with copper plates.

Dendrobium smilliae
Common Name: Bottlebrush Orchid
Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: Australia and New Guinea

Dendrobium smilliae is a robust orchid that is found in Queensland Australia and New Guinea and grows epiphytically on tree limbs and trunks or lithophytically on rocks in the lowland rainforests. The pseudobulb stems grow in a dense mass and can reach a height of 5 feet. The waxy, tubular flowers grow in a dense cluster, known as a raceme, and are greenish white to pink in color.

Dendrochilum
Common Name: Necklace Orchid
Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: Southeast Asia

Dendrochilum is a genus of about 150 species of orchids. The genus is sometimes known as the necklace orchids because of their pendant-like inflorescences, or clusters of flowers. Some visitors find the distinct fragrance of the miniature, star-shaped flowers pleasant, others a bit strong and musty. Dendrochilum species grow at higher elevations in the humid rainforests throughout Southeast Asia including New Guinea, Borneo, and Java.

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.

Kohleria
Family Name: Gesneriaceae
Native to: Central and South America

Kohleria is a genus of tropical herbs in the Gesneriaceae family. The leaves are hairy and the flowers are usually brightly colored, with attractive spotting. All Kohleria grow from scaly rhizomes. Rhizomatous plants have adapted to go through a period of dormancy. Much of the growth above the soil appears to die. The rhizomes beneath the soil, however, survive and wait for good conditions to return, at which time they will send up new growth. Kohlerias were very popular in England and Europe in the 19th Century because of their colorful and exotically patterned flowers.

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.

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.

Paphiopedilum
Common Name: Lady Slipper Orchid, Venus Slipper
Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: Southeast Asia, India, China, New Guinea, Solomon and Bismark Islands

Most Paphiopedilums are lithophytes (plants that grow on rocks) found mostly on limestone cliffs or in humus enriched forest floors. Virtually all species require shade of a forest canopy. Most species temporarily trap their pollinator in their pouch-like lip and none are known to offer any reward. Insects are lured in by the smell of nectar. Numerous species attract flies or bees with odors that range from foul to pleasant depending on the type of pollinator.

Petrocosmea begonifolia
Family Name: Gesneriaceae
Native to: China

Petrocosmea begonifolia is an excellent example of a lithophyte, a plant that grows on rocks. The quilted, shiny, dark green leaves are very similar to those of African violets. They are both in the Gesneriad family. Petrocosmea begonifolia is loved by Gesneriad enthusiasts because of the spiral pattern formed by the leaves.

Phalaenopsis
Common Name: Moth Orchid
Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: India, China, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Indochina, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Australia, New Guinea

Phalaenopsis orchids are perhaps the most easily recognizable orchids and the most popular orchid genus in cultivation. The genus is composed of approximately 40-50 species that grow natively across Southeast Asia from the Himalayan Mountains to Australian. Phalaenopsis thrives in three distinct habitats: seasonally dry, seasonally cool, and constantly humid and warm.

Phalaenopsis orchids produce a large spray of flowers that can bloom for several weeks. There is a great diversity of color between species with flowers showing spotted, marbled, or barred color patterns. The shape of the flower is thought to resemble moths in flight, which contribute to the common name the moth orchid. The beautiful blooms and hardiness, in combination with the ease of hybridization, have contributed to their success as popular houseplants. Phalaenopsis orchids were some of the first tropical orchids in Victorian collections.

Platycerium
Common Name: Staghorn Fern
Family Name: Polypodiaceae
Native to: South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Guinea

Platycerium is a genus of about 18 fern species. They are epiphytes that grow on trees. They can be found in the Conservatory growing 2-3 feet wide.  Staghorn ferns have two types of fronds, basal and fertile. The basil fronds are steril and often oval-shaped and help the plant adhere to the tree. The basal fronds also cover the roots to protect against damage, capture rain water, and trap leaf litter that decomposes and provides the plant with nutrients.  The fertile fronds in most Platycerium are shaped like antlers or staghorns (hence the common name). These fertile fronds hold the rust-colored reproductive spores.

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.

Sarcochilus
Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: Southeast Asia and Australia

Sarcochilus orchids are found widespread through Southeast Asia and Australia. The attractive orchids are mostly small epiphytes, although a couple larger species grow directly on rocks, boulders, and cliff faces. The long-lasting flowers are often fragrant and grow in colorful clusters of white and yellow, often with red speckling. The generic name is derived from the Greek root for flesh, sacros, and lip, cheilos, and is a reference to the fleshy lip of the flower. Many species in this genus are endangered or vulnerable due to habitat destruction.

Solanum quitoense
Common Name: Naranjilla
Family Name: Solanaceae
Native to: South America

Solanum quitoense is a spreading shrub native to the northwestern countries of South America. It is commonly called naranjilla, or little orange in Spanish, as a reference to the round, bright orange fruit. The plant is densely covered in purple hairs, botanically known as trichomes, that give it a wooly appearance. The flowers are fragrant and have 5 white petals and 5 prominent stamens. The flowers mature into bright orange fruits that have a distinctive sweet, citrus flavor likened to rhubarb and lime. The fruit can be eaten fresh and are often baked into pies, added to ice cream, or made into a fruit drink.

Tillandsia
Common Name: Airplant
Family Name: Bromeliaceae
Native to: Central America, South America, West Indies, Southern United States

Tillandsia are in the Bromeliad family and there are over 700 species. Many are epiphytes, which means they grow on other plants. Most plants use their roots to absorb nutrients and water but Tillandsia mainly use their roots to attach to a branch or tree trunk. To get the water they need, they, and other bromeliads, have tricomes. Tricomes, which means “growth of hair” in Greek, are tiny scales on the surface of the plant that absorb water and nutrients and protect it from sunlight. They quickly channel water through the plant’s cells, while also preventing water vapor from evaporating. Tricomes are what gives a dry Tillandsia the velvety texture and greyish color. When wet, tricomes give the plant a green appearance. With the exception of some red varieties, many Tillansia are greyish-green. Their flowers however, are often very colorful. Pollinators can’t miss the purple and pink petals that scream for attention. Tillandsia usually produce new plants, often referred to as “pups”, at their base.

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