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

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Acineta superba
Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru

The orchid’s name, Acineta superba, is derived from the Greek word ‘akinetos’ which means immobile and refers to the flower’s rigid lip. Acineta are epiphytes and grow on other plants, rather than in the soil on the forest floor.  Acineta orchids thrive in the cooler elevations of 2,000 to 6,000 feet in their native tropical montane forests.

Acineta flowers are pollinated by male euglossine bees. It’s thought that a distinct blend of fragrance chemicals is produced by each Acineta species. The unique odor attracts only a single type of pollinator, thus ensuring the bee will exclusively visit flowers of that species. Fragrance production consumes energy, so some orchids are only fragrant at the times of day when their pollinator is most active.

Cavendishia grandifolia
Common Name: Tropical Blueberry
Family Name: Ericaceae
Native to: Central and South America

Cavendishia grandifolia belong to the same family (Ericaceae) that includes Rhododendrons, azaleas, heathers, and edible crops like cranberry and the temperate zone blueberries. Research published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food chemistry states that the Cavendishia grandifolia berry has two to four times more antioxidant capacity than conventional blueberries.
The Conservatory’s plant is a sprawling epiphitic shrub. Dozens of waxy pink, white, and green flowers dangle from long inflorescences. Pink bracts add another pop of color.  

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.

Coelogyne mooreana
Common Name: Moore's Coelogyne
Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: Vietnam

Numerous fragrant flowers on the inflorescence open simultaneously for a lovely show lasts for four to six weeks. The sepals and petals are snow white except for a golden yellow blotch on the lip. Coelogyne mooreana has gained in popularity by orchid growers. It is found at about 4,000 feet in the relatively mild mountains of central Vietnam where the temperatures don’t get higher than 90 or lower than 40 degrees. It requires lower humidity in the winter, when it rains less in its native habitat, and high humidity the rest of the year.

Coelogyne mooreana is a cool-growing orchid with numerous fragrant flowers on the inflorescence. The flowers open simultaneously for a lovely show lasts for four to six weeks. The sepals and petals are snow white except for a golden blotch on the lip.

Coelogyne mooreana has gained in popularity by orchid growers because it is realtively easy to recreate it’s native growing conditions. It is found at about 4,000 feet in the mild mountains of central Vietnam where the temperatures don’t get higher than 90 or lower than 40 degrees. It requires lower humidity in the winter, when it rains less in its native habitat, and high humidity the rest of the year.

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 comes in shades of red, orange, or yellow in order to attract hummingbirds for pollination. Many species’ blossoms resembles the head of a dragon or the body of a goldfish, which inspired their common name, ‘the flying goldfish plant’. The petals of this species are striking because of the contrast of deep purple and chartreuse.

Columnea species are epiphytic plants, which means they grow on top of other vegetations. 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 (the latinization of Colonna is Columnea), 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.

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

Like orchids, Impatience species have evolved to appeal to a particular pollinator such as birds, bees, moths, and butterflies. The lower most 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 colored. 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.

Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: Mexico to Peru

This orchid genus produces large, long-lasting, waxy, sometimes fragrant, triangular flowers. The plants are distinctive for their egg-shaped pseudobulbs and broad, pleated leaves.  Lycaste flowers, like all orchid blooms, have three petals and three sepals. With some orchid species, it’s difficult to identify these parts. Masdevallia orchids, for example, have fused sepals and a hidden petal.

In this Lycaste flower, the parts are easily identifiable. Three sepals are behind two petals. The third petal is in the shape of a pitcher spout. This third petal is often called the lip or labellum and provides a perch for the flower’s pollinator. Protected by the petals and lip is the column, the orchids reproductive parts, which include the pollen.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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. 

Tillandsia umbellata
Family Name: Bromeliaceae
Native to: Ecuador

This unique Tillandsia is endemic to Ecuador where it is endangered in the wild due to habitat destruction. However, it is cultivated worldwide for its striking blue flowers. Tillandsia umbellate grows as an epiphyte on the trees of lowland and moist montane forests in Ecuador. As a member of the Bromeliaceae family, it is a relative of the pineapple.

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.


Whether you’re a native San Franciscan, a visitor from another side of the world, or a classroom of budding botanists, the Conservatory of Flowers offers an intimate up-close experience with rare and endangered plants unlike any other. Come see what treasures await you!

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