LOWLAND TROPICS

In the steamy, lush jungles of the Lowland Tropics Gallery, a light rain falls on the canopy of majestic palms. An enormous kapok tree lies on the forest floor while brightly colored orchids and falling water cascade around it. Coffee berries, cacao pods, and tropical fruits hang heavily from branches, and the sweet fragrance of jasmine and Stanhopea orchids mingle in the air. The gallery is also home to the Conservatory’s centenarians, including the towering Imperial Philodendron, a pygmy date palm from San Francisco’s 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, and 100-year old Cycads, which are primitive gymnosperms that pre-date the dinosaurs.

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

Click images to enlarge.

Acalypha hispida
Common Name: Chenille Plant
Family Name: Euphorbiaceae
Native to: New Guinea and the Malay Archipelago

The common name, chenille, means caterpillar in French. The fuzzy, pendulous inflorescence of the chenille plant range in color from vibrant red through a creamy white. The chenille plant is dioecious, meaning the male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers are on separate plants. The individual flowers which make up the inflorescence are very tiny, have no petals, and are made up of feathery pistils. These pistils are tightly packed into cylindrical flower clusters along the raceme called catkins. Flowers with catkins, including the chenille, are predominantly pollinated by the wind, and occasionally by insects.

Areca vestiaria
Common Name: Orange Crownshaft Palm
Family Name: Arecaceae
Native to: Eastern Indonesia, Maluku, and Sulawesi

This palm varies from a red crown shaft with maroon leaves, to an orange version with green leaves, and everything in between. It has been observed that there is substantial color variation depending on elevation, with the more colorful plants coming from higher elevations. This photo shows the three stages of the palm’s fruit – the yellow inflorescence emerging, the full-sized but unripe yellow fruit, and the ripe red fruit.

Cordyline
Family Name: Asparagaceae
Native to: Western Pacific Ocean

Cordylines are an evergreen plant that grows in many colors including red, pink, yellow, and white and some have flowers that match their vibrant foliage. The Conservatory features hybrid plants with brilliant red leaves in the Potted Plants and Lowlands Galleries. Cordyline makes an excellent house plant. The long leaves of some species are used for thatching and clothing, and the thick, sweet roots are used as food.

Crescentia cujete
Common Name: Calabash Tree
Family Name: Bignoniaceae
Native to: Central and South America

Crescentia cujete, more commonly known as the calabash tree, has been cultivated throughout tropical Central and South America since prehistoric times. The light green bell-shaped flowers grow directly on the trunk and branches and are pollinated by bats. The fruit is botanically a berry and widely utilized to make bowls, jugs, utensils, and musical instruments.

Hedychium gardnerianum
Common Name: Kahili Ginger, Ginger Lily
Family Name: Zingiberaceae
Native to: Himalayas of India, Nepal, and Bhutan

Hedychium gardnerianum grows to eight feet tall with long, bright green leaves clasping the tall stems. The fragrant pale yellow and red flowers are held in dense spikes above the foliage. The plant is an invasive species in certain areas. It is known as wild kahili ginger and is listed as a weed in Hawaii. It’s sticky seeds are easily spread by birds and roaming mammals, while the rhizomes crowd out seedlings of other plants by forming dense mats. Despite its vindictive tendencies in an unchecked environment, here in the Conservatory, it’s an especially striking addition to the gallery.

Heliconia
Common Name: Lobster Claws, False Bird-of-Paradise
Family Name: Zingiberales
Native to: Tropical Americas, Pacific Islands

Heliconia is a genus of flowering tropical plants with approximately 225 species. The majority of Heliconia species are native to tropical Central and South America; however, several species are found on islands in the West Pacific. Heliconias thrive in tropical conditions and habitats that have an abundance of water, sunlight, and rich soil. The inflorescence, or cluster of flowers, are quite distinctive and range in colorful hues of red, orange, yellow, and green. The inflorescence consists of brightly colored, waxy bracts (specialized leaves at the base of flowers) arranged alternately on the stem that encloses and protect small flowers.

Heliconias support a diversity of ecological relationships with various organisms. Hummingbirds are the principle pollination of Heliconias in the Americas. The flowers produce an abundance of nectar and the color, shape, and curve of the flowers are adapted to specific hummingbird species. Several species of Heliconia open their flowers at night to attract nectar-eating bats for pollination. Additionally, multiple species of bats use the leaves and foliage to construct habitats and shelters. Heliconia species with upright bracts are known to collect rainwater and support a community of minute, aquatic fauna. Interestingly, the name Heliconia is derived from Mount Helicon, a mountain in southern Greece that is known in Greek mythology to be the home of the Muses.

Jasminum rex
Common Name: Royal Jasmine
Family Name: Oleaceae
Native to: Thailand

Jasminum is a genus of shrubs and vines in the olive family, Oleaceae. It contains around 200 species native to tropical and warm temperate regions of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Jasmines can be either deciduous (leaves falling in autumn) or evergreen (green all year round), and can be erect, spreading, or climbing shrubs and vines. This winter-flowering jasmine has some of the largest flowers in the family.

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.

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.

Phoenix roebelenii
Common Name: Pygmy Date Palm
Family Name: Arecaceae
Native to: Southeast Asia

The Conservatory’s pygmy date palm is a prized relic from the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The Expo was held over 100 years ago in 1915. This elegant arching palm was donated to the Conservatory after the closing of the exposition. Each pinnate leaf, or frond, has 100 narrow, shiny leaflets. When in bloom, it drops hundreds of tiny white flowers that blanket the ground of the gallery. 

In 1889 James O’Brien, one of the most famous horticulturists of the 19th century, named the palm “roebelenii” in honor of the German orchid collector Carl Roebelen who was the first to completely document the plant in Laos. The pygmy date palm quickly became popular in landscapes and collections for its attractive leaves and trunk. By 1915, this palm would have been a common hot house plant.

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.

Tabernaemontana divaricata
Common Name: Pinwheelflower
Family Name: Apocynaceae
Native to: India

Tabernaemontana divaricata, commonly known as the pinwheelflower, is native to India and cultivated throughout South East Asia. This small evergreen shrub grows to approximately 5-6 feet tall and the waxy, deep green leaves grow to 6 inches in length. The white, five-petaled pinwheel flowers bloom in small clusters on the stem tips. When broken, the stems exude a milky latex that is toxic. However, in prescribed quantities, parts of the plant are used to treat a variety of ailments ranging from hypertension, headaches, to scabies. Ecologically, Tabernaemontana divaricata is a host plant for the caterpillars of the oleander hawk-moth (Daphnis nerii).

Verschaffeltia splendida
Common Name: Seychelles Stilt Palm
Family Name: Arecaceae
Native to: Seychelles

Verschaffeltia splendida is only found on three islands in the Seychelles where it is threatened by habitat loss. This canopy or understory palm grows in moist rainforests on steep hillsides and ledges. The stilt root system is thought to have evolved to stabilize the palm on steep slopes and in strong winds. The spikes on the trunk of the palm protect it from hungry animals.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

VISIT US

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