POTTED PLANTS

The Potted Plants Gallery pays homage to the Conservatory’s late 1800’s Victorian roots when plant collectors stored their exotic tropical treasures in opulent glass greenhouses to protect them from cold European climates. Rare flowering plants are potted in an incredible assortment of decorative urns and containers from all over the world including copper containers from India, Javanese palm pots, ceramic pots from Burkina Faso and a historic urn from San Francisco’s 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

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.

Aeschynanthus “Thai Pink”
Common Name: Thai Pink Lipstick Plant
Family Name:  Gesneriaceae

Aeschynanthus “Thai Pink” is especially attractive because of the glossy, chartreuse leaves and the pink flowers that emerge like a bubble from the pink sepals. Many species of Aeschynanthus are called lipstick plants due to the appearance of the developing buds. These epiphytes grow on trees in their native habitats. They have long, trailing stems and bright flowers pollinated by birds.

Aeschynanthus radicans
Common Name: Lipstick Plant
Family Name:  Gesneriaceae
Native to: Malay Peninsula to Java

Hanging throughout the Conservatory is Aeschynanthus radicans, an epiphyte with red flowers that emerge from a dark red tube. A. radicans truly earns the common name the lipstick plant. Long stamen emerge from the red tubular, curved corolla. The corolla is made up of five partially fused petals. This flower shape suggests pollination by hummingbirds.

The genus is in the gesneriad family along with the African violet. The name Aeschynanthus is derived from aischyno (to be ashamed) and anthos (flower), referring to the red flowers.

Alternanthera ficoidea ‘Party Time’
Family Name: Amaranthaceae
Native to: Central and South America

The colorful foliage of ‘Party Time’ is especially eye catching. Its green leaves have hot pink streaks and blotches. Some leaves are entirely pink and others entirely green. It grows well in low light and in water and it is used as an ornamental container plant. Alternanthera is a genus of flowering plants in the amaranth family, Amaranthaceae. It is a widespread genus with most species occurring in the tropical Americas.

Anthurium flavolineatum
Family Name: Araceae
Native to: Ecuador

Anthuriums are best characterized by the distinctive inflorescence which has two parts – a bisexual or unisexual spadix that is surrounded by a solitary spathe that resembles a leaf or large petal.

The fruits develop from the flowers on the spadix. They are berries varying in color, usually containing two seeds.  The spathe of Anthurium flavolineatum is maroon with fine vertical pinstripes. In Latin, flavolineatum means “marked with yellow lines”. The spadix has the interesting characteristic of exposing its pistils, which gives the spadix the look of a hairy caterpillar. The new leaves emerge a light brown color.

Bouvardia ternifolia
Common Name: Firecracker Bush, Hummingbird Flower
Family Name: Rubiaceae
Native to: Mexico, Honduras, and southwestern United States

Bouvardia ternifolia blooms continuously in the Conservatory. Clusters of trumpet-shaped flowers burst from the tips of leafy branches. The spectacular red corolla (unit of petals) attracts and provides nectar for hummingbirds. The Spanish name trompetilla means “little trumpet” and refers to the corolla’s shape.

Burbidgea scheizocheila
Common Name: Golden Brush Ginger
Family Name: Zingiberaceae
Native to: Borneo

Bright orange cones of blooms emerge from the upright inflorescence. Dozens of individual flowers open successively over a period of two weeks. The plant also has handsome deep green leaves and dark red stems. Burbidgea is a genus of plants in the ginger family (Zingerbaraceae) with five known species that are all endemic to Borneo.

Calanthe
Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: Tropical and Subtropical Africa, Asia, and Australia 

Calanthes are terrestrial orchids. The genus is divided into two groups – deciduous species and evergreen species. Many of the species found in the Conservatory are deciduous. The pleated leaves shed at the end of the growing cycle, leaving behind only the pseudobulbs. The new inflorescence emerges from the pseudobulb at the start of the next season. In Greek, calanthe means “beautiful flower”. The flower’s delicate pink or white petals and sepals form a fan shape that tops the prominent lip.

Cattleya
Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: Tropical Central and South America

Cattleya are a premier flower in the floral industry and are used by orchid enthusiasts to create hybrids (often with Laelia orchids) and prize plants. Their large, showy flowers often have a pleasant sweet or citrusy fragrance. An interesting adaptation of Cattleya orchids is that some have a pseudobulb on every leaf to store water and nutrients, which are used in the dry season. In the wet season, new leaves grow twice as fast. Many species grow in the trees so they don’t get water from the soil and instead depend on humid air.

Clerodendrum thomsoniae
Common Name: Bleeding Heart Vine
Family Name: Lamiaceae
Native to: Tropical West Africa

The Conservatory’s bleeding heart vine boasts hundreds of flowers. The red petals burst out of white, pillowy sepals. The appearance may be likened to a line of dangling hearts, each emerging from the other. The plant can be grown in the Bay Area in moist, well-drained soil.

Cocos nucifera
Common Name: Coconut Palm
Family Name: Arecaceae
Native to: Pacific Islands

Cocos nucifera, the coconut palm, is a long-lived palm that may grow up to 100 years.  The coconut palm is native to the tropical islands of the West Pacific and requires hot, moist conditions to grow. Coconuts are buoyant and able to float in sea currents for long distances while remaining viable and able to germinate upon arrival. For that reason, coconut palms are often found along the coast and seaboard of tropical areas.

What is a coconut? A seed, nut, or fruit? The short answer is all three. Botanically, a coconut is a one-seeded drupe. A drupe is a fruit with a hard covering enclosing a seed (like a peach or mango). The coconut fruit has three layers: a thin, smooth outer epicarp layer that surrounds the thick, fibrous mesocarp layer, which encloses the woody endocarp layer. The endocarp houses the seed. Usually, the coconuts we see in stores have the two outer layers removed, with only the endocarp and seed remaining. Also, while the coconut is not a true nut, one loose definition of a nut is a one-seeded fruit, and by that definition, we could consider the coconut a nut.

Coconut palms are one of the most widely grown and iconic palms in the world. The coconut palm has a wide variety of uses and, in some cases, coconuts are considered survival food. Coconut water is a good source of iron, calcium, phosphorous, proteins, and vitamins. Coconut meat has a large diversity of food uses, including coconut oil. The coir can be used as a fiber to make rope, floor mats, mattress filling, and fish nets. The leaves are traditionally used to make baskets and roof thatching, while the trunk is used to make furniture, houses, and even musical instruments. Additionally, an alcoholic drink known as palm wine or Toddy is made from the sap of the coconut palm.

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.

Dioscorea mexicana
Common Name: Tortoise Plant
Family Name: Dioscoreaceae
Native to: Mexico, Panama, El Salvador

Dioscorea mexicana is a member of the Dioscorea genus which is composed of approximately 600 species, including several species of yams. D. mexicana’s native range spans from Veracruz, through Mexico and down to Panama. Dioscorea mexicana gets its common name, tortoise plant, from the caudex which resembles a tortoise shell with polygonal plates that are separated by deep fissures. The caudex is a modified stem that stores water and nutrients that help the plant adapt to dry conditions. Vigorous vines emerge from the top of the caudex and bear heart-shaped leaves. The tortoise plant is dioecious, meaning individual plants are either male or female.

Dioscorea mexicana plays an important medicinal role. The plant contains diosgenin, a steroid that is a precursor for the synthesis of hormones, including progesterone and cortisone. Traditionally, D. mexicana and other plants of this genus were used by natives as a natural birth control and as an ailment for sore joints. In the mid-1950s a chemist, Russell Marker, developed the synthesis process of progesterone from the naturally produced diosgenin in D. mexicana. This discovery led to the affordable production of birth control.

Ficus deltoidea
Common Name: Mistletoe Fig
Family Name: Moraceae
Native to: Southeast Asia

The mistletoe fig is a slow-growing tree native to the rainforests of Southeast Asia, widely naturalized in other parts of the world, and prominent in Malaysia for its medicinal properties. It is distinctive for its slender silver trunk, gray-green foliage that differs in shape depending on its sex (larger and rounder for females, smaller and oblong for males), and long aerial roots that hang down in tendrils. Ficus deltoidea’s nickname “mistletoe fig” comes from its small orange and red fruits, which resembles mistletoe berries.

The plant is also known as mas cotek in Malaysia and is recognized in both traditional and worldwide medicine for its healing and health benefits. Ongoing scientific research by various institutions including the Malaysian Agriculture Research and Development Institute (MARDI) shows that the plant possesses compounds that help lower glucose levels in diabetic patients, works as an antioxidant and maintains healthy blood circulation. Traditionally, mas cotek has been used for strengthening the uterus, regulating blood pressure and nervous system, reducing fatigue, and enhancing libido.

Heliamphora
Common Name: Sun Pitchers
Family Name: Sarraceniaceae
Native to: Venezuela, Guyana, Brazil

Heliamphora is a genus of approximately 23 carnivorous plant species. Plants of this genus are endemic to Venezuela, Guyana, and Brazil. Most Heliamphora species are found growing on the Tepui mountains of the Guiana Highlands. The Tepuis are remote table-top mountains that rise out of the tropical landscape below to heights of 10,000 feet with sheer, vertical cliff faces. Conditions are extreme on the top of Tepui mountains: frequent and torrential downpours are accompanied by high winds and lighting, temperatures can dip to near freezing, and vegetation is sparse due to the limited and nutrient poor soil. Plants of the Heliamphora genus have evolved and adapted to the harsh conditions found on these plateaus.

The pitchers of Heliamphora are modified leaves that act as sophisticated traps. The bell-shaped pitchers arise from rhizomes anchored by the roots. A small lid, known as a nectar spoon, sits at the top of the pitchers and secretes nectar that lures insects into the top of the pitcher where fine, downward hair force the insect further down and prevent escape. Eventually, the insect falls down into a pool of rainwater at the base of the pitcher, where it drowns and is dissolved by a community of bacteria living in the pitcher. Heliamphora gets its name from the Greek roots helos (marsh) and amphoreo (vessel or pitcher). Interestingly, the common name for the genus, sun pitcher, is derived from the misinterpretation of helos for the similarly spelled root helio (sun), hence the mistaken identity.

Heliamphora heterodoxa
Family Name: Sarraceniaceae
Native to: Venezuela

Heliamphora is a genus of approximately 23 carnivorous plant species that thrive in the Tepui mountains of the Guiana Highlands of Venezuela. While most Heliamphora species grow high up on Tepui mountains, H. heterodoxa is unique in that it can also grow in the surrounding lowland savannas. Heliamphora heterodoxa was first discovered in 1951 growing on Mt. Ptari-Tepui. A large overhanging nectar spoon sits above the deep green pitchers, which can grow about a foot in height. The species name, heterodoxa, is derived from the Greek roots for other (heteros) and opinion, belief (doxa).

Ixora coccinea
Common Name: Scarlet Jungle Flame, Flame of the Woods
Family Name: Rubiaceae
Native to: India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia

Ixora coccinea, commonly known as scarlet jungle flame, is native to Southeast Asia, India, and Sri Lanka, but is widely grown in tropical areas as a popular ornamental shrub. Ixora coccinea is a dense multi-branching evergreen shrub that is notable for its brightly colored blooms. The scarlet, tubular flowers grow in dense rounded clusters and can bloom year-round in the right conditions. Ixora coccinea is a member of the Rubiaceae family and is a showy relative of coffee. The genus name Ixora is a Portuguese translation of Isvara meaning ‘lord’ in Sanskrit and is a reference to the god Siva. The species name coccinea translates to scarlet and is a reference to the blooms. 

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.

Murraya koenigii
Common Name: Curry Leaf Tree
Family Name: Rutaceae
Native to: India and Sri Lanka

The leaves of Murraya koenigii are used in India and Thailand in a similar way that Americans use bay leaves – as an aromatic in stews and soups. This plant is not used to make curry powder, which is actually a combination of many spices. M. koenigii is an attractive compact tree that can grow up to 20 feet tall. The pinnate, or feather-shaped leaf has dozens of leaflets. The plant produces small white flowers which can self-pollinate to produce small shiny, black berries containing a single large seed. Though the berry pulp is edible, it is not used for culinary purposes.

Musa
Common Name: Banana
Family Name: Musaceae
Native to: Southeast Asia and Australia

In horticulture, parthenocarpy (which literally means “virgin fruit”) is the natural or artificially induced production of fruit without fertilization of ovules. The fruit is therefore seedless. Seedlessness is seen as a desirable trait in edible fruit with hard seeds such as watermelon, clementines, grapes, and grapefruit. Bananas are another example of parthenocarpy, which explains how the Conservatory’s plantains and banana plants can bear fruit without a pollinator being present. The common banana is triploid, meaning it has three sets of chromosomes. Triploids cannot produce a functional seed, but they still develop good fruit through parthenocarpy. After the stalk has flowered and borne fruit, it dies.

So how does a banana plant reproduce? There are side shoots or suckers at the base of the main stalk, which can be removed and replanted.  Banana flowers are protected by bracts. The bracts fold away one-by-one and reveal hundreds of flowers. Female flowers appear first and develop into hands of fruit. The male flowers emerge last and do not become fruit. In Southeast Asia the male flowers are boiled and eaten as a vegetable. Bananas are cultivated in 135 tropical and subtropical countries.

Myrmecodia beccarii
Common Name: Ant Plant
Family Name: Rubiaceae
Native to: Queensland Australia

Myrmecodia beccarii has a symbiotic relationship with ants. The swollen stems of Myrmecodia beccarii naturally develop hollow chambers that are colonized by ants (mostly Iridomyrmex cordatus). The plant provides shelter for the ants and the ants provide nutrients to the plant with their waste. Myrmecodia beccarii is an epiphyte that grows on trees in mangroves in tropical Australia.

Nepenthes robcantleyi
Common Name: Robert Cantley’s Pitcher Plant
Family Name: Nepenthaceae
Native to: Mindanao Island, Philippines

Nepenthes robcantleyi is a unique tropical pitcher plant that is endemic (found only is a specific location) to the Mindanao island in the Philippines. The plant has been recorded in the wild at a single location in a submontane evergreen forest approximately 6,000 feet above sea level.   The pitchers of Nepenthes plants are modified leaves that attract and trap invertebrates into the pitcher where it is then digested to provide nutrients for the plant. The pitchers of N. robcantleyi are unique in that they are quite large, reaching about 12 inches in length. The pitchers have two showy, fringed wings and the peristome (collar around the opening) is dark red with ribbed edges.

N. robcantleyi has an unusual discovery story. It was first seen in the wild in 1997 by Robert Cantley who obtained permission to collect seeds. He propagated and grew the pitcher plants to maturity and displayed them at the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show, where it won the gold medal. In 2011 botanists at Kew Gardens in London described the plant as a distinct, new species and named it in honor of Cantley. Unfortunately, N. robcantleyi is critically endangered in the wild according to the IUCN Red List Criteria. The area where Robert Cantley discovered the pitcher plant has been commercially logged and the plant has not been seen in the wild since. Robert Cantley collected seeds from the two original plants and has since propagated thousands of seedlings in hopes of re-introducing them into the wild.

Pachira aquatica
Common Name: Malabar Chestnut, Money Tree
Family Name: Malvaceae
Native to: Cental and South America

Pachira aquatica is cultivated in Asia for its edible nuts, which grow in a large, woody pod and taste like chestnuts. The common name, money tree, refers to a story of its origin, where a poor man prayed for money, found this “odd” plant, took it home as an omen and made money selling plants grown from its seeds. Small trees can be found in nurseries with braided trunks. Braiding contains the tree’s sprawl and symbolizes locking in luck or money. This tropical wetland tree is native to the swamps of Central and South America.

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.

Pearcea hypocyrtiflora
Family Name: Gesneriaceae
Native to: Ecuador

Pearcea hypocyrtiflora is in the gesneriad family and is related to the African violet. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland and mountain forests. They can be grown as a houseplant under humid conditions and do well in a terrarium. Pink and white veins network across the dark green leaves creating the perfect backdrop for the bubble-like, hairy, neon orange flowers. As the flower matures, five tiny pink petals in the center of the flower open to allow the plant’s pollinator, a hummingbird, access into the bubble. The brightly colored flowers serve to enhance visibility, while the tiny entrance ensures that the bird bill touches the anthers and stigma. Pearcea hypocyrtiflora is listed as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

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.

Phragmipedium
Common Name: South American Slipper Orchid
Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: Mexico to South America

Plants in the genus Phragmipedium are new world lady slipper orchids, named after their shoe shaped pouches. The pouch is a modified petal, also called a lip. The pouch traps insects, which are forced to escape through a backdoor exit, depositing pollen as they squeeze out, thus pollinating the flower. A distinct trait of “Phrags” is that their flowers bloom sequentially, one after another. Each bloom lasts about two weeks; meanwhile, another bud is developing. The entire flowering season can last from six to eleven months. Depending on the species, the colors can range from green, to a soft mahogany-pink, to a dazzling orange-red.

Sarracenia
Common Name: North American Pitcher Plants
Family Name: Sarraceniaceae
Native to: Southeastern United States to Southern Canada

Sarracenia is a genus comprising of about 10 species of North American pitcher plants. Like the more famous Venus flytrap, these plants are carnivorous. But unlike the fly trap, which moves to trap its prey, the Sarracenia has a passive trap. The plant’s leaves have evolved into a funnel-shaped pitcher. Insects are attracted by a nectar-like secretion on the lip of pitcher, as well as a combination of color and scent. Slippery footing at the pitchers’ rim causes the insect to fall in. Once inside, tiny downward-facing hairs make it nearly impossible for an insect to crawl back out, and liquids at the bottom of the pitcher make tiny wings too wet to fly.

Sarracenia are often found in hot, sunny bogs of Texas and the east coast of the United States. Bog soil is acidic and lacks nutrients so digested insects serve as an important source of nourishment for the plants. When blooming, the Sarracinia’s dramatic umbrella-like flowers are usually on long stems well above the pitcher, to avoid trapping potential pollinators.

Sarracenia psittacina
Common Name: Parrot Pitcher Plant
Family Name: Sarraceniaceae
Native to: Southeastern United States

Sarracenia psittacina is a carnivorous plant with modified leaves, shaped like a pitcher or trumpet that attract, trap, and digest organisms for nutrients. Sarracenia psittacina thrives in the wet, low-lying patches of swampy savannas and its range stretches from southern Georgia, across the Florida panhandle to southern Mississippi.

The unusual shape of the pitcher, reminiscent of a parrot’s beak, is a cunning and deceptive trap. Unlike most Sarracenia pitchers with a wide opening, the top of the parrot pitcher is a hollow, puffed hood. Prey is lured into the narrow pitcher mouth and confused by the light shining through numerous false windows laced across the hood. The interior of the pitcher is lined with extra long needle-like hairs facing toward the base of the pitcher. The prey is forced further down into the pitcher where a pool of digestive enzymes sits at the base. At certain times of the year, Sarracenia psittacina is an aquatic hunter. The species is frequently submerged in its native swampy habitat and has been known to catch tadpoles and water arthropods while underwater.

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

This plant is noteworthy because its complex and usually fragrant flowers are generally spectacular and short-lived. Their pendant inflorescences are noted for flowering out of the bottom of the containers in which they grow. Most Stanhopea flowers last three days or less.

Stanhopea orchids have co-evolved with euglossine bees, and rely on the bees for mutualistic pollination. Male euglossine bees visit the fragrant Stanhopea flowers to collect odiferous compounds that they store in their hind legs and later use in courtship display. In the process of scraping the flowers for the fragrance, the pollen sacs (pollinia) get brushed on the backs of the bees who inadvertently deposit the pollinia on the next flower, thus pollination is achieved.

Thunbergia grandiflora
Common Name: Bengal Clockvine, Blue Trumpet Vine
Family Name: Acanthaceae
Native to: China, Nepal, Burma, India

Commonly known as the sky vine, Thunbergia grandiflora is a vigorous tropical vine that can grow well over 30 feet. Showy trumpet-shaped flowers droop on vines and are lavender blue in color with a pale yellow center. The dark green leaves are covered in fine hairs and can be variable in shape between elliptic and heart-shaped. In some tropical areas, the sky vine is considered an invasive weed since it can smother and outcompete native vegetation.

The scientific name Thunbergia commemorates Carl Thunberg (1743-1828), a Swedish physician and botanist, who was a protégé of Carl Linnaeus and botanical collector in South Africa and Japan.

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