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.

Adenium obesum
Common Name: Desert Rose
Family Name: Apocynaceae
Native to: Africa

This odd but beautiful plant is native to the Sahel regions of Africa. Adeniums are appreciated for their colorful flowers, but also for their unusual, thick caudex. A caudex is a swollen stem base where new grow and leaves arise. Adeniums are loved by bonsai artists due to their slow growing habit and sculptural branches.

Allamanda cathartica
Common Name: Golden Trumpet
Family Name: Apocynaceae
Native to: Brazil

Allamanda cathartica, as known as the golden trumpet, is cultivated in the tropics as an ornamental plant for its large, fragrant yellow flowers which contrast with dark green leaves. It can thrive as an annual or indoors in cooler climates. The plant has milky sap and is considered poisonous.

Amorphophallus ongsakulii
Common Name: Fern Leaf Voodoo Lily
Family Name: Araceae
Native to: Laos

The Amorphophallus genus is known for producing some of the stinkiest and largest plants in the botanical world. However, the Amorphophallus ongsakulii is surprisingly miniature. The fern-like leaves only grow to about 3 inches tall. The inflorescence is equally tiny, about the size of a thumb, and emits a faint spicy sweet smell.

Amorphophallus ongsakulii was only discovered in 2004 in the Khammouane Province of Laos and then later named in 2006. This tiny plant is a great example of the endless biodiversity waiting to be discovered. Its native habitat is in the tropical rainforest understory of Laos.

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.

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.

Begonia brevirimosa ssp. exotica
Common Name: Exotica Begonia
Family Name: Begoniaceae
Native to: New Guinea

Begonia brevirimosa ssp. exotica is a naturally occurring species with large metallic green leaves. The pink variegation is especially vibrant on mature leaves. Begonias are monoecious, with male and female flowers occurring separately on the same plant. In most species of Begonia, the fruit is a winged capsule containing numerous tiny seeds.

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.

Bulbophyllum echinolabium
Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: Borneo and Sulawesi

This handsome, but unpleasant smelling flower is the largest of the Bulbophyllum species of orchids. It has a moveable warty lip. The lip on an orchid is a modified petal that is attractive to pollinators. The lip of the B. echinolabium has a spiny texture and the color resembles raw or rotten meat. The smell of the flower has been described as a stink bomb, a decomposing rat, and just plain appalling. The fragrance, texture, and color are designed to fool carrion flies into believing that the flower is a piece of rotting meat.

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.

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.

Clusia colombiana
Family Name: Clusiaceae
Native to: Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia

Clusia colombiana is often mistaken for the strangler fig, as it has similar tendencies to develop epiphytically on other trees. Hundreds of aerial roots grow downward towards the soil and the water it holds.

This plant exhibits a very interesting photosynthetic method known as crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM). To conserve moisture, the Clusia’s stomata (leaf pores) open at night to absorb CO2 and close during the day to prevent the escape of moisture. This process aids greatly in nutrient acquisition for an epiphytic plant such as the Clusia.

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.

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.

Cymbidium
Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: Tropical and Subtropical Asia and Northern Australia

Cymbidiums are noteworthy because although there are approximately only 44 species, thousands of hybrids exist. Many of the showier hybrids have large striped petals and sepals and a ruffled lip of a contrasting color. Cymbidiums are popular in the florist trade for corsages and floral design. Cut flowers last for weeks. They are widely grown in Bay Area gardens and bloom in the winter.

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.

Euphorbia lactea ‘variegata’
Common Name: White Ghost, Dragon Bones
Family Name: Euphorbiaceae
Native to: India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand

Euphorbia lactea ‘White Ghost’ is a unique cultivar of Euphorbia lactea. Aptly named, the white ghost Euphorbia is almost totally white or gray in a color and lacks chlorophyll-bearing tissue necessary to produce green stems. Euphorbia lactea can reach a height of 15 feet tall and the triangular stems grow in a dense candelabra form. While normally leafless, tiny leaves emerge at the growing tips in early summer but are quickly dropped. Sharp, paired black spines grow along the stem margins. All parts of the plant are poisonous; the latex, white sap that exudes from abrasions, is an irritant to eyes and skin. The genus name, Euphorbia, pays homage to Euphorbus (52 BC- 23 AD), a Greek physician.

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.

Globba
Common Name: Dancing Lady Ginger
Family Name: Zingiberaceae
Native to: China, India, Southeast Asia, New Guinea, Bismarck Archipelago, Queensland

Plants in the Globba genus are commonly known as the dancing lady ginger due to their yellow flowers that dangle and dance in the wind. This dance is likely performed to attract the plant’s pollinators. The purple petal-like structures are called bracts. Bracts are modified leaves that protect the flowers as they emerge and may also attract pollinators by providing a colorful backdrop for the flowers. A greatly elongated, arched stamen contains the plant’s pollen. Notice that the flowers are symmetrical when divided in half, much like a face or an orchid flower. Globbas are members of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae, and like all gingers, they grow from creeping rhizomes that form clumps underground.

Gossypium barbadense
Common Name: Egyptian Cotton, Pima Cotton, Sea Island Cotton
Family Name: Malvaceae
Native to: South America

Gossypium barbadense is a species of cotton grown for its extra-long staple fibers (ELS) and is associated with high-quality fabric, such as Egyptian cotton and Sea Island cotton. Cotton is one of the most important and earliest domesticated non-food crops. There are four domesticated Gossypium species, two in the Old World (G. arboreum and G. herbaceum) and two in the New World (G. hirsutum and G. barbadense). Archeological evidence indicates Gossypium barbadense domestication began as early as 2,500 BCE along the central coast of Peru and was tied to the fishing economy and marine-based lifestyle.

Cotton is a small shrub that is grown for its fiber. After a flower withers, it leaves a pod which is called a cotton “boll”.  The boll is actually a fruit that contains small seeds surrounded by white fibers.  As the boll ripens, it turns brown. The fibers expand, the boll splits, and cotton is exposed. The fiber is stripped from the seed by ginning and the lint is then processed into cotton.

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.

Hibiscus
Family Name: Malvaceae
Native to: Temperate, Subtropical, and Tropical Regions

The Hibiscus captures the magic of the tropics by combining the lush, deep greens of the foliage and the bright colors of the flowers. The plant serves many purposes in different cultures.  The red Hibiscus flower is traditionally worn by Tahitian women. A single flower, tucked behind the ear, is used to indicate the wearer’s availability for marriage. Dried hibiscus is edible, and is a delicacy in Mexico. The tea made from hibiscus flowers is known by many names in many countries around the world and is served both hot and cold. The beverage is well known for its color, tanginess, and flavor. Certain species are also beginning to be used more widely as a natural source of food coloring, replacing synthetic dyes.

Many of the 300 species have a classic structure with five overlapping petals arranged in a trumpet-like whorl. A long reproductive column protrudes from the center of the petals. The column is covered with stamens, the part of the flower that produces pollen. At the tip of the column are stigmas, where pollen lands and starts the fertilization process.

Hoya
Common Name: Wax Flower
Family Name: Apocynaceae
Native to: Tropical Asia and Australia

Most Hoyas are vines that grow epiphytically on trees. They have succulent leaves and star-shaped, waxy flowers that range from white to pink. Many species are sweetly scented and produce abundant nectar that attracts flies and ants. The flowers appear in umbellate clusters. An “umbel” is an inflorescence which consists of a number of short flower stalks which spread from a common point, somewhat like umbrella ribs.

Huernia zebrina
Common Name: Life Saver Plant, Little Owl Eyes
Family Name: Apocynaceae
Native to: South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland

Huernia zebrina is a stem succulent native to Southern Africa. The yellow star-shaped flowers have zebra stripes and a dark red center rim, that give the plant its common name, the life saver plant. The flowers emit a strong odor similar to that of carrion or rotting meat to attract fly pollinators. This low-growing succulent has four-sided stems edged with teeth. The Huernia genus is in the Apocynaceae family, along with Stapelia.

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. 

Lycaste
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.

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.

Melastoma sanguineum
Common Name: Fox-Tongued Melastome, Red Melastome
Family Name: Melastomataceae
Native to: China, East Asia 

You may hear Melastoma sanguineum referred to by its common name the fox-tongued melastome. Melastoma sanguineum is native to China and found distributed throughout East Asia. This perennial shrub usually grows 5-10 feet tall and is commonly found in grasslands, woodland margins, and open slopes. The showy flowers are purple or violet in color. If you look closely, you may notice the stems, branches, sepals, and fruit are covered in fine hairs, these hairs are botanically referred to as trichomes. Melastoma sanguineum is considered an invasive weed in Hawaii where it spreads quickly and grows in dense thickets.

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.

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.

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.

Philodendron warszewiczii
Family Name: Araceae
Native to: Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua

Philodendron warszewiczii grows on rocky cliffs and steep road banks. The Philodendron warszewiczii is notable for its bipinnate, feathered leaves and swollen trunk. Adventitious roots grow directly off the main truck, this adaptation allows the plant to access more nutrition and water.

Phoenicophorium borsigianum
Common Name: Thief Palm
Family Name: Arecaceae
Native to: Seychelles

Phoenicophorium borsigianum, commonly known as the thief palm, is a unique palm species. The thief palm is endemic (found only in a specific location) to the Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa. Unusually, the palm can establish and grow in a wide variety of habitats ranging from wet forests to bare, dry areas withstanding full sunlight and periods of drought. A distinctive feature of the thief palm are the prominent spines located on the stem and leaf bases. The spines are likely a defense against the giant tortoises that roam the islands. 

The epithet of Phoenicophorium borsigianum has an interesting history. The common name, thief palm, is a reference to the theft of one of the first specimens in cultivation at London’s Kew Gardens. The palm later turned up in the private greenhouse of August Borsig, a German industrialist and amateur horticulturist. The scientific name, Phoenicophorium borsigianum, pays homage to this history. The second half of the genus is derived from phorios the Greek root for stolen and the species name is a reference to August Borsig.

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.

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.

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.

Stapelia
Common Name: Carrion Flower
Family Name: Apocynaceae
Native to: South Africa

The genus Stapelia consists of 40 species of succulent plants. The hairy, oddly textured and colored appearance of many Stapelia flowers resembles that of rotting meat. This, coupled with their foul odor, has earned members of the Stapelia genus the common name of “carrion flowers”. These odors serve to attract various pollinators including blow flies. The flies lay eggs in the center of the Stapelia flower, convinced it is rotting meat that will be a food source for the larvae once they hatch.

Tacca chantrieri
Common Name: Bat Flower
Family Name: Dioscoreaceae
Native to: Southeast Asia

Tacca chantrieri is a flowering plant in the yam family, Dioscoreaceae. Its wing-like bracts are a deep purple and have the appearance of bat wings. The purpose of the bracts is to protect the flowers while they mature. As the bracts open they reveal about a dozen flowers on pendulant stems. The bracts also reveal long filiform bracteoles which look like whiskers. The purpose of the bracteoles is undetermined. It’s possible they are attractive to pollinators, however, this is still under debate. Tacca chantrieri are effective self-pollinators, and in one study, researchers removed the bracteoles from half the plants in the study and found the pollination rate was the same as the plants with bracteoles.

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.

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