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 | West Gallery

Click images to enlarge.

Acalypha hispida
Common Name: Chenille Plant
Family Name: Euphorbiaceae
Native to: New Guinea, Malaysia

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.

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.

Coelogyne
Family Name: Orchidaceae
Native to: Southeast Asia

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.

Dioscorea mexicana
Common Name: Tortoise Plant, Mexican Yam
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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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