What’s in Bloom

WHAT’S IN BLOOM

See which plants are currently in bloom at the Conservatory.

AQUATIC PLANTS

HIGHLAND TROPICS

LOWLAND TROPICS

POTTED PLANTS

WEST GALLERY

AQUATIC PLANTS

The magical pools in the Aquatic Plants Gallery simulate the flow of a river winding through the tropics. The gallery features carnivorous pitcher plants, warm-growing orchids, and brightly painted Heliconia and Hibiscus. Giant taro leaves line the pond and the flowers of hundreds of bromeliads emerge from their water-filled buckets. A sculpture of a Victoria amazonica water lily hangs suspended in the air. The Victoria amazonica, lotus plants, and colorful water lilies grow in the ponds during the summers when water conditions are just right.

Cananga odorata
Common Name | Ylang-Ylang
Family Name | Annonaceae
Native to | Malesia to Queensland

The drooping flowers have six narrow, greenish-yellow petals and yield a highly fragrant essential oil which is used in perfumes, soaps, and for aromatherapy. The wood is also used locally for rope, construction, and sometimes as fuelwood. Interestingly, the Ylang-ylang is used by the food industry as a peach or apricot flavoring. The flowers are not only used for their beautiful scent but also for lowering blood pressure, reducing fever, and relieving tension. The flower is spread on the bed of newlywed couples in Indonesia and is often worn by women in the Philippines. Ylang-ylang grows in full or partial sun and prefers the acidic soils of its native rainforest habitat.

Coelogyne
Family Name | Orchidaceae
Native to | Tropical and Subtropical Asia to West Pacific

The orchid genus Coelogyne is comprised of about 200 species, commonly called Necklace Orchids because of their long pendant like inflorescence. Most of the species are relatively easy to grow and produce long-lasting fragrant flowers. In their winter dormant season, they can go weeks without water. They often have elaborately marked lips to attract pollinators, which include bees, wasps, and beetles. You can find our numerous Coelogyne orchids displayed in the Potted Plants Gallery.

Medinilla magnifica
Common Name | Pink Lantern, Rose Grape
Family Name | Melastomataceae
Native to | Philippines

In every stage of its blooming cycle, this Medinilla magnifica is true to its name. The magnificent flower clusters, called panicles, begin as a dewdrop-shaped pendant. Protecting the pendant are pink bracts, which look like petals but are actually modified leaves. As they unfold, the bracts curl upwards and reveal clusters of tiny pink and purple flowers. The flowers leave behind berry-like pods which remain on the plant for weeks. These beauties often grow on trees in their native habitat, the Philippines, but do not extract nutrients from the tree.

Strophanthus gratus
Common Name | Climbing Oleander
Family Name | Apocynaceae
Native to | West and West Central Africa

Despite its beautiful rose scent, the winter-spring blooming Strophanthus gratus is not as friendly as it appears. The plant contains high concentration of cardiac glycosides, which are organic compounds that increase the output force of the heart. Ouabain is the main glycoside found in the seed, it is odorless but very bitter and extremely toxic. Extracts containing ouabain have long been used by Somali tribesmen and other groups to poison hunting arrows. It is rumored that a sufficiently concentrated ouabain dart can bring down a Hippopotamus, probably as the result of respiratory or cardiac arrest. The leaves are used to treat gonorrhea and constipation, as well as applied externally to treat snakebites and to cure fever. The root is said to be an aphrodisiac. Most notably the seeds contain the highest concentration of glycosides which can be extracted and used as a rapid cardiac stimulant. More recent studies have found a novel use that can prove relevant for metastatic prostate cancer. This plant is still poisonous and can cause nausea, vomiting, and heart problems if not used properly.

 

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. Though well-known for its beauty, Hibiscus is also famous for its economical uses across cultures. It can be worn decoratively, cultivated for food and drink, and even used as a natural dye. More recently, scientists were able to extract silver and gold nanoparticles from Hibiscus during an effort to find more sustainable sources for biosynthesis. Hibiscus has been used around the world for a variety of remedies. It is useful to relive conditions such as high blood pressure, bacterial infections, or to treat heart and nervous conditions.

Alcantarea imperialis
Common Name | Imperial Bromeliad
Family Name | Bromeliaceae
Native to | Brazil

This giant terrestrial bromeliad can be found growing on inselbergs (isolated rock outcrops) in southeastern Brazil. The genus is named after the last emperor of Brazil, Don Pedro II de Alcantara and the specific name is Latin for imperial. It takes between 8-20 years to flower and will flower for up to 12 months. This species plays an important ecological role as it stores rainwater in the pockets created by its leaves, offering a home to frogs, insects, and even other small aquatic plants. Alcantarea imperialis is becoming increasingly threatened in the wild due to habitat loss, which in turn affects the creatures that are dependent on the plant.

Nepenthes bicalcarata
Common Name | Fanged Pitcher Plant
Family Name | Nepenthaceae
Native to | Borneo

The fanged pitcher plant is named such because of the ‘walrus-tooth-like prickles’ that protrude from the pitcher. The meaning of the specific epitaph also eludes to this unique characteristic, Latin ‘bi’ means two and ‘calcaratus’ means spurred. The plant has a symbiotic relationship with a species of ant called, Camponotus schmitzi. The plant has adaptations that provide the ant colony with food or shelter. In exchange, ants aid the plant in pollination, seed
dispersal, defense, or the gathering of essential nutrients. N. bicalcarata is ranked as vulnerable according to the IUCN Red List.

Hibiscus schizopetalus
Common Name | Japanese Lantern, Spider Hibiscus
Family Name | Malvaceae
Native to | Kenya and Tanzania

The flowers of this Hibiscus are distinctive in their frilly, finely divided petals that curve up and create a globe shape. Hibiscus schizopetalus is native to Kenya and Tanzania but is commonly referred to as ‘Japanese lantern’ because it resembles traditional Japanese lanterns. A long reproductive column protrudes from the center of the petals 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. The flowers attract a variety of pollinations, bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

HIGHLAND TROPICS

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.

Cavendishia colombiana
Family Name | Ericaceae
Native to | Colombia

Cavendishia is commonly referred to as the Neotropical Bluberries. Cavendishia has roughly 114 species, none of which is our standard blueberry. Bluberries and Cavendishia do share the same family, Ericaceae, and by stretching your imagination the berries of Cavendishia colombiana do look like out-of-this-world bluberries. Cavendishia colombiana is native only to the cloud forests of Colombia where it can grow on the ground as a terrestrial plant or on other plants as an epiphyte. The flowers are clear green to white in color and are surrounded by a red bract when it is time to bloom.

Coelogyne
Family Name | Orchidaceae
Native to | Tropical and Subtropical Asia to West Pacific

The orchid genus Coelogyne is comprised of about 200 species, commonly called Necklace Orchids because of their long pendant like inflorescence. Most of the species are relatively easy to grow and produce long-lasting fragrant flowers. In their winter dormant season, they can go weeks without water. They often have elaborately marked lips to attract pollinators, which include bees, wasps, and beetles. You can find our numerous Coelogyne orchids displayed in the Potted Plants Gallery.

Dracula
Family Name | Orchidaceae
Native to | South Mexico to Peru

One might assume that the name is a reference to, Count Dracula, but in Latin, Dracula literally means ‘little dragon’. When fully open, the flower resembles a dragon’s face. The genus was founded in 1978 by Carlyle Luer and about 118 species have been described as of today. Living in the cloud forest of the tropics between 300 and 2800 meters in elevation, 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 use visual cues in their patterned calyx, a showy labellum and smelly chemical signals to mimic mushrooms and attract mushroom-associated flies.

In our vey own Highlands Gallery you can experience these beautiful beings smiling down at you from our hanging vines, the horticulturalists cleverly named, Vlad the Vine and Elvira the Vine.

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 1500 to 2500 meters. 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 one of the largest blooms 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.

Sarcochilus
Family Name | Orchidaceae
Native to | New Guinea to New Caledonia and East Australia

Sarcochilus orchids are found widespread through New Guinea to New Caledonia and East Australia. The attractive orchids are mostly small epiphytes, although a couple larger species grow directly on rocks, boulders, and cliff faces. The long-lasting flowers are often fragrant and grow in colorful clusters of white and yellow, often with red speckling. The generic name is derived from the Greek root for flesh, sacros, and lip, cheilos, and is a reference to the fleshy lip of the flower.

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.

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 to 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 | Sunset Palm, Orange Crownshaft Palm, Monkey pinang
Family Name | Arecaceae
Native to | 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. It is also commonly known as ‘pinang yaki’ or monkey pinang to native Indonesians, possibly because the Sulawesi crested macaque frequent this palm to enjoy the sweet ripe fruit. 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.

Dioon spinulosum
Common Name | Giant Dioon, Coyolito de Cerro
Family Name | Zamiaceae
Native to | Veracruz and Oaxaca, Mexico

Cycads are a unique, ancient lineage of plants that flourished in the Mesozoic Era approximately 170 million years ago. Commonly mistaken as a palm or fern, the cycad is in fact not closely related to either. This particular cycad is over 100 years old.

Dioon spinulosum is one of the tallest cycad species in the world, growing to 50 feet high. A cycad is either male or female and the cones of each sex are usually quite different in size and shape. When the female cones ripen and open they will reveal hundreds of orange, unfertilized ovules. For the cone’s ovules to be fertilized, the Conservatory would need pollen from a male plant of the same species, which we do not have at the Conservatory. So, this giant Dioon will repeat it’s cycle of producing unfertilized cones, year after year, without producing offspring. Fortunately, cycads can also produce stem offshoots, often called pups. These can be separated from the parent and rooted to create new plants.

According to the IUCN Red List, Dioon spinulosum is currently endangered in the wild. It has experienced an overall population decline of 70% because of habitat destruction and severe over collection. Increasing education and awareness is a key tactic for conservation, which is why it is so important for our guests to see this magnificent giant in person.  

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 flowers scent is intense. When blooming, the fragrance of tropical fruit fills the air in the galleries. 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.

Musa
Common Name | Banana, Plantain
Family Name | Musaceae
Native to | Tropical and Subtropical Asia to West Pacific

The Musa genus is primarily known for being the source of bananas and plantains. Considered the fourth most important crop in the world, many cultures expand on the use of Musa plants for things like medicine, fibers, dyes, fuel, cordage, wrapping materials, and even steam for cooking.

Banana or Plantain?

Bananas and plantains are considered the same fruit botanically. However, they differ in genome which lead to the different classifications between cooking bananas, plantains, and dessert bananas. Plantains are larger and starchier than bananas.

Saraca indica
Common Name | Ashoka Tree
Family Name | Fabaceae
Native to | Indo-China to W. Malesia

The ashoka tree is prized for its beautiful and fragrant flowers. The cluster of yellow flowers emerge in the winter and fade to an orange and then crimson color with age and increased sunlight. Long crimson stamens give the flower clusters a hairy appearance.

Both Buddhists and Hindus consider the tree sacred and plant it around their temples. The blossoms are used for religious offerings and the tree is found in the literature and artwork of both religions. The bark of the ashoka tree is highly regarded for its medicinal value, and aids in the management of hemorrhoids, uterine fibroids, and discomfort caused by menstruation. A 2015 study in the Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity Journal asserted that the bark also has anti-breast cancer properties.

 

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.

Bulbophyllum lobbii
Common Name | Lobb's Bulbophyllum
Family Name | Orchidaceae
Native to | Borneo, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines

Bulbophyllum lobbii is found in tropical lowland and montane forests. This epiphytic orchid species grows on the trunks and main branches of trees.  The bloom of the Bulbophyllum lobbii is a single large yellow flower that is fragrant. A specialized petal (labellum) functions to attract insects. It is hinged and nods up and down in the slightest breeze with food rewards attached, which attracts the attention of passing pollinators. Bulbophyllum lobbii is unifoliate, one leathery leaf arises from pseudobulbs. Pseudobulbs are storage organs holding water and nutrients common in epiphytic orchids and leaves and flowers arise from this structure.

Coelogyne
Family Name | Orchidaceae
Native to | Tropical and Subtropical Asia to West Pacific

The orchid genus Coelogyne is comprised of about 200 species, commonly called Necklace Orchids because of their long pendant like inflorescence. Most of the species are relatively easy to grow and produce long-lasting fragrant flowers. In their winter dormant season, they can go weeks without water. They often have elaborately marked lips to attract pollinators, which include bees, wasps, and beetles. You can find our numerous Coelogyne orchids displayed in the Potted Plants Gallery.

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 Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam. It has been introduced to other tropical regions around the world and today is widely grown 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.

Pachystachys lutea
Common Name | Lollipop Plant, Golden Shrimp Plant
Family Name | Acanthaceae
Native to | Northern Brazil, Panama, and Peru

Pachystachys lutea is a popular landscape plant in tropical and subtropical areas of the world. The plant’s long-throated, short-lived white flowers emerge sequentially from overlapping bright yellow modified leaves (bracts). These bracts are brightly colored and serve the function of attracting pollinating hummingbirds. These hummingbirds help the pollination process by brushing up against 2 stamens held under the upper lip and are rewarded by nectar at the bottom of the fused corolla.

 

Petrea volubilis
Common Name | Sandpaper Vine, Queen's Wreath
Family Name | Verbenaceae
Native to | Florida, Mexico to Tropical America

Petrea volubilis, commonly known as the Queen’s Wreath, is an evergreen flowering vine that towers and twines its way up to heights of 40 feet. The species name literally means twining. They also have rough-textured leaves, hence the next popular common name Sandpaper Vine. Dangling from the raceme (hanging cluster of flowers) are dozens of pale purple sepals. Violet flowers grow from the center of the sepals. The sepals serve to attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies to the smaller flower. The flowers will grow in pairs and move to face the light, the light purple sepals remain for a while after the dark purple flowers have fallen.

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

Plants in the genus Phragmipedium is named after their shoe shaped pouches and are native to regions of Mexico to Southern Tropical America. 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 | Northern America

Sarracenia is a genus comprising of about 11 species, all pitcher plants that are native to Northern American. Similar to 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 Sarracenia’s dramatic umbrella-like flowers are usually on long stems well above the pitcher, to avoid trapping potential pollinators. Today, the IUCN Red List has named several species vulnerable, threatened or endangered because of human interference.

Vireya sect. 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.

Vanda
Family Name | Orchidaceae
Native to | Tropical & Subtropical Asia to NW. Pacific

The Vanda orchid has some of the most magnificent flowers in the orchid family. Vanda has 74 established species, but growers have popularized the hybridization of Vanda in efforts to get a flower that’s the biggest, showiest, and most colorful. The flowers bloom once a year and can be between 1 to 4 inches wide with fabulous fragrance. The blue and purple species are the best known Vandas, but there are a wide range of other colors, which makes for striking hybrid combinations that are popular in the floral trade.

WEST GALLERY

After trekking through the tropics respite can easily be found among the fronds in the West Gallery. From the New Zealand Tree Fern dominating the southwest corner to the delicate looking Tassel Fern hanging from above, and coupled with ample seating, the West Gallery offers a gentle recharge.

Huperzia squarrosa
Common Name | Tassel Fern
Family Name | Lycopodiaceae
Native to | Southeast to Pacific Asia 

Plants in this genus were once a part of the genus Lycopodium from which they differ by not having specialized spore-bearing cones. Spores from Lycopodium are highly flammable and were once a primary ingredient in fireworks and in flash powders used in photography. The dry spores are also hydrophobic, which makes them repel water, and were used as a waterproofing powder for pills, and surgical gloves. Today, we know that Huperzia squarrosa also has impactful medicinal properties that are used to treat brain disorders, Alzheimer, and Parkinson diseases.

Microsorum musifolium
Common Name | Crocodile Fern
Family Name | Polypodiaceae
Native to | South Myanmar to New Guinea

Microsorum musifolium is especially noteworthy for the texture of the leaves, the Crocodile Fern comes from the Malaysian Archipelago and makes a great house plant. The name Crocodile Fern comes from the beautiful dark green veins that wrinkle in a pattern that resembles the back of a crocodile. It is naturally an epiphyte and can grow on trees or even on rocks. It can tolerate medium shade and prefers to stay moist but well drained. If grown correctly, they can grow up to 1 meter tall and over 1 meter wide. The genus Microsorum means ‘small sori’ in Greek, which describes the cluster of spore capsules on the underside of the leaves. The species name musifolium means ‘banana-like leaves’ which references the elongated strap-life fronds.

Platycerium
Common Name | Staghorn Fern
Family Name | Polypodiaceae
Native to | Tropical and Subtropical Old World, Peru to Bolivia

Staghorn ferns have two types of fronds, basal and fertile. The sterile, oval-shaped, basal fronds not only help the plant adhere to trees, but also cover the roots to protect against damage, capture rain water, and trap leaf litter that decomposes and provides the plant with nutrients. The antler shaped fertile fronds hold the reproductive spores. There are about 17 accepted species, the most common is P. bifurcatum mature plant can be up to 3 feet across.

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