The magical pools in the Aquatic Plants Gallery simulate the flow of a river winding through the tropics. The gallery features a diversity of aquatic plants and colorful water lilies including the Giant Water Lily with its majestic, spiny leaves visible during all but the coldest months of the year. Carnivorous pitcher plants, warm-growing orchids, and brightly painted Heliconia and Hibiscus are scattered throughout the gallery. Giant taro leaves line the pond and the flowers of bromeliads emerge from their water-filled buckets amidst a diversity of epiphytes, creating an eye-catching display of colors and textures.
WHAT’S IN BLOOM
Learn about the Conservatory’s five distinct galleries and see which plants are currently in bloom.
The Hymenocallis littoralis, commonly known as the Beach Spider lily, is native to Mexico and Northern Brazil. As it states in its name, the Beach Spider lily is commonly found near sea shores or running bodies of water. The Beach Spider Lily has a light fragrance that emits from its beautiful white firework like flower. Common pollinators for this plant are typically Hawk moths. The plant’s bulbous root has been used throughout history as a Antifungal and Antibacterial.
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.
This is one of the rarest plants in the Conservatory of Flowers’ collection. Osa pulchra is the only species in the Osa genus and is found only on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula and a small area in Panama. Only a few dozen individual plants of this species are known to grow in the wild. It is incredibly difficult to grow in gardens and even harder for collection growers to acquire seeds. The Conservatory of Flowers, one of few gardens in the world to display the species. It bloomed for the first time in March 2020.
Stangeria eriopus is an amazing Cycad that can easily be mistaken for a fern. Its large divided leaves rise from a hairy stem that gave the plant its name eriopus, or “wooly footed.” It grows in coastal grasslands and inland forests. In traditional medicine, this plant is used as a purgative and cure for headaches by the Zulu and Xhosa peoples. S. eriopus is classified as vulnerable and is the only species within its Genus. The Conservatory of Flowers is fortunate to have two specimens, one male and female, that might one day “get together.”
Commonly known as the sky vine, Thunbergia grandiflora is a vigorous tropical shrub that can grow well over 10 meters tall. Showy lavender blue trumpet-shaped flowers droop on vines with a pale-yellow throat that works as a bull’s eye for pollinators. The dark green leaves are covered in fine hairs and vary 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 by reducing light levels. This plant is considered a problem in some agricultural lands in Australia where the sheer weight of the stems can also kill trees. T. grandiflora can reproduce from seeds or underground stems (tubers). These tubers once established can become quite extensive reaching about 70kg, this makes managing an invasive population difficult.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Conservatory of Flowers is one of only a handful of institutions in the United States to feature a Highland Tropics display, given the challenge of creating such a cool and humid climate. 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 peek from hanging vines and through tree branches throughout.
The Anguloa orchid is commonly known as a tulip orchid because of the way the leaves resemble tulip leaves when they emerge from the forest floor. The flower’s waxy petals and sepals form a cup that partially encloses the lip and column, which contains the reproductive organs. The lip acts as a landing pad for the pollinator and it rocks when landed on. This motion helps remove pollen from the flower and attaches it to the bee. The bee is attracted to the strong cinnamon scent of the flower.
Bulbophyllum sulawesi is an orchid species named after its native island of Sulawesi in the Indonesian Archipelago. Its flowers are unpleasantly fragrant, typically dark red with elongated sepals.
B. sulawesi grows in the nooks of tree branches and on trunks, where it can collect moisture with its roots. Its preferred habitat is between 4000 and 5000 feet of elevation in mountainous forests. The plant itself is made of bulb-like structures, each with a single leaf, making it a unifoliate orchid. It can prudence up to 6 flower spikes, each with up to 10 flowers per spike.
Dendrobium smillieae is a robust orchid that is found in Queensland Australia and New Guinea. They grow epiphytically on tree limbs and trunks or lithophytically on rocks in the lowland rainforests. The pseudobulb stems grow in a dense mass and can reach a height of 5 feet. The waxy, tubular flowers grow in a dense cluster, known as a raceme, and are greenish white to pink in color. A beautiful bird named the Canary Honeyeater (Stomiopera flava) pollinates and feed off the nectar of these flowers that are arranged in a bottlebrush-like groups.
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.
Masdevallia is a genus of 350 cool growing orchid species. They are best known for their unusual triangle-shaped flowers made up of sepals fused into a tube-like structure. Though the flower shape is similar from plant to plant, the difference in size and color is wide and wonderful. Masdevallias have a wide variety of diverse scents, colors, and textures that relate to the small fruit flies that pollinate them. Scents range from rotting gorgonzola to a ripe peach or apple.
Maxillaria is a large and diverse genus of orchids with over 300 species. Orchids in this genus range widely in shape, size, and color. The large diversity of orchids within this genus has led some botanists and taxonomists to consider reorganizing or splitting this genus into several genera. The flowers, often fragrant, grow singularly on a scape arising from the base of the pseudobulbs. The genus name is derived from the Latin word Maxilla, meaning jawbone, due to the resemblance of the lip and column to an insect’s jaw. This genus is commonly referred to as the spider or tiger orchid.
This beautiful little orchid is easily distinguishable by its hairy, pouch-like flower. Their appearance might remind the viewer of a baleen whale feeding in the ocean. Both its lip and lower “pouch” grow a colorful array of thick hair that looks like baleen. Pleurothallis cypripedioides is a miniature orchid that can be found growing on trees, holding on with its roots as they collect dripping water. It grows at elevations between 1100 and 3600 feet in hot to warm tropical forests. This orchid crawls and spreads by its main stem and has leaves that stay approximately an inch and a half in length. Additionally, many botanists liken this tiny orchid to Cypripedium, or lady slipper orchids, which would explain the species name cypripedioides.
The large fragrant flowers of Sobralia orchids have beautiful multi-colored lips. The striking blooms appear sequentially on the inflorescence and range widely in color from purple to pink, yellow, and white. The flowers vary greatly in size ranging from 2 to 10 inches wide, but all are very short-lived and last either only a day or a week at most. The plants have lance-shaped leaves arranged along a reed-like stem and some species can grow 44 feet high.
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.
Some species of Oncidium have long bouncing stems with abundant flowers that flutter in the breeze and look like male bees. Pollination occurs when actual angry male bees attack the flowers thinking they are a competitor. The genus has been under taxonomic review over the past few years resulting in some formerly recognized Cochlioda or Symphyglossum species to be changed to Oncidiums. This change has increased the diversity of pollinators to not only bees but hummingbirds as well. The common name, dancing lady orchid, refers to the elaborate lip that looks like a dress with a full skirt. The petals and sepals look like the arms and head of a tiny lady.
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 several rare and ancient Cycads, which are primitive gymnosperms that pre-date the dinosaurs.
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.
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.
Coffea arabica contributes to around 71% of the world’s coffee. Coffea canephora is the next largest commercially grown species of coffee. Coffea arabica is said to produce better tasting coffee because the lower caffeine content makes it less bitter. Today, it is Endangered under the IUCN Red List. Climate change, deforestation, genetic erosion, pests and diseases are all contributing factors to why this species is declining in the wild. Increasing wild genetic diversity is critical for coffee growers, as it can help in developing strains of coffee that are resistant to disease, pests, or drought.
Scientists have determined a number of ways coffee plants use caffeine to their benefit. When leaves die and decompose on the ground they contaminate the soil with caffeine which makes it difficult for other plants to grow. Coffee plants also use caffeine to deter insects from eating their young leaves and beans. With the high doses of caffeine contained in these plant parts, a bite can be fatal to insects. But the nectar contained in coffee flowers is laced with a small dose of caffeine.
Crescentia cujete, more commonly known as the calabash tree, has been cultivated throughout tropical Central and South America since ancient times. The light green bell-shaped flowers grow directly on the trunk and branches and are pollinated by bats. The fruit is a poisonous berry that is widely utilized to make bowls, jugs, utensils, and musical instruments. The fruit nectaries attract stinging ants which help defend the plant against goats and other herbivores. Crescentia cujete has a variety of medicinal properties from treating toothaches, diarrhea, pneumonia, and lung diseases.
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.
Heliconia is a genus of flowering tropical plants with approximately 225 species. The majority of Heliconia species are native to tropical Central and South America; however, several species are found on islands in the West Pacific. Heliconias thrive in tropical conditions and habitats that have an abundance of water, sunlight, and rich soil. The inflorescence, or cluster of flowers, are quite distinctive and range in colorful hues of red, orange, yellow, and green. The inflorescence consists of brightly colored, waxy bracts (specialized leaves at the base of flowers) arranged alternately on the stem that encloses and protect small flowers.
Heliconias support a diversity of ecological relationships with various organisms. Hummingbirds are the principle pollination of Heliconias in the Americas. The flowers produce an abundance of nectar and the color, shape, and curve of the flowers are adapted to specific hummingbird species. Several species of Heliconia open their flowers at night to attract nectar-eating bats for pollination. Additionally, multiple species of bats use the leaves and foliage to construct habitats and shelters. Heliconia species with upright bracts are known to collect rainwater and support a community of minute, aquatic fauna. Interestingly, the name Heliconia is derived from Mount Helicon, a mountain in southern Greece that is known in Greek mythology to be the home of the Muses.
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.
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.
The flowers of Pavonia strictiflora beautifully bloom right on the branches. This adaptation is called cauliflory, which is a botanical term referring to plants which flower and fruit from their main stems or trunks rather than from new growth and shoots. Plants in the Pavonia genus belong to the mallow family, Malvaceae, the same family as chocolate and hibiscus. The genus is named after a Spanish botanist and explorer, Jose Antonio Pavon Jimenez (1754-1840). The Species name is a combination of Latin words meaning narrow flowers, referring to the dense arrangement of flowers on the stems.
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. This ever-changing garden of curiosities features a rotating host of unique, charismatic and rarely seen plants from tropical places throughout the world. Lush flowering trees and shrubs are held 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.
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 dozens of microscopic female and male flowers. In order to avoid self-pollination, these flowers are active at different times. By avoiding self-pollination Anthuriums’ can increase genetic diversity, increase disease resistance, and increase their offspring’s ability to adapt to change. When Anthurium flowers are pollinated, the spadix fills with round, berry-like fruit. The berries might look sweet but, Anthuriums’ contain calcium oxalate crystals which are highly poisonous if ingested.
Bulbophyllum falcatum is distinctive for its interestingly shaped inflorescence or flowering body. Each of B. falcatum’s many flowers is only a fraction of an inch along its flowering stem, called a rachis. The rachis produces flowers laterally and continuously, resulting in older flowers closer to the base, and younger ones closer to the tip. This is a small orchid species that grows from sea level up to approximately 6000 ft. elevation. It is epiphytic, meaning it grows on other plants purely for support. Its dark green oblong leaves stay generally small, but the orchid can spread to cover a larger area.
Cattleya is 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. They are often used for prom or weddings in corsages which gives them their common name, Corsage Orchids. An interesting adaptation of Cattleya orchids is that some have a pseudobulb attached to 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.
Cymbidium are noteworthy because of their standard and miniature sizes with approximately 55 natural species, 16 natural hybrids, and thousands of hybrids exist. They bloom in the winter with over a dozen flowers ranging from white, pink, red, orange, or even black. 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.
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 Mexico and down to Northern Colombia. 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 provides protection against predation and stores water and nutrients which helps 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 was used as an oral contraceptive and osteoporosis. 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.
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.
Heliamphora is a genus of approximately 18 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. Heliamphora range from between the heights of 4000-9200 feet and sometimes above 2500 feet on the 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.
Laelia orchids are stunning with blooms in a wide range of color from bold pinks and purples to bright yellows and greens. Laelias are found in forests from sea level to mountain habitats across Mexico down to tropical America.
The Laelia genus is a great example of taxonomic work in progress. Laelia was formerly a large genus of orchids from Mexico to Brazil. With new DNA evidence and modern research, the Laelia and Cattleya genera have been rearranged to better reflect their evolutionary history.
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.
Only five Paphiopedilum species are known to be epiphytes and the rest are lithophytes, plants that grow on rocks. They are found growing in shady understories of lower montane evergreen or seasonally deciduous forests ranging from Southern China to Tropical Asia. 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.
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 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.
The Jade Vine’s aquamarine blooms are a striking color rarely seen in flowers. A woody perennial of the legume family, the Jade vine climbs up trees in search of sunlight in its habitat along streams of the Philippine rainforest. The species is threatened due to habitat loss. Assessments of its population have deemed it Vulnerable, a designation just short of endangered. With only about 20% of Philippine rainforests left, this is one of many species in this region impacted by deforestation. The Jade vine is thought to be pollinated by bats based on the shape of its flowers. Its bright color must be luminous even by night when bats are on the move.
After trekking through the tropics respite can easily be found among the fern fronds of the West Gallery. Ferns are an ancient group of plants that have their earliest ancestors dating back approximately 400 million years. Many Victorians had a passion for fern collecting, housing their most delicate species in tropical conservatories like this one. Today, ferns are found on every continent except Antarctica. Look out for a New Zealand Tree Fern in the southwest corner, and a delicate-looking Tassel Fern amongst the many ferns hanging from above. With ample seating among these peaceful plants, the West Gallery offers a gentle recharge.
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 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.
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.
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