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.

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.

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.

Anguloa
Common Name | Tulip Orchid
Family Name | Orchidaceae
Native to | West South American to Venezuela

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.

Cavendishia grandifolia
Common Name | Jungle Blueberry, Neotropical Blueberry
Family Name | Ericaceae
Native to | Central and South America

Cavendishia grandifolia is native to the forests of Ecuador, but it is now endangered, primarily due to habitat loss, according to the IUCN Red List. Cavendishia grandifolia, or the neotropical blueberry, belongs to the same family (Ericaceae) that includes rhododendrons, azaleas, heathers, and edible crops like cranberries and blueberries. The Cavendishia grandifolia berry has significantly more antioxidants than blueberries but have a very bland taste.

The Conservatory’s plant is a sprawling epiphytic shrub. Dozens of waxy pink, white, and green flowers dangle from long inflorescences. Pink bracts add another pop of color to attract hummingbirds to pollinate.

 

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.

Epidendrum
Family Name | Orchidaceae
Native to | Tropical and Subtropical America

Epidendrum comes from the Greek words ‘upon’ and ‘trees’, which refer to their epiphytic growth habit. Carl Linnaeus initially grouped all epiphytes he ever encountered in this genus but after a time and more consideration some were removed from this group and even some non-epiphytes were added. Epidendrums have long, reed-like inflorescences that produce brightly colored bunches of flowers in shades of orange, red, yellow, and pink. In almost all species of Epidendrums, the flowers have a fringed lip that’s fused to the column along its entire length. They are pollinated by butterflies or hummingbirds. Some Epidendrums are well suited for novice orchid growers because they are forgiving, vigorous growers, and can tolerate mild evening temperatures outdoors.

Lycaste
Family Name | Orchidaceae
Native to | Mexico to Tropical America

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 have three petals and three sepals that are both dotted with reddish to purplish spots. Three sepals are easily recognized with colors ranging from yellow, orange, green or even reddish brown. The sepals sit nicely behind two obvious petals ranging in colors from yellow, white, or orange. 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. The blooms of Lycaste orchids can range from 5-10 cm wide, with sweet cinnamon or clove fragrances.

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.

Sobralia
Family Name | Orchidaceae
Native to | Mexico to South Tropical America

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.

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.  

Stanhopea
Family Name | Orchidaceae
Native to | Mexico to S. Tropical America and Trinidad

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

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

Strophanthus preussii
Common Name | Twisted Cord Flower
Family Name | Apocynaceae
Native to | Tropical West and Central Africa

Strophanthus preusii is native to the forested areas of west to central Africa and belongs to the dogbane family, Apocynaceae . This species has clusters of small pale pink trumpet-shaped flowers with a rusty red base that bloom at the beginning of the dry season and the first part of the long rainy season. It is nicknamed the twisted cord flower or spider tresses for its distinctive twisted maroon tail extending from each of the five ovate petals extending to about 30 centimeters in length.

There are many traditional uses for all parts of S. preusii. The stem of the plant is used to construct hunting bows. The latex and young leaves are crushed in water and applied to treat gonorrhea, the young leaves can also be cooked and eaten as vegetables. The latex is used on sores and wounds to promote healing and used as a coagulate for making rubber. The fibers are used to craft fishing lines, nets, and ropes. The latex and seeds are used in poison arrow mixtures but are less toxic than Strophanthus gratus, therefore less desirable for this purpose.

 

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.

Costus curvibracteatus
Common Name | Orange Tulip Ginger, Spiral Ginger
Family Name | Costaceae
Native to | Nicaragua to Colombia

This plant produces bright orange flowers surrounded by red bracts. The wide leaves attach to the stem in a spiral fashion. The arrangement of the leaves make it a good ground cover and under the right conditions, it will bloom year-round. While the plant is commonly called spiral ginger, Costus curvibracteatus is not a true ginger and is not edible.

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.

Anthurium
Family Name | Araceae
Native to | Mexico to Tropical America

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 echinolabium
Common Name | Hedgehog-shaped Lip Bulbophyllum
Family Name | Orchidaceae
Native to | Sulawesi

This handsome, but unpleasant smelling flower is one of 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.

Cattleya
Common Name | Corsage Orchid
Family Name | Orchidaceae
Native to | Tropical Central and South America

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.

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.

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.

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 a now-extinct pollinator, 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.

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