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The Real San Francisco Treat

Jacob Burns —  November 4, 2013 — 2 Comments

Over the summer I had the chance to visit many places, from arboreta, native plant gardens, and desert gardens, to cemeteries—all in an effort to interact with additional leaders in the field and get inspiration from other gardens across the country.  This was all possible due to the Chanticleer Scholarship, which supports educational opportunities for public-garden professionals. I arranged to spend a full day touring with each expert. While each place I visited was totally unique and showcased a vast array of plants, it was the San Francisco Botanical Garden (SFBG) that intrigued me the most.

I arranged to meet with Bob Fiorello, who is an award-winning horticulturist and pest-management professional with more than 25 years of experience in public gardening. Mr. Fiorello has been a gardener at SFBG since 1998 and started both the San Francisco Integrated Pest Management Task Force and the Sustainable Parks Information Network (SPIN).

PHOTO: Banksia bloom

Unusual leaves are topped with an unusual bloom on Banskia speciosa.

Mr. Fiorello gave me a very elaborate tour, informing me that the San Francisco Botanical Garden makes up 55 acres, convenient for tourists visiting Golden Gate Park. I noticed that the paths are wide, yet there are many smaller paths that allow you to admire every one of the 8,000 different types of plants from across the world. Most of the collections are displayed geographically, so I felt as if I were walking through distinctive habitats on other continents. Most of the plants I witnessed are the result of collecting expeditions to diverse parts of the world.  

The most unique habitats rendered are cloud forests.  Cloud forests are distinctive areas prone to continual fog and are mainly found in Central and South America, East and Central Africa, and Southeast Asia, where temperatures are mild all year round. San Francisco has abundant fog in summer and rarely drops below freezing in winter, so cultivating plants from these environments makes sense, especially when these habitats are diminishing in nature due to human destruction.

Brugmansias, fuschias, and salvias were some of the radiant flowers I witnessed throughout the MesoAmerican Cloud Forest.  Even brighter were passionflower vines climbing up trees and shedding neon orange and pink blossoms across the paths. This particular cloud forest has become established as a national and international resource by the North American Plant Collections Consortium (NAPCC) for scientists and researchers and is one of the few specialized collections focusing geographically on a diverse group of plants.  Most other gardens, including the Chicago Botanic Garden, simply focus on collecting plants within a certain genus, with the goal of being experts of that group.

PHOTO: Trumpet-shaped Brugmansia blooms hang pendulously from a vine.

Brugmansia (Photo courtesy San Francisco Botanical Garden)

PHOTO: Passionflower vine blossoms.

Passionflower (Passiflora sp.) vine blossoms

Mr. Fiorello wanted me to see his favorite genus, Banksia. For that, we had to travel to an area devoted to the flora of Australia and New Zealand. The saw-tooth leaves on Banksia serrata were unusual. In fact all the plants in this collection were strange in appearance when compared to other vegetation.  The red-colored aerial roots of New Zealand Christmas tree (Metrosideros excelsia) were sort of creepy, while the red-hued fronds of the Pukupuku fern (Doodia media) were quite attractive. Even the hot pink fruit of the lily pilly tree (Syzygium smithii) looked tasty (though I hear it is not).

PHOTO: New Zealand Christmas tree.

New Zealand Christmas tree (Metrosideros excelsa)

PHOTO: Lilly Pily tree.

Lilly pilly tree (Syzygium smithii)

PHOTO: Pukupuku, or common rasp fern.

Pukupuku, or common rasp fern (Doodia media)

I am crazy about native plants, and California hosts more wild plants than any other state.  I was told that the greatest numbers of natives are displayed across the bay at Berkeley Botanical Garden, where they make up a third of that garden.  The San Francisco Botanical Garden’s native plant collection differs however, being heavily designed and with less emphasis on individual plant communities.  While they have fewer natives than Berkeley, the selected plants are grown in much broader sweeps and in beautiful combinations that really put on quite a show.

The native that wowed me most was Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri). The blossoms are enormous and resemble sunny-side-up eggs, held on tall grey-green foliage. The other eye-catcher is flannelbush (Fremontodendron californicum), a fifteen-foot-tall, irregularly shaped shrub with fuzzy lobed leaves and prolific flowers that are yellow-orange.

PHOTO: Matilija poppy.

Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri)

PHOTO: California flannelbush in bloom.

California flannelbush (Fremontodendron californicum)

There is nothing more festive than wandering the replicated redwood grove. Below the colossal tree trunks, I found a solid carpet of green comprised of shamrock-like redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana), robust fronds of sword fern (Polystichum munitum), bold leaves of Western coltsfoot (Petasites palmatus), and lacy-looking Inside-out flower (Vancouveria hexandra). This was a great prequel to what I would enjoy while hiking Muir Woods and perfect for tourists who may not have the chance to cross the Golden Gate Bridge.

PHOTO: A view up into the redwood canopy.

A view up into the redwood canopy

PHOTO: Redwood sorrel.

Redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana)

My tour of SFBG taught me that plant-collecting expeditions can be one of the most gratifying means of obtaining plants.  I also found that not every specialized collection has to fall under the same rules to be recognized by the NAPCC. For instance, we at the Chicago Botanic Garden are among the few gardens that attempt to preserve cultivars of plants while most public gardens focus on the wild collected species of plants.

Even after almost eight hours, I still had not seen everything. I thanked Mr. Fiorello for his gracious time and insight and insisted he go enjoy his weekend.  I continued to wander the grounds for another three hours filling my camera with photos and enjoying the cool autumn air.

If you find yourself in San Francisco, do take the time to visit the San Francisco Botanical Garden. You will not regret it. Although you might be sorry that you flew and cannot bring home all of the gorgeous and inexpensive plants sold in their incredible gift shop (as I was).


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Botanical Bill’s Big Adventure

It's a Groundhog Day Scavenger Hunt!

Karen Z. —  January 31, 2013 — 2 Comments

“Rise and shine, campers, and don’t forget your booties, ‘cuz it’s coooold out there today!”

If you love Groundhog Day the movie, or just the idea that there’s a Groundhog Day at all, then visit the Garden on Saturday as our own groundhog mascot, Botanical Bill, goes on an adventure. Download a PDF of the scavenger hunt here.

Bring your smartphone and hunt around the Regenstein Center for the answers to the questions below — get five of the ten correct and you’ve earned a cup of hot cocoa at the Garden Café, plus a d.i.y. photo op with Botanical Bill at the Visitor Center Information Desk where he’s hanging out all week! 

PHOTO: Botanical Bill at the entrance of the Woodcut exhibit.
1. An exhibition called Woodcut would sound good to a woodchuck — which, along with “whistle pig,” is another common name for a groundhog. Botanical Bill brought his name tag along on his adventure, which starts at the Woodcut exhibition. What material makes up the exhibit’s title?

 

PHOTO: Botanical Bill checks out the rings on a tree slice.
2. Groundhogs have good eyesight — their eyes are placed high up on their heads, the better to peek out of their burrows while staying mostly hidden. Nonetheless, Botanical Bill used the magnifying glass to get a good look at this tree’s cross section in Woodcut. What kind of tree was it?

 

PHOTO: Botanical Bill visits Paradise.
3. Groundhogs like to stay close to home—they rarely travel more than ½ mile from their burrow in their entire lives. Botanical Bill sure liked the look of this garden, though, from the In Search of Paradise exhibition in Krehbiel Gallery. Where would he have to travel to visit the real thing?

 

PHOTO: Botanical Bill catches up on his reading in the library.
4. Groundhogs are rarely seen at the Garden. Much like British royalty and nobility. What collection of books is Botanical Bill admiring in the Lenhardt Library? (Hint: the collection was put together for fans of a popular television show.)

 

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5. Groundhogs eat plants — lots of plants — including up to 1½ pounds per day in the summer. Botanical Bill isn’t so sure about these plants in the case in the Arid Greenhouse — they look like rocks! What kind of plants are they?

 

PHOTO: Botanical Bill hangs out with an armadillo in the greenhouse.
6. Groundhogs dig burrows that are 2 to 5 feet deep and extend up to 30 feet long! Foxes, snakes, raccoons, and rabbits often reuse old groundhog burrows. Botanical Bill met this fellow burrow maker in the Arid Greenhouse. What kind of topiary animal is it?

 

PHOTO: Botanical Bill gets a banana snack.
7. Groundhogs graze on grasses and clovers — but what they really love are vegetables and fruit growing in gardens! Botanical Bill gazes longingly at the just-out-of-reach bananas ripening in the Tropical Greenhouse. Walk down to the base of the banana plant — what name is on its plant label?

 

PHOTO: Botanical Bill enjoys some pitcher plants.
8. Groundhogs are “edge” creatures that like to live in brushy areas on the edges of forests, in farm fields, or even in landscaped neighborhoods. Botanical Bill is admiring the “meat-eating” plants like Venus fly-traps and sundews in the Semitropical Greenhouse. What plant is hanging in the basket above him?

 

PHOTO: Botanical Bill poses with The Sower.
9. Groundhogs like to sun themselves on rocks, along branches, or on stone walls. Botanical Bill found a sweet spot to catch some sun at The Sower. What year was it installed here? (Hint: Look down for the memorial plaque.)

 

PHOTO: Botanical Bill grabing a drink at the cafe.
10. Groundhogs aren’t big water drinkers — they get their water from rain and dew on the plants and fruit they eat, instead. While Botanical Bill’s relaxing with a mug of water in the Garden Café, answer this question: What was the name of Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day?

 

Now scamper over to the Visitor Center Information Desk with your answers. It’s Groundhog Day! Don’t forget to take your picture with Botanical Bill and post it on our Facebook Page!


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Reflections on 12.12.12

One Day on Earth: 24 Hours in the Chicago Botanic Garden

Julie McCaffrey —  December 19, 2012 — Leave a comment

Two Garden staffers set out to capture 12 hours of the Chicago Botanic Garden on 12-12-2012 to submit to the One Day on Earth project. It turned out to be an ideal day to capture winter beauty with clear skies and lots of wildlife. We saw the lights at the Lake Cook Road entrance while it was still dark, the sunrise over the Malott Japanese Garden, gorgeous morning sun on the display gardens, the indoor Wonderland Express exhibition, the sunset over the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden, the holiday lights on The Esplanade and the indoor Greenhouses. Wonderland Express is open through Jan. 6, 2013, so don’t miss it!


©2012 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

You may think of the three greenhouses as warm and cozy places to visit on a chilly fall day, but look sharp! There are dark and chilling secrets among the plants you may see there…

In the Arid Greenhouse

PHOTO: Giant toad plant.

Carrion flower or giant toad plant (Stapelia gigantea pallida) smells about as attractive as you might guess from its name.

ROT ROT ROT:  Though the star-shaped flowers of the toad plant look beautiful, they smell like rotten meat. (The scent attracts flies, which are the plant’s pollinators.) We warned you.

DEADLY SAP:  The milky sap of many plants in the euphorbia family irritates the skin and eyes…and is poisonous to humans and animals if ingested.

PHOTO: Peruvian apple cactus.

“Night owls” — bats, really — pollinate the peruvian apple (Cereus peruvanius).

THE BAT SIGNAL:  All cactus flowers last just one day—but the flowers of the Peruvian apple cactus only bloom one night, the better to attract its pollinator, a bat.

SHARP LEAVES:  Although cactus needles are nothing more than very skinny, narrow leaves, they are sharp enough to hurt. The tiny, hairlike needles can really get under your skin…ouch!

In the Tropical Greenhouse

PHOTO: Cocoa tree.

The fruit of the cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao) give us our favorite dessert: chocolate!

CHOCOLATE AND FLIES:  Think about this as you’re eating your Halloween candy: tiny flies (called midges) are the pollinators for the cocoa tree. Therefore, every bit of chocolate you eat started with a fly…yum yum.

BANANA BLOOD?  When a leaf is trimmed off the banana plant, the sap that runs out is initially clear…but then it turns purplish-brown, leaving “blood” on the clothes of those who trim it. Is that a stain on your shirt?

KILLER BUGS:  When plant-eating bugs attack in the greenhouse, we release the appropriate bug-eating bugs. Although these mini-carnivores are mostly too small to be seen by humans…wait, do you hear munching?

In the Mediterranean Greenhouse

THE STRANGLER:  A rubber plant called the “Strangler Fig” has long, creeping roots that climb over other plants, tapping into that plant’s circulatory system and eventually smothering it. Most rubber plants are harmless…did you just see something move?

PHOTO: Deppea splendens.

The colorful and elegant Deppea splendens can be found in our greenhouses.

THE SPOOKIEST OF ALL:  By tearing down forests and destroying its natural habitat, humans have caused plants like Deppea splendens to become all but extinct. The only known survivors live in botanical gardens like this one.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

We stopped by the Production Greenhouses to see what they are growing for the upcoming spring garden displays. Tim Pollak, Outdoor Floriculturist, said we are growing 66,000 spring annuals and vegetables onsite this year for displays in the ground, in hanging baskets and containers.

Tim explained that the foxgloves you will see in the Circle Garden and Rose Garden were started from seed in October, grown at 42 degrees F for six weeks and brought into the greenhouse in January to grow with long days and warm temperatures to get them to bloom earlier than usual. The lupines you will see in the Heritage Garden and English Walled Garden are two years old and we plan to return them to the greenhouse for many years so they will continue to grow in size. The penstemon you will see in the Circle Garden have been growing for one year to get them to size, then overwintered in a nursery quonset and brought into the greenhouse in January to grow with long days and warm temps to get them to set flowers. Now, they are back in a quonset to slow their flowering until they are planted outside.

We are growing several species of echium (tower of jewels) for displays outside the Visitor Center as well as in the Heritage Garden and English Walled Garden. Most of the plants shown here were started from seed 18 months ago to get them to flower this spring. Echium fastuosum will grow 5-6 feet tall outside the Visitor Center, whereas Echium pininana will grow 12-14 feet tall in the Heritage Garden.

What are you most looking forward to seeing this spring?

View the video on YouTube here.