For those who have a hard time saying goodbye to the vibrant flowers of summer, a fall visit to the Garden's Cloud Forest collections is a chance to discover the vivid beauty of the misty, high elevation forests of Mesoamerica and the Andes. With the Bay Area's famous fog, SFBG is one of the only botanical gardens in the world where cloud forest plants thrive outdoors, and fall is the best time to see the Garden's enchanting collections in bloom.
In the Mesoamerican Cloud Forest, visitors can stroll through a lush jungle of typical cloud forest plant communities found from southern Mexico to Panama. Amidst the deep green canopy, delicate and unusual fuchsias dangle gracefully overhead, towering tree daisies hum with the buzzing of bees and brilliant salvias add bursts of color to the forest floor. Other highlights include the rich lavender or purple flowers of the Garden's many tree dahlias, the show-stopping tubular flowers of the golden fuchsia, a native of Chiapas saved from extinction through cultivation at SFBG and two other U.S. botanical gardens, and the huge leaves and flowers of the giant groundsel.
In the 1960's to early 1970's, Dr. Dennis Breedlove, botanist and curator at the California Academy of Sciences, began work on the flora of Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state. In addition to collecting voucher specimens of leaves, flowers and other identifying parts of various plants, he also brought back cuttings and seeds, recognizing the similarities in climate, and the possibility of preserving some in cultivation. SFBG began planting the Mesoamerican collection in 1984 with seed collected by Dr. Breedlove and with propagules from the University of California at Berkeley Botanical Garden. The vast majority of these plantings were experimental, as almost all of these species had never been attempted in cultivation before. SFBG was the first in North America to grow many of these species. Nearly 30 years later, SFBG's collection has matured into a dense, jungle-like cloud forest habitat, and Dr. Breedlove's experiment has matured into a collection of botanical exotics.
Dahlia australis. Photo by Kathryn Rummel.
The cornerstone of the Garden's Andean Cloud Forest is the most comprehensive collection of high elevation palm species known in any botanical garden in the world. There are new and established high-elevation palms including Ceroxylon quindiuense (Andean wax palm), the tallest palm in the world, from the Colombian Andes. The collection also features a vivid display of cultivars developed from wild Andean salvias and fuchsias.
"This is truly one of the only botanical gardens in the world where these plants, many of which are rare or endangered, can grow successfully outdoors", says Garden Curator Emeritus Don Mahoney. "And as a result, the Garden is now a critically important conservator of cloud forest species."