Conservatory Logo
Conservatory Chronicles
 Issue #41                                                                                                        
 March, 2011
In This Issue
Limited Summer Wedding Weekends
Community Calendar
Wish List
What's In Bloom?
April 6 Member Preview
Wicked Plants Encroach
POE Winners!
Spring Events at the Conservatory
On the Premise
In the Gift Shop
Music in the Parks Tickets on Sale
Writing Competition Deadline

Conservatory Chronicles


Morgan Davis 
Content Contributers:
Annie Abernethy, Morgan Davis, Nina Sazevich
Photograph Contributers: 
Morgan Davis, Eric Imperiale, Michelle Manzer

Beware of what lurks in your garden... 

Wicked Plants banner
Creeping into the Conservatory on April 7...

Visit Us
Tuesday - Sunday

10am - 4:30pm (last entry is at 4:00pm)

The Conservatory is closed on Mondays.


Please note that on Sundays and all major holidays, Golden Gate Park closes many of its roads to all vehicle traffic.

Information line:


$7.00 for Adults

$5.00 for Youth 12-17, Seniors age 65 & over, and College Students with ID

$2.00 for Children 5-11

Free for Children 4 and under


Discounts available to all San Francisco City and County residents with proof of residency
The Conservatory is free to all visitors on the first Tuesday of every month.


The Conservatory Of Flowers is wheelchair accessible for both motorized and non motorized chairs. Handicap permit parking is located at the east side of the building and also on John F. Kennedy Drive in front of the Conservatory. Strollers are not allowed in the Conservatory.



Alison and Nathan

One of the 2010 COF weddings was the marriage of two creative and crafty minds. Their big day was recently featured in 7x7's wedding blog.


Read the full article online:


 Tech Geek Wedding at Conservatory of Flowers

Photo Credits: Mapurunga Photography

Ryan Anson's bouquet photo

Weddings, Corporate Luncheons, Office Holiday Parties... See how our event spaces will work for your private party. Visit the website for more information or contact Events Manager Morgan Davis at

Ceremony Photo Maparunga Photography

Photo Credits: Top, Ryan Anson Photography, Bottom, Morgan Davis




March 23 - 27

San Francisco Flower and Garden Show

San Mateo Events Center


April 7

Bike to School Day 


April 10

Sunday Streets in Golden Gate Park and on the Great Highway



Donate Now!
Purple orchid photo by Todd Worley

 Your donation will help ensure the continued growth and success of this unique educational and historic living museum. 
Click here to make a donation through our secure online form.  

Conservatory of Flowers

Wish List 

Sponsorship for Flooring Renovation for the Orchid Gallery


1 or 2 Podiums for lectures and presentations


Beverage Containers for Special Events


Garment racks and hangers for Event Coat Check


New stanchions for the entrance


Flashlights for Jungle Guides and Docents


Contact Morgan Davis with items for in kind donation!


Help us Grow...
Upload Photos and Share your Experiences! 
Follow us on Twitter
Find us on Facebook

Conservatory Chronicles 5

Miss an issue? Looking for a specific article? Read previous issues of the Conservatory Chronicles in our archives.   
Join Our Mailing List 


"Luck of the half-Irish"

March is the month when I celebrate St. Patrick's Day and the Irish heritage on the Murphy side of my family. Thanks to this celebration, I'm reminded of one special plant: the shamrock, a symbol of the luck of the Irish. But, as a half-Murphy, I'm also reminded how Murphy's Law is alive and well in my life, and that of the Conservatory!

We have a GREAT professional staff and passionate corps of volunteers that team up well together to accomplish remarkable things. For all of us, the visitor experience is of paramount importance. Much attention and energy is invested in assuring the entire Conservatory experience is one laced with beauty and inspiration. As hard as we work to successfully deliver that exceptional setting for our guests, it is almost inevitable that the positives in the public side of our work are often counter-balanced by a significant share of negatives behind the scenes. Hence, Murphy's Law! Challenges with water pressure, a drainage problem, a boiler that goes down, a vent that gets stuck open when it needs to be shut, ravens pecking at glazing, or a myriad of other odd incidental, but trying, issues all keep us on our toes and remind us of the value of flexibility and creative problem-solving. 

These are all traits of the unique personality of a grand 1879 Victorian conservatory. Just when you think you are beginning to get worn out by the mounting challenges of the unexpected surprises...the lotus blooms, the orchid blossoms, the sun shines, and the field trip student smiles as she discovers something new.  Of all the wonderful gardens and elements of nature within Golden Gate Park, the Conservatory of Flowers still holds a very special place in my Irish heart, which reminds me how lucky I am to be associated with a place as special as the Conservatory of Flowers...AND to have important support from people like you!

Brent's signature

Brent Dennis


 Dicliptera Species in Highlands Gallery  

Many of the spectacular blooms in the Conservatory are brilliant, intricate flowers, hidden among leafy plants. One such plant is currently producing delicate blooms in the Highlands Gallery. According to Nursery Specialist Eric Imperiale, the Conservatory's specimen of the Dicliptera species, from the Acanthacaceae family, has not bloomed in many recent years. It is hard to speculate as to the reasons the little violet blossoms began to appear this March.  


When you enter the Highland's Gallery, choose the left (Northern) path towards the Aquatics Gallery. You will notice ferns unfurling to your right, and to the left, about midway into the gallery, you will see the Dicliptera sprouting beautiful, tiny blooms. At the base of the plant, there is a sign indicating its species, genus and location. When you examine the early blooms, note how they grow twisted up from the leaf. More mature blooms unfurl to reveal the deep purple stamens. Enjoy! 


Photo by Morgan Davis


Behind the Scenes of Wicked PlantsWe look forward to welcoming our members for the Wicked Plants: Botanical Rogues and Assassins Member's Preview on April 6! The night has quite a bit in store for the curious member who dares to enter the lair of Wicked Plants encroaching on the Special Exhibits Gallery.


What evil lurks around the dark corners of our Victorian greenhouse? Mind your step as you navigate your path, and if you stumble upon performances by cast members of the Boxcar Theatre's upcoming show, Little Shop of Horrors, beware that their melodic tunes may ensnare your eardrums...and more!


Docents will provide tours of the Conservatory, and will do their best to safely deliver guests in one piece to the Devil's Bartender, where poisons will be provided by Speakeasy Ales and Lagers
and Barefoot Wine and Bubbly. The remedy may be found at the tea service provided by Fox & Moon Tea.  


Not a member? Renew or join today, and we will make sure you're provided with the event details and registration materials.  



 by Nina Sazevich

Paralysis, strangulation, derangement - these are just a few of the misdeeds of the plant kingdom as chronicled by award-winning author Amy Stewart in her 2009 New York Times Bestseller, Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities. And now, something wicked this way comes. Building on the fascinating plant portraits in Stewart's book, the Conservatory introduces visitors to living examples of dozens of infamous plants that have left their mark on history and claimed many an unfortunate victim. 


Etching by Briony Morrow-Cribbs"There's nothing like a good crime to pique people's interest in plants," says Brent Dennis, Director of the Conservatory of Flowers. "So we are thrilled to be working with our own local author Amy Stewart to bring her entertaining and witty book about botanical rogues and assassins to life."


As visitors enter the exhibition, they find themselves in a mysterious, untended yard behind a ramshackle old Victorian home. Peeking through the window, it's clear that a crime has just taken place. A man is slumped over on a table, a goblet in his lifeless hand, as the lady of the house flees in the background. Crows caw, and a rusty gate creaks. In the overgrown garden, moss covered statues rise up out of an unruly thicket of alluring plants. Beautiful flowers and glistening berries bewitch the eye, but consider yourself warned - these plants have names like deadly nightshade, poison hemlock and white snakeroot. Here lurk some of the greatest killers of all time.


The exhibition features over 30 species of wicked plants from those with famously scandalous histories to those that grow "innocently" in millions of gardens and homes today. Visitors can enjoy corresponding excerpts from Stewart's book full of bloodcurdling tales and fascinating facts on signs throughout the gallery.


One of the most infamous offenders on view is the castor bean, a dramatic shrub with poisonous seeds, implicated in the "umbrella murder" of 1978 death of communist defector BBC journalist Georgi Markov. Waiting at a London bus stop, Markov felt a painful jab in the back of his thigh. He turned around in time to see a man pick up an umbrella as he fled. After three days of fever and throwing up blood, he died. The pathologist found hemorrhages in almost every organ of Markov's body as well as a small tiny metal pellet in his leg. The pellet contained ricin, the poisonous extract of the castor bean seed.  KGB agents were suspected of the crime, but no one was ever charged with the famous murder.


Apart from these famously shady plants are many that appear innocent but are anything but. Included in the exhibition are many of the houseplants and common garden plants around us that can deliver nasty surprises from rashes and irritation to sickness and death. Poison control centers in the United States got over 1600 calls in 2006 related to poisonings caused by a common houseplant native to South America - the philodendron. Eating a leaf could lead to severe abdominal pain, and repeated skin contact can cause serious allergic reactions. Peace lily, English ivy, ficus and more of these potentially harmful houseplants are also on display.


Tobacco Etching by Briony Morrow-CribbsIntoxicating plants are a group of particularly devious villains. Betel nut, an addictive stimulant that turns teeth black and saliva red, is chewed by 400 million people around the world. It is thought to lead to an increased risk of mouth cancer and may contribute to asthma and heart disease. Tobacco, of course, is a leaf so toxic that it has taken the lives of ninety million people worldwide. Perhaps smokers would think twice if they knew that nicotine is an ingredient of insecticides. It's mayhem under glass, as the Conservatory of Flowers transforms its Special Exhibits Gallery into an eerie Victorian garden full of Mother Nature's most appalling creations.


Wicked Plants: Botanical Rogues and Assassins will be on view April 7 through October 30, 2011. The exhibit is open Tuesdays - Sundays from 10 am to 4 pm and is included with admission to the Conservatory.   

Media sponsors for Wicked Plants: Botanical Rogues & Assassins include KTVU Fox 2, SF Weekly and Flavorpill.  

Botanical Etching Copyright Briony Morrow-Cribbs, from the book Wicked Plants, courtesy of Algonquin Books.

Congratulations are in store for the Conservatory's horticultural and exhibit team! Their display at the Pacific Orchid Exposition won a spot in many visitors' hearts, as well as in the judges' eyes! Incoporating many of the elements that will be used to caution visitors from approaching the wicked plants in our upcoming exhibit, the Conservatory's display invoked a charming scene of relaxation among the orchids.   

  POE Dendrobium nugentii

The Conservatory's Dendrobium nugentii  won a 1st place ribbon for an Australian Dendrobium, as well as a trophy for "Best Dendrobium by an Advanced Exhibitor."


Congratulations also to Advisory Council Member Davis Dalbok who won the coveted best of show award for his breathtakingly beautiful display incorporating palms, orchids, ferns, crystals, Asian gates, and more!


Many thanks to the Conservatory volunteers who joined the staff over the weekend to meet and greet visitors, and provide information on the Conservatory, and its upcoming programs and memberships! For more images of the 2011 Pacific Orchid Exposition, view our Facebook Photo Album.


Photo by Eric Imperiale.

Mark your calendars for upcoming engagements at the Conservatory. You can always visit the website for more upcoming programming and ticket information. 

Wicked Plants: Botanical Rogues & Assassins

Member Preview Evening Briony Morrow-Cribbs Mandrake

April 6, 2011 |6:30 - 9:00 pm

We invite our members to an exclusive first glimpse at the deviants lurking in our Victorian garden. Enjoy the rare opportunity to visit the Conservatory at twilight, sip intoxicating beverages and explore our fascinating exhibit dedicated to the natural born killers of the plant world.Join today!


Plants Behind Bars

April 20, 2011 |6:00 - 9:00 pm 

Strychnine Botanical Etching by Briony Morrow-CribbsGet lured deeper into the Conservatory's Victorian innards to discover the plant that poisoned Socrates, the root that fooled Romeo and lured him to his own demise, the weed that killed Lincoln's mother, and the other evils lurking in the garden. Barley and grapes, "the wolf in sheep's clothing of the plant world" will beckon you to enjoy their darker side, and Pacific Brew Lab will concoct a tempting hemp ale. Musical guests The Human Condition will ensnare your dancing feet as they perform their modern brand of roots music. Join us for devilishly good time... at your own risk!

Location: Conservatory of Flowers

Fee: $5 entry available at the door, beverages available for cash-only

Note: 21+ only, IDs will be checked

RSVP and Invite Friends on Facebook!   


Mischief and Mayhem in the Garden

May 4, 2011 |6:00 - 7:30 pm  

Slugfest by Rosemary HarrisLecture and Book signing with Rosemary Harris, author of the Dirty Business Mystery series, president of Mystery Writers of America's NY Chapter, and a master gardener in Connecticut. Harris walks us through the history of the garden, through the lens of mischief and mayhem, beginning with Adam and Eve, and leading to her modern day Dirty Business Mystery sleuths. She'll also discuss the dirty business of writing, and what led her into the garden to find her stories.    

Location: Conservatory of Flowers Orchid Gallery

Fee: $5 admission general public at the door/Free to Conservatory members, includes admission to Conservatory from 5:30 - 6:00 pm | Books will be available for purchase in advance at the Gift Shop and that evening.  

RSVP: Purchase tickets or reserve your seat online.  


Wicked Plants: An Evening with Amy Stewart

June 1, 2011| 6:30 - 8:00 pm  

Author Amy Stewart

Amy Stewart, award winning author of five books on the perils and pleasures of the natural world, takes on over 200 of Mother Nature's menacing plants, that kill, maim, intoxicate, and otherwise offend in her American Horticultural Society award winning and New York Times Bestseller Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities. In this slide show and lecture, Ms. Stewart will discuss the dark side of the plant world.

Location: Conservatory of Flowers Orchid Gallery

Fee: $10 admission general public/$7 for COF members, includes admission to Conservatory from 6:30 - 7:00 pm. Books will be available for purchase and signing.  

RSVP: Space is limited. Tickets available online now.     

For more event info, visit the website or email Special Events & Programs Manager Morgan Davis. We look forward to meeting you there!


Botanical Etching Copyright Briony Morrow-Cribbs, from the book Wicked Plants, courtesy of Algonquin Books. Amy Stewart author photo credit: KC Kratt.


Tree Removal 

The Conservatory was abuzz this month, as the property's landscape was altered. A dying tree on the eastern end of the Conservatory's platform, whose fragile existence presented a major threat in a storm to both visitors, and our dear Aquatics gallery was felled. Teams from the city brought trucks, ladders, saws, tree chippers, and a handful of other tools to fell the deTree Antlersad branches and eliminate the threat. What now remains of the tree resembles a pair of deer's antlers over one of the Conservatory's cupolas from this editor's desk.


For more images of the tree work day, visit our facebook photo album.  


The CLOSED sign is hung on our Gift Shop doors until April 7th, but you can prepare yourself for a meeting with Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities author Amy Stewart by snatching up her New York Times-bestselling book at our temporary store in the ticket kiosk. 


Amy Stewart Book CollageYou can also purchase Wicked Plants and three of Amy Stewart's other award winning books online, through our digital Gift Shop.


And if you didn't get a chance to stock up on Garden Railway 3 merchandise, now is the time! All things GARDEN RAILWAY are now starting at 40% off online! Visit our online store. Happy Reading!

Book art images courtesy of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.


As Always graphicComing in March, don't miss a special benefit for San Francisco Parks Trust's Music in Parks Program -- As Always, a world premiere musical at the Eureka Theatre. Composer Peter W. Tucker was first introduced to theatre decades ago in a Rec. & Park youth theatre program, and gives back to parks with twelve shows featuring a lush score and award-winning performers!  Attend performances in the finals weekend, March 24-27 to help support Music in Parks. Buy tickets, listen to music, and watch video at (1.800.838.3006 for tickets via phone). COF members and park supporters receive 20% off tickets by using the discount code COF when ordering online or via phone.


In memory of the late Barbara Pitschel, head librarian at San Francisco Botanical Garden library for 30 years, an essay competition has been established for San Francisco high school students. The subject is California plants or gardens.  Three cash prizes will be awarded and the first prize winner's essay will be published in Pacific Horticulture.


Entries to be submitted by March 31, 2011. Donations are also sought. For information, visit or download contest details here.