Conservatory Logo
Conservatory Chronicles
 Issue #44                                                                                                       
 June, 2011
In This Issue
Visit us.. if you dare!
Holiday Hours
What's In Bloom?
New Horticulture Staff Member
July Volunteer Training
In the Gift Shop
Upcoming Events at the Conservatory
Amy Stewart's Wicked Plants Lecture
Donor Deluge
Food-Soil Intensive
Cattleya Symposium
Limited Summer Wedding Weekends
Wish List
Wicked Plants Press
Community Calendar

Conservatory Chronicles


Morgan Davis 
Content Contributors:
Annie Abernethy, Erika Frank, Jane Scurich  
Photograph Contributors:

Annie Abernethy, Morgan Davis, Erika Frank, Saxon Holt 


Beware of what lurks in your garden... 

Wicked Plants banner
Visit if you dare!

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.




"These Are a Few of My Favorite Things..."


If I posed the question to you, as I did to myself, "What are some of your favorite things about the Conservatory of Flowers?" how you would answer? For me, the first time I saw this grand Victorian glasshouse was back in 2007. I fell in love with her silhouette against the woodland backdrop of Golden Gate Park.  Upon closer inspection, as I walked through the brilliant floral tapestry of Conservatory Valley, my attention was drawn to the remarkable finial atop the central glass dome above the Lowlands Gallery. On the platform, I purchased my admission ticket from a smiling Guest Services staff member, and I was warmly welcomed by an exuberant volunteer in the vestibule, ready for my tropical trek through the breathtaking botanical collections for which the Conservatory of Flowers is so well known. I made my way through the Potted Plants Gallery, and was impressed with the CHOMP exhibition in the west wing -- and how the display drew the interest of visitors of all ages.


So for me, it's too difficult to narrow down to one answer: the people, plants, and historic character and charm of the 1879 Conservatory of Flowers will always register as a few of my favorite things about my favorite about you?

Brent's signature 

Brent Dennis

Betel Nut Todd
Volunteer Todd shows off the blooming Betel Nut pods.

Though the collection of Wicked Plants in the west wing is mighty, there are a number
of the foreboding plants lurking throughout the building. The Betel Nut, Aerca catechu, is one example. You can observe this plant when you walk into the Conservatory, immediately as you enter the Lowland Tropics. Step past the grates and into the center of the alcove, look straight ahead and a few degrees to the right, just above eye level to spot the blooms.     


Betel Nut BloomsThe Betel Nut palm grows in tropical forests, and is native to Malaysia; it produces beautiful, fragrant flowers and the betel nut, which is an addictive stimulant. Throughout the world use of the Betel Nut is rampant and not well regulated, causing a global health epidemic along the lines of tobacco use.     


Read along at home! On page 11 of Wicked Plants, you'll find more of the alluring history, and dangerous threats of this wicked plant.    



Potted Plants CollageMeet the newest addition to the gardening staff at the Conservatory. Janet Spellman joined us this spring, and we're thrilled to incorporate her experience with tropical plants into the galleries.  


Janet is a Bay Area native, who has always dreamed of working at the Conservatory of Flowers. "Growing up, I visited Golden Gate Park with my family. I've wanted to work here ever since I was little." After five years working as a gardener in Golden Gate Park, the opportunity to join the horticulture staff at the Conservatory became available, and she jumped on it. She's also had a long time interest in tropical plants, her specialty. At the Conservatory, she's responsible for the Potted Plants Gallery. When asked her favorite thing about the Conservatory, she responded, "I love that we have geckos here, that we have different creatures here that create a real eco-system." We hope you'll have the opportunity to meet Janet, and maybe even spot one of those geckos, on your next visit to the Conservatory. Thanks for all your hard work, Janet. Welcome aboard!  


Volunteers in Potted Plants  

Comprehensive training program prepares volunteers to lead tours for adults or children. Jungle Guides introduce elementary school students to the wonders of the rain forest. Docents educate adult visitors about the Conservatory's fascinating collection of tropical plants.  The Conservatory offers volunteers monthly educational and social opportunities and an engaging, flexible environment. Next training: Wednesday afternoons from July 20 to August 31. To register, contact Erika Frank at (415) 637-4326 or, or visit



Summer Fun in Gift ShopSchool's out for the summer! Reduce your kids' screen time and have a little old-fashioned fun in the sun, getting muddy with one of our children's literary garden kits. The Secret Garden includes a map and seeds to build your very own private hideaway, complete with a skeleton key. Stone Soup provides all the ingredient seeds, a recipe and, of course, a stone to recreate that famous soup that fed a town.

Garden Makers $25.00

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

Crimes Against Horticulture: When Bad Taste Meets Power Tools

With Billy Goodnick, Award-winning Landscape Designer and Garden Wise Guy

July 14, 2011| 7:00 - 8:00 pm  

Billy Goodnick headshot

Compulsive Raking Disorder and Saturday Morning Syndrome - learn to detect early symptoms of these heinous crimes against horticulture with one of the nation's funniest garden writers Billy Goodnick. An award winning landscape architect as well as a widely admired author and educator, Goodnick brings his hip, West Coast message of sustainability to Fine Gardening Magazine as a contributing editor, column writer and blogger and hosts his own TV show, Garden Wise Guys. Joined by local garden photographer and author Saxon Holt, Goodnick unleashes his offbeat humor and shock-and-awe tactics to teach you how to create beautiful, useful and sustainable gardens, explaining the simple steps garden lovers can use to boost their own design skills and grow a greener garden that's easy on the eyes and gentle on the planet.

Stump the Speaker: Join us in a round of Stump the Speaker! Please send in up to 5 photos each that we will show to Billy unrehearsed after his presentation. At the event, we will vote on the most outrageous, and winners will get a roll of Billy's Crime Scene Investigation barricade tape. Send us the best (worst) examples of crimes against horticulture, pruning and shaping of plants that are misshapen, hideous, bone-headed, ignorant, unsustainable, and eco-angry examples of landscaping.  Let's surprise Billy with horrors of our own, not just the ones that already disgust him on his flickr site or Facebook page! Upload your photos on View our photos on flickr Flickr. For those who aren't Flickr members, email photos to, with your name, and photobotanic will upload them to the group, with your name in the description. Please limit photos to 1 MG or 2048 pixels wide.

Fee: $15 admission general public/$10 Conservatory Members/FREE to Begonia, Cycad and Orchid Guild Members. Entry includes admission to Conservatory from 6:30 - 7:00 pm.

RSVP: Space is limited. Tickets available online now.     


After Hours Mash Up with the SF Marathon | 6-10 pm | July 27, 2011   

The countdown is on to the SF Marathon, and you're invited to come join in a special pre-race celebration at the Conservatory of Flowers. Enjoy a night in the tropics for the 21+ crowd with music, beverages and a chance to craft your own paper lei with the local recycled art divas of Trash Mash-Up. $5 entry, tickets available at the door. 

RSVP and invite friends on Find us on Facebookacebook!   


The Conservatory of Flowers and Quiet Lightning PRESENT: The Greenhouse Effect Summer Reading Series 

Mondays, August 1, September 5, and October 10 at 7pm

Quiet Lightning brings their high-charged community readings to the Conservatory of Flowers for three months, going out with a bang during San Francisco's legendary Litquake festival. Entirely open to the public, Quiet Lightning accepts any form of writing: fiction, poetry, personal statement-anything-so you never know what's coming next! The accepted submissions are ordered in a way that weaves varying patterns of language into a compelling and oft-intoxicating double set of literary mixtape madness. The monthly shows-with featured artwork by one local artist- are published in a sPARKLE & bLINK, available at the shows and online. Submit your work, or join us for the literary heat wave! Submission deadlines: The deadline for August and October submissions is Thursday, July 14.

The deadline for September submissions is Thursday, August 18. Submissions should be sent to More info on submission policies can be found here.  

Fee: Aug. 1, Sept. 5 - $3 | October 10 - $5 as part of Litquake, available at the door.  


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



 by Morgan Davis

On June 1, Amy Stewart shared her wealth of wicked knowledge with over 125 guests at our Wicked Plants lecture. In the Conservatory's Orchid Gallery, Ms. Stewart wove tales of the deviant plants she encountered in her research, and showed slides of different examples of plants and gardens around the world. She began, "I have to warn you right now, do not try this at home... you might not wake up!"


Amy Stewart in the Conservatory

Photo by Advisory Council Member Saxon Holt

She reminds the audience of the

interaction with plants they encounter daily. "I bet all of you have already poisoned yourself with a small dose today," she says, asking the audience of their varying dependence on caffeine, which is a poison we enjoy in small doses. Scientists measure the 'fallibility' of a substance by the amount at which half the people who consume are dead. For coffee, it's 50 cups.


Stewart, a champion not of the deadliness of plants, but of their power in general, gives examples of health solutions from toxic plants. In Wyoming, researchers observed how goats that ate a certain plant in the nicotine family gave birth to broods with cleft palates. Rhode Island researchers were sent to operate on the pregnant goats, and developed a procedure for in utero correction that save the mother and baby, which can be translated to safe human operations.  


Stewart reveals how a propensity for 'rooting' for the bad guys developed as she wrote the book, hoping plants would be found the guilty culprit in murder cases and even unresolved mysteries like Jack the Ripper. A writer looking for a good story is the diagnosis here, rather than an ill-wisher, and the feeling is contagious. The audience begins to derive joy in learning the outcomes of deadly cases. For instance, common edible plants cause mayhem when consumed at unnatural rates. When corn was deemed a miracle crop and brought back to Europe from the America, the reliance on the food created a niacin deficiency in many diets and caused Pellagra throughout a certain population. Symptoms include blisters on the skin when exposed to sunlight, inability to sleep at night, and a ghostly, pale skin tone... "Anytime I can get vampires into a plant book, I'm gonna do it!" Stewart concludes. Applause. She brings the horror closer to home, south to Santa Cruz, where a young filmmaker observed populations of birds dropping dead from the sky after an algae outbreak in the Monterey Bay. "One of the greatest Hitchcock movies ever, and we have pond scum to thank for it!" Stewart exclaims. This was a good enough reason to include this invasive, where some did not make the cut. Another one she deems wicked is an invasive algae whose genetic structure is identical through out the world. It has never mated, it just reproduces...


After listing fatal human poisonings and mishaps, Stewart touches on a theme of the book that frequently gets her fan mail, and thank you notes: pets. She flipped to one of the cute images of fluffy, furry creatures emailed in droves on the Internet. "I know," she says, shaking her head at her own humor. "They're gonna die too!" She continues that people assume pets know what they can consume and what they can't; they don't. She urges people to know their pets. Are they nibblers? Two local natives are major culprits in sending pets over the edge: Sago Palm ingestion poisons gnawing dogs, and even the most well-arranged lily bouquet or potted Easter plant can cause a curious cat to have potentially fatal kidney failure within twenty four hours. She reminds the audience, "Just because a plant is sold as a house plant, don't assume it's good breakfast food for you." She lists Safe Sex in the Garden and Allergy-Free Gardening as resources for savvy growers. As she shows photos of her own attempts at growing a poison garden, she muses as to what her FBI file looks like right about now. "You can get a lot of interesting plants on ebay." She relays her conversations with her younger family members, whose knowledge of some hallucinatory plants extended beyond the California curriculum requirement.  "When your teenager starts showing an interest in horticulture... watch out!"


Recently, oleander soup played a role in a failed attempt at murder. The husband-victim was hospitalized for a week. Stewart noted that anti-freeze in the Gatorade eventually did the trick: cheers went up from the audience! "Ya'll are awesome," Stewart cooed to the crowd, who held the same notion of her.


If you missed this spectacular event, be sure to join us for Amy Stewart's return on October 6, as she turns her attention to Wicked Bugs. Tickets and information available here. Wicked Bugs available in the Gift Shop and online. Read Amy Stewart's interview about Wicked Bugs in the Chronicle.     


A fresh coat in June! 

Our Victorian Lady would like to thank the many donors who

'showered' the Conservatory with generous gifts this spring. Personal gifts ranging from $25 to $5,000 helped fund much needed repairs to our MeeFog misting system and aided the fundraising effort for the bright white 'frosting' which provides temperature control, protects plants from sunburn and maintains the historic look of the greenhouse. Gifts to the plant collection included seedlings for the Aquatics Gallery Victoria amazonica, bromeliads, cool growing orchids, and cut flowers for our vestibule Whitewashing 2arrangements. Educational supplies for our elementary school tours were also a popular shower gift. 


All of our visitors will enjoy the showering of good will from our generous donors.

The Conservatory of Flowers is proud to sponsor the Sweet Soil 5-Day Intensive event with Dr. Elaine Ingham.The courses run July 11 - 15 in San Rafael,  feature Dr Elaine Ingham, and focuses on the soil/plant relationship, and composting. For registration information, please visit, or


Cattleya Symposium Invite

You are invited to the 1st Annual Cattleya Symposium, July 29 and July 30, in Fort Pierce, Florida. For a larger, PDF version of the invite, please click here: Cattleya Symposium. Learn more at, and keep your eyes on your mailbox to learn more about our exciting Cattleya project in our summer print news!



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   
Ryan Anson's bouquet photo      Ceremony Photo Maparunga Photography    Orchid Gallery Reception

Photo Credits: Left, Ryan Anson Photography, Middle, Janine Mapurunga Photography  


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



Projector and Screen


Drape Sponsorship for the Orchid Gallery


1 or 2 Podiums for lectures and presentations


New stanchions for the entry


Flashlights for Jungle Guides and Docents


Contact Morgan Davis with items for in kind donation!


NEW  SF Parks & Recreations Get Out & Play View our videos on YouTube features interviews with Amy Stewart and Exhibits Director Lau Hodges, and introduces viewers to the bewitching plants.

Local blogger Tina Tarnoff artfully disentangles the Wicked Plants.  


NEW Gardening Gone Wild contributor Saxon Holt photographs the plants that star in the exhibit.  


NEW Oregon Floral Designers Blum give a visitor's perspective of the scene in Wicked Plants.

7x7 blogs about the sinister exhibit, and offers Christopher Walken as an unlikely spokesperson.

Sunset's Fresh Dirt blog admits its our turn to dig into Amy Stewart's novel and the fun it delivers, and dares visitors to experience it themselves.

Exhibits Director Lau Hodges introduces many of the 'killer plants' featured in Wicked Plants in a behind the scenes exhibit tour on KTVU.

ABC7 News interviews Amy Stewart and Lau Hodges in the exhibit, and discovers which plants was ironically deemed too dangerous to display in the park.
The San Francisco Chronicle crowns Amy Stewart a "garden rock star" in its feature on Wicked Plants.

The Richmond Blog warns you to watch your back, and shares a number of photos of the exhibit. 

Micheal Leaverton of SFWeekly introduces some of the less appealing side effects of the "plants that rack up body counts."          







4th of JULY!


Dahlias, with Mike Schelp
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Flora Grubb Gardens
11am - 1pm, (free)



Easy Gardening Without Toxic Solutions

Sloat Nurseries

June 22 | San Francisco (Sloat Blvd.),  6:30 pm

June 25 |Mill Valley (Miller Ave.),  10 am

June 26| Novato, 10 am

    Join Annie Joseph and Dave Phelps in a discussion on how to keep gardens naturally healthy.



Sunday Streets  

Great Highway Route #2

July 10



Design Like A Pro

Workshop with Billy Goodnick  

Flora Grub Gardens  

July 16

11 am - 1 pm, (free)  


Conservatory Chronicles 5

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