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The San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers

Come for the Architecture but Stay to Smell the Flowers

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The San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers
Image Courtesy of the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers
Built in 1878 and now a national historic landmark, the conservatory of flowers is one of the architectural gems of Golden Gate Park. Inside the massive Victorian greenhouse, which is the oldest wood and glass conservatory in the United States, permanent exhibits focus on exotic and tropical plants, while special seasonal exhibits cover everything from modern gardening to prehistoric ecosystems. Because of its dramatic setting, the conservatory is also a popular location for weddings and other special events, including photography and painting workshops.

Visiting the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers

The San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers is located near the eastern edge of Golden Gate Park, just a short walk from the entrance at the end of Haight Street.

It is due west of the de Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences and across the street from the tennis courts.

The Conservatory is easy to reach on public transit from downtown San Francisco by either the 5 Fulton Muni Bus (Get off at Arguello) or the 7 Haight Muni Bus.

  • Address: 100 John F. Kennedy Drive, Golden Gate Park
  • Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 10am till 4:30pm, Closed on Mondays
  • Admission: Adults $7; Youth, Seniors and Students $5 with ID
  • Contact: (415) 831-2090 www.conservatoryofflowers.org

Exhibit Galleries at the Conservatory of Flowers

Each area of the Conservatory of Flowers is devoted to a special niche of tropical plants:
  • Lowland Tropics: Located under the domed center of the conservatory this area holds the rarest and oldest plants in the collection. From primeval cycads, which were around before the dinosaurs, to a 100-year-old giant Imperial Philodendron named "Phil", this steamy section is an exotic rain-forest brought to life.

  • Highland Tropics: Built to mimic the cloud forests of tropical mountaintops, visitors will notice a drop in temperature as they enter this area, located to the right of the central dome. Here, hundred of colorful orchids are on display as well as a miniature forest of stunted trees.

  • Aquatic Plants: Carnivorous plants, more orchids and several bromiliads dot the aqautic plant section, located at end of the east wing, just past the highland tropics. Pool after pool of water flowing into each other also support the giant Amazonian water lily (Victoria amazonica) which, with diameters six feet or more across, can support the weight of small children.

  • Potted Plants: Located to the left of the main dome in the west wing, this section holds season rare flowering plants from all over the world and is always awash in sheer color and splendor. Some of the actual pots themselves are worth checking out as well including hand crafted copper pots from India and palm pots from Java.

  • Special Exhibits: The small dome at the far end of the west wing is reserved for special exhibits, which usually last for several months revolve around specific themes or the works of particular botanists and authors.

The Conservatory of Flowers Building

The beauty of the conservatory flowers are actually overshadowed by the majesty of their container, an ornate Victorian greenhouse that features a Taj Majal-like central dome that rises 60 feet into the air. Two L shaped wings branch out from this dome, each of which terminates in smaller domes of their own.

The building was originally purchased as a kit by a wealthy San Jose business man who died before he could erect it on his estate. It was then purchased by a group of prominent San Franciscans, who donated it to Golden Gate Park and the Parks Commission. The conservatory was partially destroyed several times by fires and boiler explosions but was reconstructed and renovated each time and in 1998 is was listed on the on the 100 most Endangered World Monuments list by the World Monuments Fund. Money was raised for its preservation and it was closed to the public between 1999 and 2003 for complete renovations.

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