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Notes from a Plant Nut

Lisa Van CleefLisa Van Cleef's life mission is to spark a passion for plants in people. Like a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, Lisa sows the seeds that inspire curiosity and a love for the plant world. A long-time SFBG Nursery volunteer, she wrote the Green Gardener column for the SFGate, has worked with the Conservatory of Flowers and The Nature Conservancy. Today, she supports the Society's marketing efforts.

Chase the Winter Blues Away: Your Quickest Tropical Vacation Ever

San Francisco Botanical Garden Plant Sale
Dahlia imperialis

San Francisco Botanical Garden Plant Sale
Telathophora grandifolia

San Francisco Botanical Garden Plant Sale
Malvaviscus arborescens

San Francisco Botanical Garden Plant Sale
Deppea splendens


Looking for the quickest antidote for your winter blues? A walk through our Meso-American Cloud Forest. It’s at its peak this time of year defying the short daylight and winter rains, putting on a stupendous, flower-filled show. The towering tree daisies and dahlias loom ten feet above, the gorgeous salvias surround the paths in bloom and scented leaves luring hungry hummingbirds, the cupheas and fuchsias with their extraordinary color combinations are flowering, and the extinct-in-the-wild deppea is in full bloom right now.

While so many of the nation’s botanical gardens are shrouded in snow, the San Francisco Botanical Garden practically explodes with blooms and astonishing foliage this time of year and one of the stand-outs is the Meso-American Cloud Forest. No other garden public or private, grows the diversity and numbers of cloud forest plants outdoors that we do. There is no cheaper or quicker tropical vacation you can take, than to wander through the fascinating Meso-American collection this winter.

The garden was first planted in 1984 and many of the plants have never been in cultivation before. Wandering along its paths today, enshrouded by these extremely rare, mature plants, you can lose yourself completely oblivious to the roar of the city a few hundred yards away. The garden was designed to capture the feel of a dense, plant-rich Cloud Forest, putting the visitor smack in the center of the jungle. And 26 years later, it’s still an astonishing success.

It’s About the Fog
Anyone who’s tried to grow a beefsteak tomato in San Francisco has cursed our fog at least once, but it’s this cooling, moist fog that enables us to grow this jungle. Found at 6,000-10,000 feet altitudes in Mexico’s highlands, these plants thrive at sea level here because of our moist air and year-round mild temperatures.

Even in San Francisco, plantings at San Francisco Botanical Garden began in 1984 with seed collected by Dr. Breedlove and with propagules from the "new" University of California Botanical Gardens. The vast majority of plantings were experimental, as almost all of these species had never been attempted in cultivation before. We have been the first in North America to grow species such as Glossostipula concinna, Zinowiewia matudae, Lozanella enantiophylla, Weinmannia pinnata, Meliosma matudae, Cedrela salvadorensis, and Heberdenia penduliflora.

The landscape attempts to re-create the feeling of an actual cloud forest, employing trees, shrubs, groundcovers, ferns, vines and epiphytes to create masses of dense vegetation. The collection has now matured into a realistic representation of cloud forest habitat. Oaks, pines, alders, Chiranthodendron, and Zinoweiwia are now 20 or more feet tall.

The collection boasts plants in bloom at any time of the year. From Spring through Fall, over twenty species of Salvia attract great numbers of hummingbirds, as do cupheas in Summer and Fall. The daisy family that includes Montanoa, arborescent Senecios, Bartlettina and tree Dahlias comes into its own from late Fall through early Spring, attracting both visitors and butterflies such as the Monarch.

Add this garden to your list of things to brag about San Francisco. It’s a one-of-a-kind. There’s nothing that will chase your winter blues away as easily. And if you’ve got out-of-town visitors this winter, be sure to add this quick tropical vacation to their itinerary.

 

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