Finding their place in the climatic “sweet spot” between the hot steamy lowlands and alpine peaks, the cloud forests of the Andes Mountains are a unique and incredibly biodiverse region ranging from Venezuela to northern Argentina. San Francisco’s cool foggy climate is reminiscent of these highland regions in the tropics, so it is no wonder that our Andean Cloud Forest Collection has flourished. One of our most striking features are the Andean wax palms (Ceroxylon quindiuense), the highest occurring and tallest species of palm in the world. However, there are many other exciting plants that are closer to eye level like our species Fuschia collection.
Andean Cloud Forest
Australia is an island continent approximately the size of the United States whose extreme climates and isolation has allowed plants to evolve amazing shapes and adaptations. Though 70% of the continent is semi-arid to arid, Australia also boasts rainforests and a Mediterranean climate similar to that of California. Our Australian collection showcases a mix of species from both wet and summer dry regions, most having bold and otherworldly shapes. Come see our giant spear lilies (Doryanthes palmeri) in their full glory, or admire the many different sizes shapes of our various Banksias.
There is no denying the beauty and diversity of California’s landscapes, and as a result, its flora is the most diverse in the United States at over 6000 species. A dedicated garden to showcase California native plants was in the original bequest from Helene Strybing when establishing the Garden. A visit to our native garden is equally diverse with experiences as well. A walk in our coast redwood grove (Sequoia sempervirens) will humble you with their size and tranquility. Alight your senses in the Arthur L. Menzies Garden of California Native Plants with the blazing colors of wildflowers, distinctive sweet smells of plants like our many sages (Salvia spp.), or listen to the busy activity of native insects and birds.
A mirror image to the Pacific Coast of North America, Chile stretches a length comparable to that of the Pacific Northwest to the tip of the Baja, and with the variety of climates to match. Chilean plants have long been a part of the Garden's history, with specimens dating back to before our opening in 1940. Some phenomenal old specimens include the peumo (Cryptocarya alba) and winter's bark tree (Drimys winteri) planted next to the Zellerbach Garden.
The namesake of the climate that characterizes the 5 unique regions of the world characterized by warm dry summers and cool wet winters. Straddling the continents of Africa, Asia, and Europe, the Mediterranean Basin is rich with history and cultures, and so are the plants which reflect this exchange of people and close proximity of land masses. Our Mediterranean garden is a recent and well-loved addition to our collection due to the efforts of horticulturist, Jason Martinez. Come enjoy the blooms and fragrances of the familiar culinary herbs native to this region, and marvel at the incredible blue flowers of our various Echiums.
Dr. Dennis Breedlove, botanist and curator at the California Academy of Sciences, first began work on the flora in Southern Mexico in the early 1960’s and 1970’s. He noticed the remarkable similarity in climate of these foggy montane regions to that of San Francisco, and in 1984 the first plantings of the Mesoamerican Cloud Forest began. What was thought to be an experiment has now set the stage for the Garden’s premier collection, montane tropical and subtropical flora. Several decades in the ground, the garden is taking on the feel of an actual cloud forest with tropical oaks and pines gaining substantial size and creating a beautiful canopy.
Mesoamerican Cloud Forest
With high rainfall and cooling oceanic influence, the islands of New Zealand are famous for their beautiful scenery from lush forests to rugged windswept peaks. Due to its isolation, New Zealand boasts a unique flora with an astonishing 80% found nowhere else on earth. Some of the oldest trees in the Garden date back to the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition, where plants provided by the New Zealand government later found their place at the Garden. Several of these grand specimens are still at the Garden like our massive New Zealand Christmas trees (Metrosideros excelsa) with its aerial roots, and statuesque totaras (Podocarpus totara).
Found at the southernmost limit of the African continent, there is no limit the amazement that South Africa's flora can offer. Varied climates and topography have contributed to a flora of over 22,000 species and its own floristic province. Our South African collection boasts an incredible array of showy plants that thrive in our cool foggy climate and well drained sandy soil. At any time of the year you can find something in bloom, whether it be the drifts of Nerine in late autumn, or the massive flowers of Proteas during spring and summer.
With mountains rising above 7000 feet, the cloud forests of Southeast Asia contain an array of unique species, with many new ones being discovered to this day. These misty highlands are home to tropical oak relatives, a plethora of begonias, and the beloved Vireya rhododendrons. Our Southeast Asian Cloud forest collection is still in development, with many wild collected species brought to the Garden from expeditions by previous Collections Manager, Bian Tan. There is always a brightly colored Vireya in bloom to surprise you with each visit, and be amazed by our massive climbing rattan palm (Plectocomia himalayana).
Southeast Asia Cloud Forest
Showcasing plants that have inspired western gardens for hundreds of years, the Temperate Asia collection is home to iconic species from floristically rich regions of eastern China, Japan, and Korea. Some of the Garden’s oldest Magnolia specimens can be found here, along with a towering Cryptomeria grove and bamboo forest. Tucked away benches provide tranquil spaces to watch the change in seasons and migrating birds visit the ponds.
Camellias have grown in Southern China Indo-China, Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, Korea and Japan for over a thousand years. Named after a Jesuit priest, George Kamel, who discovered them in the late 17th century, they have been in cultivation so long it is difficult to know where they originated, or which specimen is from the wild or which is a hybrid or cultivar.
San Francisco Botanical Garden's climate of year-round moderate temperatures and high humidity allows for the successful cultivation of extremely rare heat-intolerant palm species from cloud forest habitats. High altitude South American genera such as Ceroxylon and Parajubaea and Southeast Asian Trachycarpus thrive at SFBG. No other North American botanical garden has the same potential for success in cultivating the full range of these palms, many of which are endangered.
High Elevation Palms
The Garden is proud to be recognized as having the world's fourth most significant collection of Magnolia species for conservation purposes, and the most important outside China*, where a majority of Magnolia species are found. The best time to visit the Garden to experience this collection is during their annual bloom from mid-December through the end of March.
China was called the "mother of gardens" by English plant explorers of the 19th century and contains three-fourths of the species of rhododendrons found in the world. The majority are located in Yunnan Province in southwestern China, and are most abundant between altitudes of 8,000 to 11,500 feet. The large, spectacular blooms range in colors of red, pink, white, and even yellow (R. macabeanum.) Some are a few inches high and hug the ground, others are 100 foot giants.
What is old is new again, and again, thanks to evolution. One of the most visceral and enjoyable ways to experience time unfolding is in our Ancient Plant Garden. Tunnel your vision from any number of purviews here and you can imagine dinosaurs grazing just beyond the fern fronds. Many non-extinct living plant groups are represented in this garden, some of which are known as 'living fossils.'
Located in the western section of the Garden between New Zealand and the Redwood Grove is a collection of conifers placed in and growing around a large lawn. Over 30 species of conifers can be found here with highlights including Abies (fir) and Picea (spruce) species and Sequoiadendron giganteum (giant redwood).
Escape from the usual city environment and immerse yourself in the peaceful Moon Viewing Garden. Filled with beautiful plants and stone pagodas from Japan this private garden will install a zen feeling for your special occasion.
Moon Viewing Garden
Immediately inside the Main Gate, this nearly 2-acre space has recently undergone a $1.7 million-dollar renovation and is now ready to welcome Garden visitors as along with additional programs, exhibitions, and events including rentals for weddings and other celebrations!
Garden staff partnered with local, award-winning design firm Lutsko Associates Landscape to design the new space. The renovation includes new ADA-accessible pathways, new plantings that showcase iconic plants from many of the Garden’s collection, and new irrigation.
Get outside to play and learn together at San Francisco Botanical Garden! From garden crafts to bug hunts in the Children's Garden, to story time and our summer book club at the Library, families with children of all ages will find something to enjoy. To get the latest on program themes, special guests and new activities, check our events calendar.
Find serenity in the tranquil sounds of water at the Fountain Plaza, located off of the Great Meadow. A beautiful space to sit in the sun, this is a special place for many to mark a momentous occasion or celebrate a person in their life with paver dedications.
The Fragrance Garden is an environment that will please all of your senses with a wide collections of the most pleasant and unique smelling plants from around the world.
Garden of Fragrance
Come run, come picnic, come lay out and relax! The Great Meadow is an inviting expanse that welcomes visitors at the Main Entrance and draws them into the Garden. Start your adventure into our beautiful collections, or simply have some R&R while enjoying the iconic silhouettes of Monterey Cypress along the skyline.
A riot of bold shapes and bold blooms, the Succulent Garden is always a stunning site at any time of the year. Tucked into the hillside behind the Redwood Grove, this stone terraced garden creates the perfect sheltered space for these plants to grow and allow visitors to get close admire these other worldly plants. Come visit in winter months to see this garden with a fiery red backdrop of flowers from the large specimens of Aloe arborescens.
The Zellerbach Garden was established in 1966 by Jane Coney, a former San Francisco Botanical Garden Society board president, in honor of her grandmother, Jennie B. Zellerbach. The initial design was developed by Ed Williams, a principal of Eckbo, Dean, Austin & Williams. The Zellerbach Garden was redesigned in 2001 by Herb Schaal, a protégé of Ed Williams. The emphasis on showcasing pastel-colored perennials remained as these were a favorite of Jennie Zellerbach. Three arbors, several stone columns and ADA walkways were added. The garden is maintained by Horticultural staff and a small, but loyal group of volunteers with an annual grant from the Zellerbach Foundation.