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Orchids of the Americas

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At the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO - From the cloud forests of the Andes Mountains to the steamy Amazon rainforest, tropical America is home to thousands of species of orchids. And this spring, you and your family can be instantly transported south of the border to see these botanical beauties in just the time it takes to travel to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. From April 3 to June 3, 2007, the Conservatory of Flowers presents "Orchids of the Americas," a gorgeous display of blooms from Bolivia to Brazil and beyond.

Orchids are one of the largest and most diverse families of flowering plants with an estimated 25,000-35,000 species and more than 110,000 human-produced hybrids. One out of every ten flowering plants is an orchid. And while they have adapted to almost every environment on earth, nowhere do orchids grow more abundantly than the world's tropics. Colombia alone is thought to be home to more than 3,000 species.

Entering the Conservatory's Highland Tropics gallery, visitors are immersed in the cool and misty cloud forests of the Andes where a profusion of orchids will be on display among the limbs of gnarled, moss-covered trees. Here, visitors will be encouraged to slow down and look closely at the exceptionally delicate, small blooms of a wide array of rare and endangered cool-growing orchids such as Pleurothallid, Masdevallia and more. In the world's cloud forests, orchid flowers tend to be small, radiant jewels hanging like water droplets from slender stalks or perched discreetly on top of a fleshy leaf. We'll help visitors spot some of these tiny treasures such as the beguiling Dracula.

The Conservatory is home to a renowned collection of these monstrously beautiful Pleurothallid orchids. Its inventory is quite possibly the largest public collection in the world. The Dracula orchid did not originally get its name from the classic Hollywood ghoul, but from the Greek word for 'little dragon' due to this flower's distinct face-like markings and unusual hinged lip. Over 100 Dracula species are found in Central and South America, half in the highlands of Ecuador alone.

In sharp contrast to the species found living up in the tree tops of the mountainous tropics are the larger, showier, voluptuous beauties of the lowland jungles. The Conservatory's Aquatic Plants and Potted Plants galleries will be filled to the rafters with some of the classic warm-growing orchids of Central and South America including Cattleya, Laelia, Oncidium, Phragmipedium and more. Visitors will delight in the spectacular diversity of shapes, colors and patterns on display. From spotted to striped, these blooms range from robust, rounded forms to sleek, starry shapes.

Serial orchid killers, take note! The Conservatory will also be providing some tips for you not-so-green-thumbs on how to care for these special plants. Interpretive material in the galleries will also help visitors understand some of the important conservation efforts underway to preserve our horticultural heritage here in the Americas.

The exhibit is open Tuesdays - Sundays from 9 am to 5 pm and is free with admission to the Conservatory. The public should call (415) 666-7001 or visit www.conservatoryofflowers.org for more information.

Background

The Conservatory of Flowers is a spectacular living museum of rare and beautiful tropical plants under glass. From Borneo to Bolivia, the 1,750 species of plants at the Conservatory represent unusual flora from more than 50 countries around the world. Immersive displays in five galleries include the lowland tropics, highland tropics, aquatic plants, potted plants and special exhibits. Opened in 1879, the wood and glass greenhouse is the oldest existing conservatory in North America and has attracted millions of visitors to Golden Gate Park since it first opened its doors. It is designated as a city, state and national historic landmark and was one of the 100 most endangered sites of the World Monuments Fund.