San Diego (Six on Saturday #37, November 10, 2018)

The Botanical Building in Balboa Park

This week, I traveled to San Diego, California for a scientific conference.  It was my first trip to San Diego–my first trip to anywhere in California, actually–so it was exciting to see a new part of the country.  Even the flower beds around my hotel and the convention center were full of new and interesting things.

The meeting didn’t leave much time for sightseeing, but I managed to slip away one morning and take a bus up to Balboa Park, which houses the San Diego Zoo and a variety of gardens.  I considered just wandering around the free areas of the park but eventually decided that I couldn’t miss the world famous zoo.  That turned out to be the correct choice.  In addition to being an amazing collection of endangered species (the zoo is famous for its captive breeding successes), the grounds are also a very fine botanical garden.  The weather was cool, so the animals were active, and there were hardly any visitors.  I had a good long visit with the pandas (red and giant), koalas, Tasmanian devils, komodo dragon, giant tortoises, okapis, elephants, jaguars, and many other animals, but I took more pictures of the plants.

Today being Saturday, here are six things that caught my eye in San Diego–garden related, of course.

1.  Flowering trees.

November is clearly not the best time of year for blooming trees, but nevertheless, I saw some beautiful tropical and subtropical flowers.

Ceiba speciosa (silk floss tree) in Balboa Park
Ceiba speciosa flower
Spathodea campanulata (African tulip tree) in Balboa Park
Bauhinia x blakeana (Hong Kong orchid tree) at the San Diego Zoo

2. Bird of Paradise flowers

Roadside Strelitzia reginae

Strelitzia reginae (bird of paradise) and Strelitzia nicolai (white bird of paradise) were growing (and blooming) all over town.  S. reginae is my wife’s favorite flower, so when we were first married I tried growing some from seed.  After fifteen years, I managed to get a only single flower from an enormous clump that took up a lot of real estate in the greenhouse, so I gave up.  Clearly, flowering is not a problem when they are grown outside in San Diego.

Strelitzia nicolae on the patio of the convention center

3.  The Botanical Building


The Botanical Building is a Balboa Park landmark that was originally built for the 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition.  Before seeing it, I had assumed it was some sort of greenhouse or conservatory, but there is no glass involved.  Instead, the Botanical Building is a giant lathe house, built of wooden strips that provide the perfect amount of shade and wind protection for palms, tree ferns, and other tropical/subtropical understory plants.

Inside the Botanical Building
Deppea splendens flowering in the Botanical Building.  Oh, how I wish this species would survive a North Carolina summer
An enormous Ficus sycomorus growing behind the Botanical House.  A photo can’t do justice to the scale of its massive buttress roots.  According to the Gospel of Luke, Zacchaeus the tax collector climbed one of these trees so that he could see Jesus.

4.  Australian plants

Callistemon ‘Woodlanders Hardy’ and one or two eucalyptus are the only Australian plants I know of that can be grown in North Carolina, and even those are marginal outside of the coastal plain.  The climate of southern California is more similar to parts of Australia, so I wasn’t surprised to see a wider variety of plants from Down Under.

Anigozanthos (Kangaroo paw) in a flower bed at the convention center.  I wonder if one of these could be grown in a pot in North Carolina, if protected from rain?
A little grove of Brachychiton rupestris (Queensland bottle trees) at the zoo

I assume this is Australian, because it was growing in the koala habitat at the zoo.  Australian readers, help me out. Is this some sort of Grevillea?  It was growing as a tall shrub, or small tree. [Update:  This appears to be Alloxylon flammeum.  Thanks to Jim Stephens for the suggested identification.]
5. African and Malagasy plants

The zoo has a really impressive collection of succulents from Madagascar and southern Africa.

Alluadia procera (Madagascar) outside the Elephant Care Center
Cyphostemma juttae (southern Africa)
Pachypodium lamerei and Moringa drouhardii (bottle tree, smooth trunk on left), both from Madagascar
Euphorbia spectabilis
Euphorbia spectabilis (Tanzania)
Uncarina sp. (Madagascar)

6. Hawaiian plants

I suppose the climate of Hawaii, particularly on the drier leeward side of the islands, must be not entirely unlike that of coastal San Diego County.

Brighamia insignis (Ōlulu, Cabbage-on-a-stick) growing among other Hawaiian plants at the zoo.  Despite the whimsical common name, this is a member of the Campanulaceae, not a cabbage relative.
Pritchardia hillebrandii (loulu lelo palm) in the Botanical Building

For more Six on Saturday, click over to The Propagator, where you will find his Six and links to other participants.

17 thoughts on “San Diego (Six on Saturday #37, November 10, 2018)

    1. Sadly, I didn’t have time to visit any commercial nurseries. Maybe next time. After getting a glimpse of southern California, I want to go back with my family for a holiday.

      I couldn’t resist picking a fruit from Carissa macrocarpa hedge growing beside the convention center, so I have some seeds as a souvenir.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. A VERY tentative suggestion for your Australian plant of Alloxylon flammeum. We went to San Diego Zoo in 2001. I remember the planting being superb but don’t remember specifics. It was a few weeks after 9/11; there were a lot of flags about, and tension.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alloxylon looks close, although the A. flammeum pictures have larger flower heads. Perhaps a related species, or maybe they don’t grow as well in California?

      We were in Ireland on 9/11 and got stuck when all air travel in the US shut down. Luckily, we were were able to get across to England and stayed with relatives, but tension is what I remember, too.


    2. On further googling, I think you’re right. I found A. flammeum on a list of trees grown in the San Diego area.

      So same family as Grevillea. Are there any Proteaceae that aren’t totally cool looking?


      1. I saw it in a parking area somewhere in Australia, unlabelled; then later on found it in a botanic garden I think, with a label. I think there may be some outstanding selected forms that people grow in gardens, which may account for a lot of online pictures. The Proteaceae are not just cool looking, much about them is cool, like how they survive fires and grow in really hostile places.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It does look like some sort of grevillea but the leaf-form doesn’t fit the tradition. I say this as an Australian who sees grevilleas in every single suburban garden hereabouts! Then again, if its a tropical form, I’m guessing the leaf structure would be wider and more lush. I live in a dry temperate zone.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh wow. Glad you were able to get out and about while over there, and excellent photos as usual!
    What an interesting range of ecotypes across the zoo. It really looks like small slices out of a couple different continents.
    The cabbage on a stick is cool. I recognized it from some Nature show on Hawaii where a botanist was scaling sheer sea cliffs in order to reach the last few plants and manually pollinate them. Looks like it worked out and they’ve been distributed!

    Liked by 1 person

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