The recently restored Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park hosts over 2000 plant varieties, including a collection of tropical carnivorous pitcher plants.
The East Wing is dominated by the aquatic plants pond, home to giant Amazon Lilies, the largest of which are strong enough to support the weight of a child. Climbing overhead, the Nepenthes pitcher plants (also known as ‘monkey cups’) survive on a diet of insects lured into their flower like opening, then trapped by the slick walls and lowered into a stew of digestive enzymes in the base of the cup. Named for the mythological elixir of the Egyptians given to Helen of Troy to erase her sorrows in Homer’s Odyssey, the name means ‘without sorrow’ in Greek.
According to the Conservatory information: “In some cultures, the pitchers have been used as vessels for cooking rice or gathering water. The sterile fluid from unopened pitchers reportedly has been used as an eyewash, asthma reliever or painkiller during childbirth. Various parts of the plant have also been used to treat indigestion, heartburn, stomach ailments and dysentery.”
The building itself was first discovered in parts amongst the property of a wealthy local business man who died before it could be built. It was donated to the city, opened a year later in 1879, and is now the oldest wood & glass conservatory in western hemisphere. It suffered extensive damage from storm winds in 1995, and the the building was closed for several years while restoration efforts were underway. It was named one of the 100 most endangered sites of the World Monuments Fund, and was part of the national Save America’s Treasures program. It was restored and reopened in 2003.