This worldwide collection features plants of documented wild origin from nearly every continent, with an emphasis on plants from mediterranean climates (California, Mediterranean Basin, Australia, South Africa, and Chile).

The five best-represented families are:

  • Cactus family (2,029 accessions; 1,198 taxa),
  • Sunflower family (1,002 accessions; 771 taxa),
  • Orchid family (1,030 accessions; 711 taxa),
  • Lily family (1,097 accessions; 675 taxa), and
  • Heath family (979 accessions; 614 taxa).

The remainder are distributed among other families in the collection, including approximately 690 accessions of ferns and fern allies.

Each genus is assigned to one plant family. These assignments are in a state of change due to research findings in plant relationships through the use of DNA techniques. The Garden uses the standard of The Jepson Manual, Higher Plants of California, where applicable. The Garden will apply the names accepted in The Jepson Manual to the collection as resources allow. Names not addressed in The Jepson Manual will follow the standard set by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group.

Detailed records are kept for each accession, including their place of origin, which enhances their scientific and educational value considerably. Each accession is accompanied by a public display label including accession number, family name, scientific name, and place of origin, and where appropriate, common name.

Voucher specimens for many of the collections are filed in the separately administered UC and Jepson Herbaria on campus. Vouchering of woody species and other long-lived perennials is on-going. Voucher/herbarium specimens are pressed, dried plant specimens that ideally include all morphological characters necessary for identification.  They can last hundreds of years under careful storage conditions.

California native plants (over 2,900 accesssions) occupy approximately one-third of the area and are grouped by plant communities. These include nearly one-quarter of the state’s native species (according to The Jepson Manual:  Higher Plants of California, 1993) and 201 taxa on the California Native Plant Society’s list of rare and endangered species.

Other outstanding collections in the native plant area include:

  • Manzanitas (Arctostaphylos spp. with 202 accessions, 108 taxa),
  • California-Lilacs (Ceanothus spp. with 110 accessions, 78 taxa),
  • and an almost complete collection of California bulbous monocots in the Lily and Amaryllis families (Fritillaria, Calochortus, Lilium, Erythronium, Allium, Brodiaea with 219 accessions, 96 taxa).

California has a mediterranean climate, with cool wet winters and warm dry summers. Species from other parts of the world with mediterranean climates are featured in the Mediterranean, Australasian, Southern African, and South American geographic areas. These specimens illustrate important evolutionary, ecological, and biogeographic themes related to the distribution and evolution of mediterranean floras and are of particular horticultural interest in the California landscape.

The Asian Area includes an outstanding rhododendron collection (519 accessions, 330 taxa) including many mature tree rhododendrons, and other species that are too tender for most North American climates.

The Deserts of the Americas and indoor succulent collections (in the Arid House) include many specimens collected from South America during a series of six expeditions to the Andes sponsored by the Garden between 1935 and mid-1960s. Many of these are type collections.

Special collections of orchids, ferns, carnivorous, and tropical plants are housed in greenhouses. The Cycad and Palm Garden features many interesting species in the vicinity of the Garden Conference Center.

Ethnobotanical collections include:

  • Chinese Medicinal Herb Garden

The plants in our Chinese Medicinal Herb Garden are part of the everyday pharmacopoeia in modern China and are widely used by Asians in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as a growing segment of the local non-Asian community. Development of this garden was initiated by the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in San Francisco, with the participation of the Guangzhou College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Guangzhou, China.

  • Mexico/Central American Section with a collection of Mayan medicinal plants.

We expanded our Mexico/Central American plant collection and anticipate increasing interest in this exhibit among members of our large Hispanic community, especially since ethnobotany and conservation will be emphasized as interpretive themes.

  • Herb Garden,
  • Garden of Old Roses,
  • Crops of the World, and
  • California Cultivar Garden (just outside the Garden entrance), featuring selections and hybrids of native California taxa.

All our collections are on public display, with the exception of plants in propagation, research collections, and some indoor collections of ferns and epiphytes.

Each year we supply large quantities of plant material to other botanical gardens and research institutions. In addition to answering specific requests (research materials are shipped to over 50 individuals and institutions each year), we also publish a biennial seed list.  The list includes wild-collected seed of California native plants and is shared with over 600 institutions world-wide.  See our research page.

One of our principal collection policies is to limit acquisitions to wild-collected specimens of documented origin. We make exceptions in the case of plants for class material, plants of great taxonomic or morphological interest that are not otherwise obtainable, and plants for special collections (e.g. the Garden of Old Roses).

All 19,000-plus living accessions are in a computer data base (over 37,000 accessions including the “dead plant” records). Information recorded for each accession includes family, genus, species, accession number, collector and date of collection, original locality, habitat data, and location in the Garden.

All specimens are accessioned in the office as they arrive in the Garden. There are an average of 1,500 new accessions each year.  All specimens have permanent labels indicating (at the minimum) accession number, scientific name, family, and geographic origin.  A red dot on the plant label marks rare or endangered species.

Curatorial volunteers collect information on flowering and fruiting dates for plants in the Garden, as well as assist with requests for research materials.