This collection is representative of plants from the Sierra Madre mountain ranges of Mexico south to the higher elevations of Central America. Two major plant communities are represented: pine-oak woodland and cloud forest. Included are many species used by indigenous Aztec and Mayan people for medicinal and ceremonial purposes.

Evergreen cloud forests occur at high elevations where low-level clouds reduce temperatures and provide abundant moisture, even equaling that of a true rainforest environment. In these wet, cool conditions, thick mats of ferns, orchids, mosses, and other epiphytes cover tree branches and trunks. More species of epiphytes live in cloud forests than anywhere else on Earth, and over 70 species of birds visit the epiphytes to find food and materials for nest building. Scientists have found evidence that global warming has made cloud forests drier, endangering these unique environments. The cloud forest community is one of the most unique in the Garden, with many plants from this higher elevation assemblage doing well in our coastal Bay Area climate.

Pine-oak woodlands occur in many types of terrain, including plateaus, foothills, and rugged mountains with deep canyons. This community varies from distinct stands of pine and fir trees to areas dominated by oaks. Our pine-oak woodland community includes agaves and their relatives and a nationally noted oak collection. Rare species of magnolias, pines, and spruces displayed here are threatened by habitat loss in Mexico and Central America.

Rich in salvias and penstemons, this is one of the most floriferous areas of the Garden, especially in winter. Hummingbirds are most easily observed in this collection. The Garden’s rich floral display yields hummingbirds year round. Both Anna’s and Allen’s Hummingbirds are breeders, with Rufous Hummingbirds coming through during migration. The Rufous Hummingbirds have been known to spend the winter, often favoring flowers in the Mexican and Central American Areas, including salvias and penstemons.