In addition to the wonderful animals you’ll see during your visit to San Francisco Zoo & Gardens, you’ll also discover a vibrant world of plants. Our mild climate allows us to cultivate diverse plant life and habitats, featuring everything from beautiful California native species to unique specimens from far-flung locations.  This botanical garden is a plant-themed zoo experience, showcasing garden biodiversity through a variety of landscapes.

Plant Conservation and Animal Wellness

A wonderful example of our commitment to animal well-being is our daily harvest of browse for animals like koalas, giraffes, rhinos, and many more. By providing them with a steady supply of natural, home-grown branches and leaves, we enrich their diets, stimulate their senses, and mimic their natural feeding behaviors. Eucalyptus, coprosma, acacia, bamboo, and other trees and shrubs are part of the daily browse selection offered to our animals. Look closely, and you’ll often see them enjoying their fresh treats!

Our koalas are our biggest browsers. These marsupials have specific dietary needs, requiring three varieties of fresh eucalyptus daily. To meet their requirements, we harvest 120 to 160 branches, each four to five feet long, every single day. Past Koala Crossing, on the way to the Australian WalkAbout, you’ll find our expanding Eucalyptus Grove, a habitat conservation area with red ironbark, bangalay, yellow gum, and river red gum trees.  These Australian natives thrive in our climate, and their fallen leaves inhibit the growth of other plants underneath, creating a natural monoculture. Eucalyptus trees are also known for their water absorption properties, having been used to drain swampy areas and eliminate mosquito breeding grounds.  While this particular grove is harvested only two or three times a year, it serves as a great example of the diverse diet we provide our koalas.

Gardens of the Fisher Family Children’s Zoo

Butterfly Garden

Across from the meerkat and prairie dog exhibit, you’ll find a delightful butterfly garden.  We’ve specifically chosen plants that cater to butterflies, including those that caterpillars love to eat and flowers that attract adult butterflies.  This creates a welcoming environment where you might spot a butterfly or two flitting amongst plants like sticky monkey flower, pipe vine, seaside daisy, and California wild rose.

Fried-egg Poppy

Just inside the Children’s Zoo entrance, you’ll be greeted by the Romneya coulteri, also known as the “fried-egg poppy,” a California native that thrives in our environment. This vibrant plant can reach six to eight feet tall and blooms with huge white flowers that have a bright yellow center, resembling fried eggs.

Rose Garden

Near the rabbits and guinea pigs, you’ll find a beautiful rose garden bursting with color.  These stunning roses, along with geraniums, wallflowers, and lily of the Nile, add a vibrant touch to your walk through the Children’s Zoo.

Greenie’s Conservation Corner

In 2010, we celebrated Earth Day with the grand opening of Greenie’s Conservation Corner. This lively and sustainable space is designed to engage visitors and inspire them to adopt “green” practices at home, school, and in their communities.  This 4,000-square-foot environmental exhibit features an organic garden that provides food for some of our animals, a rare and historic 1906 earthquake shack, a rainwater harvesting system, a solar-powered fountain, a wind turbine, a worm farm, drip irrigation, water-wise gardens, bat houses, beehives, and more.

Exploring Unique Tree Species

Big Cypress

As you head to grab lunch at the Leaping Lemur Café, take a moment to admire the magnificent Monterey cypress tree. This beautiful tree is native to the Monterey Bay Area and thrives in our foggy coastal climate. Mature trees can grow up to 70 feet tall, but the ocean winds often bend them into flat-topped silhouettes.

Monkey Hand Tree

One of the most unique trees at the Zoo is the monkey hand tree, also known as the “devil’s hand,” located in front of Grizzly Gulch. This cloud forest native of Mexico and Guatemala boasts one of the strangest blooms in the plant kingdom.  In late spring and early summer, the tree produces flowers with five red stamens that extend from a cup of sepals, resembling a small red hand.  The “fingers” are tipped with yellow pollen, creating an illusion of fingernails.  Both bats and perching birds have been observed pollinating these flowers in the wild.  Keep an eye out for this fascinating tree on your next visit!

Swamp Gum

As you walk along the lake from the koala exhibit towards the Australian WalkAbout exhibit, you’ll pass a beloved resident, the swamp gum eucalyptus. Planted around 1925, it’s one of the original lakeshore plantings at the Zoo and is one of the largest of its kind in California, with only about 20 known to exist in the state.  Swamp gums thrive in wet areas and can grow up to 80 feet tall. This particular tree, however, has adapted to the windy coastal environment by spreading wide rather than tall.

Embracing Native California Gardens

Selecting native plants for your home garden is a simple yet impactful conservation choice.  These plants are adapted to the California climate’s wet winters and dry summers, requiring minimal maintenance and water once established.  You’ll find our native California gardens in front of the Connie and Bob Lurie Education Center building, at Greenie’s Conservation Corner, and across from the Lion Fountain. Look for California poppies, yarrow, ceanothus, and more!

Exploring African Plants

The Bay Area’s moderate climate allows a wide variety of diverse plant life from other regions to flourish here, including the many African plants found around the Leanne B. Roberts African Savanna and Osher Giraffe Lodge.  Stunning examples include numerous protea species, a popular type of cut flower known for their large, vibrant blooms in various shapes and colors. As you stroll through the savanna, be sure to take in the amazing botanical biodiversity and the explosion of color.

A Glimpse of the Prehistoric Garden

Ever wondered what it would be like to see a dinosaur?  Look no further than our delightful Prehistoric Garden, located across from the South American Tropical Building by the edge of the lake.  This area features ancient plant varieties that have survived for millions of years, including mosses, gunnera, horsetails, and ferns – remnants of a bygone era that continue to captivate us today.

The Dune Garden: A Piece of San Francisco’s History

It’s easy to forget that San Francisco’s Sunset District was once covered in sand dunes. These dunes were stabilized by small shrubs and plants that helped prevent erosion.  Our small dune garden near the Lion Fountain features some of these resilient plants, including dune tansy, coyote brush, coast iris, and beach strawberry.

San Francisco Zoo & Gardens: A Sanctuary for All Living Things

A visit to San Francisco Zoo & Gardens offers a unique opportunity to not only connect with a diverse range of animals but also to appreciate the remarkable tapestry of diverse plant life from around the world.  From our conservation efforts to our historic trees and gardens that whisper stories of California’s past, our living exhibits create an enriching botanical journey for all visitors. So, the next time you visit, take a moment to immerse yourself in the wonders of the natural world that surrounds you.

Get your tickets today and explore the wonders of flora and fauna waiting for you at San Francisco Zoo & Gardens!