Magnificent Magnolias at San Francisco Botanical Garden

SAN FRANCISCO – During the grayest days of winter, nature stages a one-of-a-kind disruption every year at San Francisco Botanical Garden (SFBG) as more than 100 magnolias, many rare and historic, defy the gloom and erupt into a riot of pink and white blossoms. Velvety silver buds on the often bare branches of these elegant trees open into saucer-sized, vibrant flowers, filling the wintery Garden with dramatic splashes of color and sweetly fragrant scents. The breathtaking annual floral spectacle, with trees reaching 80 feet, is at its peak from mid-January through March.

Visitors to the Garden can take advantage of free Magnolia Walk maps, docent-led tours, special signage, a magnolia mobile app and more, as well as unique classes and activities, including Valentine’s Day treats and tours for couples and families and special Magnolias by Moonlight tours, to celebrate and learn more about these unique trees. Families can enjoy the collection using a free family-friendly adventure map with activity suggestions for children.

SFBG is home to the most significant magnolia collection for conservation purposes outside China, where the majority of species originated. Its current collection includes 44 species, 42 cultivars and 16 hybrids or varieties, including many important specimens from Asia.

This unique and long-standing collection began in 1939 with Eric Walther, who planted the very first magnolia in the Garden and continued to introduce species and cultivars throughout his tenure as the Garden’s first Director. One of the most famous species he planted was the cup and saucer magnolia or Magnolia campbellii, the first of its kind to bloom in the United States in 1940, attracting huge crowds of excited and curious visitors who stood in long lines to see the magnificent large pink blossoms of this lovely magnolia that still stands in the Garden today. More than a dozen other M. campbellii can now also be found throughout the Garden.

“Magnolias have long been the signature flower of San Francisco Botanical Garden,” says Don Mahoney, the Garden’s Curator Emeritus. “The bloom is absolutely one of the peak experiences of the year here. A towering tree with thousands of large pink flowers held upright against a blue sky is a sight you will remember for the rest of your lifetime.”

The Magnolia family – Magnoliaceae, named for botanist Pierre Magnol in 1748 – is considered by paleobotanists to be one of the earliest flowering plant families. Magnolia fossils date back nearly 100 million years to the time of the dinosaurs. The flowers are pollinated by beetles since bees had not yet evolved at that time. Survivors of several ice ages, magnolias thrived in the protected mountains of southern China, the southern United States, southern Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Eighty percent of the more than 247 species occur in Asia.

“The San Francisco Botanical Garden has spent the better part of a century establishing one of the world’s premiere magnolia displays,” said Phil Ginsburg, SF Rec & Park General Manager. “With the rains and colder weather, this is a great opportunity for San Franciscans and visitors from all over to get outside and visit the Magnificent Magnolias.”

To read more about the prized magnolias, visit:


Free Magnolia Walk maps, highlighting key species and their location within the Garden, are available to the public. In addition, the Garden offers a free Magical Magnolia family adventure map that takes families on either a stroller friendly path or a more adventurous route off the beaten path to search for furry buds and giant flowers on magnolia trees large and small. A free magnolia mobile app is available as well, providing a dynamic, searchable map of the collection. The Garden also offers free magnolia docent tours every Saturday at 2p.m., through March 26. Visitors can enjoy a special digital exhibition of stunning magnolia illustrations from rare books in the Helen Crocker Russell Library of Horticulture, Northern California’s most comprehensive horticultural collection. The Rare Book Room is not open to the public so this is an excellent opportunity to see these beautiful illustrations. In addition, visitors can find over 250 magnolia related items in the publicly accessible book collection, and the library will feature a special magnolia book display during the month of February. Free bibliographies for children and adults will also be available on a variety of magnolia-related themes. In the Bookstore, visitors enjoy special discounts on magnolia items including greeting cards, books, posters and more.

In addition, the Garden offers these special programs for adults and families:

Magnificent Magnolia Walking Tours

Saturdays, January 23, February 20, March 5; 1:30 – 3:30 PM

$20 general

Take a fascinating walking tour of the magnolia collection in the company of SFBG staff. Learn about the history of the Garden’s collection and even get tips on growing your own here in the Bay Area. Bring your cameras and take home a lasting memory. Heavy rain cancels.

Magnolias by Moonlight

Friday, January 22 & Monday, February 22; 6 – 8 PM

$25 general

Stroll moonlit paths guided by a Garden naturalist. Marvel at the magnolia blossoms overhead reflecting the silvery moon and inhale their lovely fragrance. The walking tour

includes a refreshment stop for hot, aromatic tea and delicious snacks. Bring a flashlight. Heavy rain cancels.

Meet Me Under the Magnolia: Valentine’s Day Treats and Tours

Saturday, February 13; 3 – 5 PM

$60 per couple

Treat your sweetheart to a pre-date night visit to the Garden. Taste delicious garden-inspired treats including pie from Butter Love Bakeshop and sip sparkling wine before heading out on an expert-led tour of the Garden’s blossoming magnolias.

Family Valentine Fun

Sunday, February 14; 10 AM – 12 PM

Free with admission

Spend the morning with all of your Valentine sweeties enjoying delicious hot cocoa and magnolia-themed crafts. Then explore the Garden’s magnificent magnolias with a Family Adventure Map.

San Francisco Botanical Garden, located in Golden Gate Park with entrances on 9th Ave at Lincoln Way and on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive off the Music Concourse, is open 365 days a year at 7:30 AM. Last entry changes with the seasons as follows: 4 PM 1st Sunday in November – January; 5 PM February – early March; 6 PM 2nd Sunday in March – September; 5 PM October – early November. Admission for San Francisco residents (with proof of residence, e.g., CA ID with SF address, or photo ID and utility bill) is FREE.

Admission for non-residents is $8 general, $6 youth 12-17 and seniors; $2 children 5-11; children 4 and under FREE. Families of 2 adults and one or more child pay just $17. Admission is FREE to all visitors from 7:30 to 9 AM. SFBG members receive free admission and discounts on fee-based programs. The public should call (415) 661-1316 or visit for more information.

About San Francisco Botanical Garden

San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum is a living museum within Golden Gate Park, offering 55 acres of beautiful gardens displaying over 8,000 different kinds of plants from around the world. Seasonal highlights include the magnificent Magnolia collection, the most significant for conservation purposes outside China; the unique Mesoamerican, Andean and Southeast Asian Cloud Forest collections; and the California Native Garden and century old Redwood Grove.

Established in 1940 originally as Strybing Arboretum, San Francisco Botanical Garden is a collaboration of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and the non-profit San Francisco Botanical Garden Society.

About the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department

The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department currently manages more than 220 parks, playgrounds and open spaces throughout San Francisco, including two outside city limits—Sharp Park in Pacifica and Camp Mather in the High Sierras. The system includes 21 large, full-complex recreation centers, swimming pools, golf courses, sports fields and numerous small-to-medium-sized clubhouses that offer a variety of sports- and arts-related recreation programs for people of all ages.  Included in the Department’s responsibilities are Golden Gate Park, Coit Tower, the Marina Yacht Harbor, the San Francisco Zoo and Lake Merced.

The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department’s Mission is to provide enriching recreational activities, maintain beautiful parks and preserve the environment for the well-being of our diverse community.


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