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San Diego Botanic Garden
(formerly Quail Botanical Gardens)

Quail Botanical Gardens

The following introductory information is from the Quail Botanical Gardens Visitor's Guide

Welcome to Quail Botanical Gardens, a place of beauty in all seasons. Ancient cycads, majestic palms, flowering trees and the largest bamboo collection in the United States are part of the diverse and botanically important collections you will discover here. Thanks to a wonderfully mild climate, we can grow plants from all over the world, and there is something always in bloom.

Reminder: To keep our plants and visitors alive and well, we ask you to please stay on the paths or lawns, leave your pets at home, smoke only when you have left the Gardens, and resist that temptation to touch or pick up plant materials.

Quail Botanical Gardens was originally the private residence of Ruth Baird Larabee, an avid plant collector and naturalist. In 1957, the land was donated to the public as a plant and wildlife sanctuary, and is currently opetated by the Quail Botanical Gardens Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization. Donations to the Gardens are tax deductible.

The mission of Quail Botanical Gardens Foundation, Inc. a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is to actively participate in the conservation of rare, threatened and endangered plant species, to serve the botanical and horticulture needs of San Diego County, and to exist as an urban retreat.

Garden Areas

There are 5 major areas in the Gardens corresponding to different climates around the world, with each major area subdivided into specific geographic areas. The areas include Desert climates, Tropical climates, Subtropical climates, Mediterranean climates, as well as several demonstration gardens.

Desert Gardens

Desert garden
Desert garden
Desert garden

Desert garden
Desert garden
Desert garden

Desert garden
Desert garden
Desert garden

Bamboo Display Garden

Bamboo garden
This garden celebrates the beauty and variety of bamboo. The San Diego Botanic Garden is recognized around the world for this extensive collection of bamboos, and for introducing many new types of bamboos to North America through special quarantine greenhouses. In this display garden, you will find plants native to Asia, Africa, and North and South America.

Is bamboo a tree or shrub? Neither -- bamboos are giant members of the grass family (Poaceae). There are more than 1000 species of bamboos and these plants are among the world's most useful. As versatile as trees, bamboos provide food, paper-pulp, construction and decorative materials, landscaping, and even religious and artistic inspiration.

Here, you can discover the beauty of our bamboo species through their diversity of shape, texture, color and even sound. In 1979, the American Bamboo Society was founded at Quail Botanical Gardens.

Bamboo garden
Giant Tropical Bamboo
Dendrocalamus Giganteus
Bamboo garden
Puntingpole Bamboo
Bambusa Tuldoides
Bamboo garden
Common Bamboo
Bambusa Vulgaris "Vittata"

Bamboo garden
Bamboo garden

Tropical Black Bamboo
Gigntochloa Atroviolacea
Bamboo garden

Tropical Rainforest

Tropical Rainforest
Tropical Rainforest
Tropical Rainforest

Why are Tropical Rainforests Important?

Tropical rainforests have the greatest biodiversity of any habitat on Earth. In other words, there are more kinds of plants and animals in the tropical rainforest than anywhere else. This treasure chest of plants and animals holds tremendous promise as a source for new medicines and improved food crops.

These massive communities play a major role in stabilizing the earth's atmosphere in two ways:
  • Tropical rainforests absorb tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide and contribute to the Earth's oxygen supply.
  • Tropical rainforests help stabilize the Earth's rainfall patterns, temperature, wind, and other climate factors.

Tropical Rainforest
Tropical Rainforest
Tropical Rainforest

Demonstration Gardens

Fruits Without Borders
Today people use thousands of plant species for medicines, clothing, shelter and, of course, food.

About 2000 plants are used for food worldwide. Large-scale modern agriculture grows about 150 species. But many people in industrialized nations base their diet on four crops: corn, rice, wheat, and the potato.

In the tropics, some fruit like coconut, bannana, and breadfruit are common staple foods that play a critical role in the daily diet of many people.

We could eat a new fruit every day for an entire year if all of the world's fruits were available to us.

Quail Botanical Gardens grows fruiting trees, shrubs and vines from around the world. All these species will grow successfully in home gardens near the coast in Southern California.


Ancient Food - The Fig
The fig (Ficus carica) is a deciduous tree bearing one of the first fruits cultivated by man. Ancient peoples filled their bellies with different wild fruits but must have held the fig in very high esteem. It was not only enjoyed fresh but was readily dried in the sun and stored against times of scarcity. The fig must have played a vital role in the dawning of civilization in both the Fertile Crescent and ancient Egypt.

Figs were introduced into California in 1769 at Mission San Diego de Alcalá - about 25 miles south of here.

Have you ever eaten a black-skinned fig? If so you probably were enjoying the fruit of the 'Black Mission' the very same variety brought to California by Spanish padres!


Banana Boulevard
The banana (Musa spp.), a native of Southeast Asia, is a mini-course in botany best described by explaining what it is not. First, there is no such thing as a banana tree.

Flowering before you is a giant HERB - non-woody plant whose aerial portion is relatively short lived. In the tropics, some varieties soar to a height of 30 feet and, as such, claim the title of "The World's Tallest Herb."

Also, what appears to be a trunk is really a pseudo-stem composed of tightly wrapped leaf sheaths from which new leaves unfurl.

The true stem is an under-ground corm from which new plants called "pups" will emerge.


Assorted Individual Plants

The following plants were included on this webpage due their unusual beauty, or by just being unusual.

Sapphire Tower Pitcairnia Caerulea
Sapphire Tower
Sapphire Tower

Collin's Banksia - Banksia collinia
Proteaceae Protea family
Southeast Australia
This tree has large fruits with abundant nectar that attracts small marsupial mice as pollinators.

Collin's Banksia Collin's Banksia Collin's Banksia

Queensland Bottle Tree Brachychiton Rupestris
Queensland Bottle Tree
Queensland, Australia
Can withstand drought

Dragon Tree The Dragon Tree

Dracaena Draco

The red sap of the Dragon Tree was said to be the blood of dragons by Canary Islands' earliest inhabitants - hence the common name.

The sap has been used for embalming and preserving skins, concocting medicines and love potions, and in jewelry and enamel work.

The distinctive color of stradivarius violins is due to the use of "Dragons Blood" in the varnish.

Today, basket makers prize the long, pliable leaf of the Dragon Tree for its glint of orange on the base of the leaf.

This stand was planted in the 1940's by Ruty Baird Larabee, the original owner of the estate. These trees should live to be several hundred years old. Unlike other trees which have rings, the Dragon Tree, a monocot, has vascular bundles, making it impossible to determine the age of a particular specimen.

Native Plants/Native Peoples Trail

Wander amoung the plants of the coastal sage scrub habitat and travel back, through centuries in time, to learn how the Kumeyaay people used native plants.

What is the Coastal Sage Scrub Habitat? A community of plants that has grown naturally along San Diego's coast for thousands of years.

Why is this Habitat important today? By preserving and studying this community of plants, we nuture possible opportunities to
  • safeguard San Diego's coastline,
  • manage and conserve natural resources,
  • discover new medicines, and
  • enjoy nature's subtle, complex beauty.

Native plants Native Plants

Native Plants

What Plants Make Up Coastal Sage Scrub?

A community of plants adapted to drought and fire.

The species found in a particular area will depend upon soil conditions and the lay of the land. Coastal sage scrub, intermixed here with southern maritime chaparral, thrives throughout much of coastal California and northern Mexico, in areas from sea level to altitudes of 2,000 to 3,000 feet.

After a rain or on a foggy morning, the coastal sage scrub gives off the crisp, herbal aroma of its namesake, sage. Here at Quail Botanical Gardens, you'll find California sagebrush (Artemisia californica), white sage (Salvia apiana), black sage (Salvia mellifera) and purple sage (Salvia leucophylla). Other plants to look for include: flat-top buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum), California encelia (Encelia californica), various grasses and forbs, and woody shrubs such as laurel sumac (Malosma laurina) and lemonade berry (Rhus integrifolia).

Why Save the Coastal Sage Scrub Habitat?

This habitat offers rich gifts in plain wrapping. Sometimes the low oaks, prickly cactus and dry shrubs of the coastal sage scrub community look plain and drab. But that plant community can give us many gifts:
  • biodiversity,
  • plants adapted to fire and drought,
  • plants for landscaping,
  • medicinal plants,
  • habitat for endangered animals,
  • natural erosion control,
  • watershed cleansing and
  • water conservation.

Seasons come, seasons go

If it's summer or fall you might well be asking, "Where have all the flowers gone?" San Diego's "spring" season begins when rains fall, usually during the winter months. The moisture triggers sprouting of new greens leaves, and blooming flowers. Insects spread pollen from blossom to blossom. By the end of the spring season, seeds are developing.

By summer, many of the coastal sage scrub plants stop to rest in their cycle of reproduction. Leaves and twigs dry out and turn brown. Some plants die back completely, but their roots or bulbs lie waiting underground for the renewing rains of the coming winter.

Pond Pond

Water! Here?

This manmade pond and the plants growing nearby are brought to you by Quail Botanical Gardens, not by Mother Nature. In San Diego County, such riparian habitats - areas along streams and rivers - are usually found in mountains or river valleys along the coast.

The pond and plants in this riparian habitat give food, shelter and water to wildlife living in the Gardens. Keep your eyes open for birds, insects and lizards.

People also need clean, fresh water. Native Americans chose homesites near rivers, creeks and ponds where they could hunt animals, collect food plants, and have drinking water. Although river valleys once covered vast areas of San Diego's coast, these havens for wildlife are diminishing rapidly as people use the land for farming, housing, roadways and commerce.

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
but it's time to move! When seasons changed and food supplies ran low, Kumeyaay (Koo-me-eye) families moved from one home site to another.

Bands of Kumeyaay traveled from place to place, living wherever the harvests were good and fresh water was plentiful. These bands moved from the coast up into the mountains to gather their favorite acorns from the black oaks. Mile after mile they traveled on foot, up and down the coast, and into Baja California.

Moving around, but staying together, the Kumeyaay lived in territorial bands numbering from 200 to 1000. People belonging to the same band lived in separate groups, spread out among many home sites or clustered together in more permanent villages. Each band had spiritual leaders and their governing leader, the kwaapaay (kweye-pie). The kwaapaay could be a man or a woman, chosen as hereditary leader or elected for leadership ability.

Dome hut village

A Dome Shelter

protected people's tools and food supplies. Using branches from arroyo willow trees, like the ones by the pond, the Kumeyaay (Koo-me-eye) would first build a framework. Then the builders completed their 'ewaa (whaah) by adding an outside thatch of tule reeds or smaller willow branches. The Kumeyaay constructed different sizes and shapes of 'ewaa. The larger shelters could hold several families.

A woven mat covered the entry opening. A small fire could warm their shelter, but fire pits for cooking were always outdoors. The Kumeyaay still use 'ewaa for sweat lodges, heating them with fires and hot rocks.

Once lost, never regained?

People enjoy the gentle climate, fertile soils and rolling landscape of the coastal environment, but we often push out the native plants and animals. Many human activities injure the patches of coastal sage scrub that do remain: breaking habitat up into small islands; invasion by non-native plants; military exercises; over-grazing; destruction by off-road vehicles, and disruption of the natural cycles of fire and succession of new growth.

Today an estimated 66-90% of San Diego's original coastal sage scrub habitat has been lost to houses and condos, shopping malls, manufacturing plants, office buildings, golf courses, parking lots, freeways, agriculture and grazing. Lost habitat threatens nearly 100 species of plants or animals with extinction, including the California gnatcatcher, coastal cactus wren, orange-throated whiptail lizard, the Encinitas baccharis (Baccharis vanessae), the San Diego thornmint (Acanthomintha ilicifolia) and the Del Mar manzanita (Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp. crassifolia.

Yes, we are a force for great destruction of the coastal sage scrub habitat. But we can also use "people power" to conserve such special habitats.

Quail Botanical Gardens

The San Diego Botanic Garden is located at 230 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas. See map.

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