Plantosaurus Rex

– Posted in: Garden Adventures, Garden Photography

Got your attention ?  Escaping dinosaur at San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers ?  Is this Gardening Gone Wild ?!

Some of you may remember the post I did a few months ago when I was photographing for the exhibit at the Conservatory – Vantage Point – Looking Up.  I went looking for plants that were on this earth in the Mesozoic Era, prehistoric plants in the age of dinosaurs.  Photomurals were to become the background of the exhibit.

The exhibit itself now open at San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers until October 21, features ancient plants, from Triassic 250 million years ago up to the evolution of flowers at the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago.  The star of the show is not my photos or even the plants in the exhibit but the roaring Tyranosaurus rex (yes, sound effects), carved from molded styrofoam by artist Bridget Kiemel.

The Conservatory’s ongoing exhibits are designed to be educational and family oriented so it is no small surprise that exhibit guru Lau Hodges incorporated the dinosaurs.  They are kid magnets.  Having the T. rex head appear to break through the ceiling and growl in the direction of the ticket booth is sheer inspiration.

It was also inspired to use the photo murals as background for much of the interior.

The redwood trees are my favorite, especially since they get to stand alone towering above the entrance to the exhibit.  The mural had to be cut into three pieces to make a trapezoid that could fit into the space but if you don’t look too closely you could almost imagine the dinosaurs, back in the day, being dwarfed underneath the worlds tallest trees.

redwood tree photo mural behind dinosaur

All the other photos serve as backdrop to the living plants and give the room a sense of enclosure.  We needed to test different fabrics to be sure the photos were sheer enough to allow light to keep the plants healthy, but not too sheer to see the actual structure of the building.  What is really thrilling, as a photographer, is the backlighting allows the photos to glow, much more than a print on a flat wall.

The big photo of Cycads give a huge sense of lushness.  They also look truly pre-historic.

The scale of the 10 foot tall photos really help to establish a setting for the specimen plants.  While I am disappointed the photos are not standing alone as if in an art gallery, that is not their purpose.  They are not really meant to be seen, the viewer is invited to look at the living plants.  Oh, and the critters too.

The background photo makes the small plants (Norfolk Island Pines and Gingko) seem to be seedlings in a forest, though the original photo makes me wonder what Lotusland (where I found the tall trees) would look like with dinosaurs running around.


Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at
Saxon Holt

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Cathy May 24, 2012, 6:13 am

This is every kid’s dream of walking among the dinosaurs come true – it must have been incredibly challenging and exciting to work on it. I wish were closer (or had one of the transporters from the Star Ship Enterprise).

One of the biggest challenges is/was the Conservatory building itself is a designated historic building with wood frame. We could not attach anything directly to the wood. Photos were hung with dowels, dino head was build on a sled, etc. Hey plan a trip to SF before Oct 21, there are a few other things to see besides the Conservatory exhibit … -Saxon

DAY May 24, 2012, 6:49 am

Brilliant marketing! Get the next generation of gardeners interested. (Let’s hope they also use their cell phone cameras. . .)

You hit the nail on the head steve. Draw them in with the dinosaurs but wow them with the plants. Kids and grownups too are amazed that the plants have survived – they are living fossils from pre-historic times. – Saxon

Sheila Schultz May 24, 2012, 9:13 pm

You don’t have to be a kid to adore this exhibit… and your photography!

Ahhh thanks Sheila

HB May 25, 2012, 10:22 pm

I could do without the dinos, since I still have “Jurrasic Park” nightmares every once in a while, but the plants are wonderful.

I DO worry about some little kids at the exhibit. I saw one tike (2 y/o?) bawling when anyone pushed the sound effects roar button. But last year we did an Amy Stewart “Wicked Pants” exhibit: dinosaurs are extinct – wicked plants are all around us… -Saxon

Donna June 7, 2012, 7:43 am

I really liked seeing this exhibit through your images. I loved dinos as a kid and can see how this would make such an adventure for children. To feel part of the exhibit and see plants and this environment so differently than just reading about it in a book. Great marketing pointing the dino toward the ticket booth. Really gets the excitement going strong.

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