San Francisco’s Conservatory of Flowers has just opened a new exhibit called Plantosaurus Rex that highlights prehistoric plants and–uh–alarmingly lifelike replicas of the creatures that ate them. I asked the exhibit director, Lau Hodges–who, by the way, is one of the funniest and most interesting women you’ll ever meet–to tell us a little more about the exhibit. So here’s Lau:
First-I heard that you wanted a dinosaur to actually smash through the roof of the Conservatory. Is that true? That’s awesome! You do know that broken glass panes are something of a sore subject among Conservatory people, right?
Yes, I am pleased to report that we pulled it off and do, in fact, have a life-size T. rex sticking out of the top of our special exhibits gallery. In planning these things you are never sure if it is going to work out like it does in your head, or if it will translate correctly….but in this case I have made the 8th year old in me incredibly stoked! As one of those Conservatory people, to whom broken panes of glass are a sore subject, rest assured that no glass was broken or removed to create this illusion.
And what sort of dinosaurs are actually in the Conservatory? Are they plastic models? Where’d you get them?
Well, of course, there is the rest of the T. rex. He was created out of foam with a resin shell, by a local artist, Bridget Keimel. The pterodactyl and the massive dragonflies are mostly made out of felt and resin by another local artist, Tami Stewart (any relation Amy?). The baby stegosaurus and the allosaurus (both resin) where purchased from a place in Louisiana, that seems to be where they sell all sorts of stuff that I have spent my life wondering about the origins of. Where did they get that half an old Cadillac mounted to the wall in my local 50’s diner…..oh, Louisiana.
Okay, so dinosaurs in the Conservatory–that’s a total kid magnet. What have you got planned for the adults?
You know, I was worried about that myself on opening day…but within the first hour my fears were laid to rest…it turns out I am not the only adult out there that is completely in awe of dinosaurs. The thing that I think really sets us apart from other dino exhibits (it’s not like this is the first one ever right?!) is that we ditched all of the typical, museum do’s and don’ts…..this is not an exhibit in a sterile room, with dino bones on display behind ropes…..in Plantosaurus Rex visitors are in the environment with the dinosaurs. It is a very tangible experience.
I have learned that you guys do an incredible job with sound effects. Did brilliant soundman Andrew Roth come back for this exhibit, and what did he come up with?
Yes! Below is Andrew’s quote from the SF Chronicle article….I am not sure that I can sum it up better than he can.
“It was too hard to build a time machine in time for the exhibit,”.
“The ambient soundscapes are things I recorded in Bali, Malaysia, Costa Rica and Japan. It was interesting smooshing them together into one room. T. rex combines lion, tiger, walrus and slowed-down badger, with a subwoofer to help him sound mean.” Roth used lizard and snake sounds for the allosaurus, and eagle and vulture calls for the pterosaur”.
It is weird to think that we are surrounded by plants that were actually here on Earth back in the days of the dinosaur. Can you lay a few weird prehistoric plant facts on us?
Sure, you know my love of weird plant facts!
I thought it was really cool to learn that selaginella (club mosses) and cycads compose a majority of the Pennsylvania coal belt…it’s wacky to see these two plants all over the Conservatory and think that now, millions of years later, we are burning them for fuel.
I have to giggle at the fact that the Monkey Puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) is native to Chile, where there are no monkeys.
One of the most important plants in Plantosaurus Rex is the Ginkgo biloba. While I will be the first to admit it is by no means the most exotic plant we have ever displayed at the Conservatory, it is actually the frequency with which this plant appears, in the San Francisco Bay Area that makes it so important in this exhibit. My absolute, #1 goal, in creating any exhibit at the Conservatory of Flowers is to get the younger generations excited about plants. I truly believe that no one gets excited about plants until they form a bond with one. That can mean anything from: the tree you climbed as a kid, to a shrub you discover on a hike through the woods, to the Gingko biloba planted outside your house that you have just learned is a living fossil (aka dinosaur food!). Sure, in this case we have used dinosaurs as bait to get kids excited about visiting, but the goal of the exhibit is for the kids to think about plants in a different way, a way that gets them excited about plants.
Were any of these plants hard to track down?
At this time last year I was in a state of near panic trying to hunt down Wicked Plants: botanical rogues and assassins. It has proven far easier to hunt down prehistoric, dinosaur food than it was to locate the bad boys of the botanical world. That said…..the Mandragon turcomanica is still sitting on my desk…
Thanks, Lau! The exhibit runs through October 21. And here’s a video in which Lau actually gets to say “dinosaur poop” on television: