Discover the Botanical Garden with Garden Explorer! 

What is Garden Explorer?

With over 8,000 types of plants from all parts of the globe, San Francisco Botanical Garden truly lives up to its name as a “living museum”. Finding a specific plant or plant group within that collection isn’t always easy, but the Gardens have a tool to streamline that search: Garden Explorer! This easy-to-use portal can show you the precise location of any plant in the Botanical Garden, along with helpful images and background information. It’s a popular part of the Gardens website and is widely used by staff, volunteers, and the public alike. 

To learn more about this amazing resource, we interviewed Tory Stewart, our Plant Records Manager, to find out just how Garden Explorer works. 

“Garden Explorer hosts the Botanical Garden’s entire photo collection, with tens of thousands of images available! See both popular plants and hidden gems in all their glory.”

Magnificent Magnolia Highlights

Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana ‘Picture’)
A helpful QR code sign.
Making use of our map.

What It Is and How It Works 

Garden Explorer is the publicly accessible section of the Botanical Garden’s plant records database, Iris BG. Visitors can use it to search for any plant in the Botanical Garden’s collection and even pinpoint their precise locations! 

Garden Explorer presents three methods of searching for plants. The first is a name-based search engine that can locate plants based on their common or scientific name, the name of their genus or family, their country of origin, or the planting bed where they are located. You can also use the plant’s accession number, which is the unique code that Iris BG assigns to each specimen. Simply enter one of those options and search, and any plants that fit the given description will appear! Selecting the name of a plant will reveal a fact sheet about the species  in question, with conservation information, a map of where it’s located, and photos of it from our lovely collection. You can also consult a detailed map of the entire Botanical Garden to track down specimens or use the Names directory to find it by scientific name. 

Whether you’re roaming the Botanical Garden on foot or taking a virtual tour from home, Garden Explorer is an excellent way to learn more about the beautiful plants you love. With thousands of plants and tens of thousands of photos, there’s plenty to find! 

Useful Features

Garden Explorer hosts the Botanical Garden’s entire photo collection, with tens of thousands of images available! See our most popular varieties and our lesser-known gems in their entirety and notice the small differences between individual specimens. 

Another useful aspect is the ability to find a specific garden section and see every single plant that’s located there, allowing you to examine entire collections at once. You can find each area and its assigned number in the main Search section or visit the Map section for an overhead view. 

Our Magnolia collection is especially popular, and so the Botanical Garden has a special way to search for them during their blooming season. During Magnificent Magnolia season, you’ll find QR codes throughout the Botanical Garden that lead to specific species’ taxon pages, accompanied by a physical map in the garden. Developed in 2021, this feature gives everyone a way to discover our Magnificent Magnolias without needing a docent tour or a paper map. 

Updates and Future Projects

Garden Explorer is updated very frequently, with changes being made and new information being added typically once or twice a week! This keeps Garden Explorer’s information as up-to-date and accurate as possible. 

In Summer 2023, the Gardens received an Institute of Museums and Library Sciences Grant to expand the Collections and Conservations Team’s work to the Conservatory of Flowers and Japanese Tea Garden. This means that, in the future, plants from those gardens may begin appearing in Garden Explorer! There are many more plant stories waiting to be told, and our team at the Gardens is excited to be able to start on them. 

This expansion began earlier this summer, so the project is still in its early stages. While it will take some time to offer this feature at the Conservatory of Flowers and Japanese Tea Garden, our staff are working diligently and thoroughly to ensure that all plants are documented, labeled, mapped, and photographed. This careful process may take years, but the Gardens team is working as quickly as they can while still maintaining Garden Explorer’s standards. 

To try out Garden Explorer, visit 

Written by Masten Peters

Marissa Fong

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