Banquet Piece, Pieter Claez

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Fabulous Mesembryanthemum Hedge of PPIE

Scott Street Entrance,
mesembryanthemum hedge.
San Francisco Public Library

Our generation thinks that we created the green wall. However, 100 years ago, the "mesembryanthemum hedge" at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition was twenty feet high and 1150 feet long and far surpasses any current day green wall I've ever seen or heard about.

The hedge ran west from the Fillmore Street gate past the Scott Street Entrance and then an additional block south on Divisadero - "A wall of delicate and tender blossoms of dazzling metallic brilliance..."

Scott Street Entrance of mesembryanthemum hedge.San Francisco Public Library

and page 339 in Volume 2 of The story of the Exposition...

From PPIE President C.C. Moore's
Albums of PPIE
From the link you can look at his wonderful album.

Snippet of map with iceplant wall outlined in pink based on the description below.

This very large wall of mesembryanthemum or Mesembryanthemum spectabilis or just "iceplant" as we usually call it now, was described in The Story of the Exposition: Being the Official History of the International Celebration Held at San Francisco in 1915 to Commemorate the Discovery of the Pacific Ocean and the Construction of the Panama Canal, Volume 1 (page 310). The engineering, maintenance, and cost are described:

From this panorama photograph, you can see the mesembryanthemum wall. Here's a portion of the panorama:
Library of Congress photo.

Photos from the San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library, show how it was installed:
Boxes of hedge in front of the Palace of Horticulture.
San Francisco Public Library

Placing boxes of mesembryanthemum hedge at PPIE.
San Francisco Public Library
Construction of mesembryanthemum hedge.
San Francisco Public Library

Donald McLaren inspecting mesembryanthemum hedge. Doesn't he look a bit like Harold Lloyd?!
San Francisco Public Library

"Hedge, South Garden; Dome of Festival Hall in background"
From Online Archive of California,
Collection of Views of Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915

Dome of Palace of Horticulture, from hedge, South Garden
From Online Archive of California,
Collection of Views of Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915

from calsphere

The National Park Service document, Ch. 5 Historic Materials and Maintenance (p. 82-85), talks about the nurseries for PPIE. (more on that later)

Today this would still be quite an impressive feat and we'd call it a living wall.

John McLaren says in his book, Gardening in California: Landscape and Flower (1909), that "The Mesembryanthemum is not used as freely as it ought to be."

Luckily this is not the iceplant that is over-running areas of our coastal bluffs. 
What is Mesembryanthemum spectabilis called now? Doing a search, it looks like Lampranthus spectabilis is the current name. Sunset has Lampranthus spectabilis listed and it looks like it. Hortipedia says that Mesembryanthemum spectabilis is a synonym for Lampranthus spectabilis.
The Plantlist lists Mesembryanthemum spectabile (not spectabilis) as Lampranthus spectabilis.

Spectabilis, indeed! When the plants were blooming, it must have almost hurt to look at it.
Picture of Lampranthus spectabilis from Ruth Bancroft Garden
until I find one of my own.
I wondered what it would look like when it was blooming. I did my own colorizing to show it as I imagine it would look.
That's pretty much as I would have expected. I hope that someone took an Autochrome picture of it in bloom!

  • "The Other McLaren II" talks about the PPIE years, Eden, Fall 2010. Was Donald McLaren responsible for the iceplant wall? or his dad, John McLaren? or both? That is Donald in that photo. 
  • from that article: Donald and John McLaren each wrote articles dealing with the work of landscaping the Exposition: 
  • Donald McLaren, ―Gardening Features of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition,‖ Pacific Service Magazine 6, no. 2 (July 1914): [38]-45; 
  • John McLaren, ―California‘s Opportunities in Artistic Landscaping,‖ and Donald McLaren, ―Landscape Gardening,‖ California‘s Magazine 1, no. 1 (July 1915): 139-142 and 345-348 respectively; 
  • Donald McLaren, ―Landscape Gardening at the Exposition,‖ Architect 10, no. 1 (July 1915): 13-14 plus seven unnumbered pages of photographs; 
  • John McLaren also gave a talk on ―Ornamental Horticulture at the P.P. Exposition,‖ which was recorded in the Proceedings of the Third Annual Meeting of the California Association of Nurserymen (1913): 104-107. 
  • In the movies: Panama Pacific International exposition 1915, 1:44 opening day with wall behind. 2:28 a corner, 2:51 Fountain of Energy, then Palace of Horticulture, 3:00 Palace of Horticulture, 3:28 Festival Hall, 4:58 Avenue of Palms, 

Now what about that Magic Carpet at the Golden Gate International Exposition?
From here.


  1. That's a great article! I've always liked the iceplant wall at the 1915 exposition. The wall was also used around the base of the dome of the Palace of Fine Arts, at the same exposition.

  2. Thank you! I have started my own 1X1 foot segment of the wall. Will be posting that later. The spectabilis is available from nurseries now and has been blooming on our streets in the bay area for several months.