55 Music Concourse Dr.
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco CA
Regular Hours:


9:30 am – 5:00 pm


11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Members' Hours:


8:30 – 9:30 am


10:00 – 11:00 am

The Academy will be closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Planetarium will be closed Sep. 22, 23, 24

Kristen Natoli

Kristen is a Horticulturist at the Steinhart Aquarium.


Briefly describe your job and your area of expertise. I care for the plants in all the indoor exhibits along with the butterflies and Leafcutter Ants in the Rainforest.

What got you interested in being a Horticulturist? I am fascinated by the biology of plants as it is so completely different from our own.  Everything about the structure and function of plants is related to their ability to produce their own food and inability to move around to find mates or to cope with stress in their immediate surroundings.   They have to tolerate or adapt to whatever comes their way and have ingenious ways of doing it.

What do you like most and least about your job?  I love to see butterflies emerging from their chrysalis.  As many times as I have witnessed this I still am awed by how these animals are able to transform themselves and the intricate choreography they perform to emerging intact without damaging their delicate wings.  My biggest challenge is there are never enough hours in the day to get to all the great ideas I have in my head about what I want to do.  It is never dull here and there is always more to do to improve the exhibits.

What college did you go to and what degree did you receive? Cornell University, B.S. in Natural Resources.

What influenced your job choice and when?  During construction of the new Academy I was excited to hear that there was a plan to develop a tropical rainforest exhibit.  The opportunity to work with a tropical plant display in combination with live animal exhibits was especially interesting for me.  An exhibit this dynamic allows visitors to observe up close how the interactions between the many living elements in highly diverse tropical forests contribute to the mystery and beauty of these fragile ecosystems.   Managing plant care in this complex environment adds a level of challenge that keeps the work interesting.

Do you have pets at home? What and how many? 2 cats and lots and lots of plants.

Advice for someone wanting to go into your field. I have found a combination of education and hands on experience are the best preparation for the field of horticulture.  It is important to have an understanding of how plants grow, function and interact with the surrounding environment in order to make informed horticulture decisions.  However no book can replace the experience of getting your hands in the dirt or show you how healthy soil feels and smells.

More about Kristen


Kristen’s Suggested Reading:

Plant biology:

“Anatomy of Seed Plants” by Katherin Esau, 1977 (Wiley, John and Sons, Inc.)

“Paleobotany and the Evolution of Plants” by Wilson N. Stewart and Gar W. Rothwell, 1993 (Cambridge University Press)


“The Savage Garden” by Peter D’Amato, 1998 (Ten Speed Press) Integrated Pest

Integrated Pest Management:

“Pests of the Garden and Small Farm” by Mary Louise Flint, 1990, (University of California)