Tuesday, 25 February 2020 10:05

Butterfly Birthday

Written by  Abi Safago
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Meijer Gardens Butterflies. Meijer Gardens Butterflies. Photo Courtesy of Tara Fletcher Photography

Meijer Gardens’ winged exhibit celebrates a milestone

If you’re looking to be transported to another world — specifically a warmer, greener world — head to Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.

Meijer Gardens celebrates its 25th annual Butterflies Are Blooming exhibit this year — featuring more than 7,000 butterflies. Among these many butterflies, you can find 60-70 different species, so if you’re determined or an insect lover, you can put your skills to the test to see if you can spot them all.

Hitting 25 years makes this a special year for the exhibit, which means a lot to Meijer Gardens, as well as the West Michigan community. It’s not just about the potential learning experience — it’s also about tradition.

“People come back for so many reasons. I think it’s a one-of-a-kind experience that people turn into their own tradition,” said horticulturist Laurel Gaut, who works with the butterflies and the gardens in the greenhouse. “There’ve been people who have come back for their second time, but also people who have come back for over 10 years.”

For many, the butterflies have been a wonderful experience for learning. For kids, they can spot the caterpillars and chrysalis easily and learn. For those of us who are grown up, we get to see species we’ve never seen. Additionally, the West Michigan community has made sure it’s a topic in and out of schools.

Year after year, many schools bring their students to Meijer Gardens to visit this exhibit to talk about what they learn in class on a larger scale. Outside of the classroom, it has been fairly common to see families and friends come together to see the butterflies — making traditions of their own.
This year’s exhibit is also all about history: specifically, the Wardian Case.

The Wardian Case, a precursor to the modern terrarium, is used to transport insects and plants. It’s meant to provide adequate sunlight and the ability to keep life inside alive.

Meijer Gardens has a large Wardian case in its Victorian Gardens, and the butterfly exhibit itself is in a sort of Wardian case: the Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory. One of the most interesting things about this exhibit is how light affects the butterflies.

If you’re looking for a day where the butterflies are being active, the sunny days are best. Thanks to the style of the room, the light that comes in through the glass causes the butterflies to interact more. If you’re looking for a better
photo-op day, the sun might not be best.

“Usually on cloudy days or darker days, the butterflies fly lower. They’ll follow patches of sun as they move around the room from the windows, so sometimes you can just follow them,” Gaut said.

The exhibition naturally encourages exploration and curiosity, especially since its subject is so stunning. We’ve gotten used to our Michigan butterflies, which are beautiful, but you’ll see far more than that here.

“The ones coming in are really vibrant,” Gaut said. “The colors will pop, and they won’t blend as easily as our native butterflies would in here.”On top of all the wonderful things you’ll see — like the colorful butterflies or their decorated chrysalises — Gaut thinks there’s one thing to keep in mind about it all: It’s an experience, so you should actually be in it.

“I know people love photo ops, and it’s really fun. We all do it. But make sure to put down the phone for a bit while you’re in here, really take in the beauty of it all,” she said.

“You’d be surprised what you miss if you’re watching through the camera instead.”

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
1000 E. Beltline Ave., Grand Rapids
March 1-April 30


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