Monarch butterfly on heliotrope
Recession budget + house on market = summer day trips, no vacations. I took one last week to Brookside Gardens, a lovely public garden located inside Wheaton's regional park, just north of Washington D.C. There was a butterfly exhibit going on that a friend of mine and I had wanted to see for some time.
The day we went, we lucked out with the weather, which was the low 80's and sunny-- perfect for flower spying and butterfly spotting. The gardens were in full bloom with prolific hydrangea bushes, purple and sky blue larkspurs and exotic-colored roses, just to name a few.
Once you arrive at the gardens, it's about a 3-5 minute walk to the butterfly house, so you can take your time getting lost in the flower beds. Even though the peony and dogwood season had passed, the greenery from the plants was so lush, you almost forgot about the some of the missing spring flowers.
When we arrived at the small building that houses the butterflies, we had to wait for a small group in front of us that was being educated on butterfly larvae and cocoons. We heard the butterfly lady explain the process which was informative, but all we could think about was seeing them in person.
Fuschia Spray roses
We got inside the room it felt like 100 degrees. There was a fluttering frenzy all around us-- a paradise of delicate wings and techni-color. There were orange ones, brown ones, green ones (the rarest), big blue ones and so many more we got dizzy. They were flying, resting on the wall, hanging out on plates of rotted fruit, and pollinating rows of zinneas, helianthus, verbena and echinacea. They never seemed stay in one place long enough for our cameras to capture them-- it was maddening!
Blue Morpho with damaged wing, Mexico to Columbia, Trinidad and Venezuela
After ten minutes or so, we were sweating so badly we could barely see with perspiration stinging in our eyes. I was determined to catch a shot of the beautiful Blue Morpho, but they were the spazziest of all the butterflies, making me realize that beauty really is fleeting. I finally caught up to one that was hanging out on a screen. Its left wing was chopped off, but I didn't care, its iridescent blue shade mesmerized me.
After seeing a poster with all the butterfly names on a wall, I had some questions for the insect-docent.
Emerald Swallowtail, the Philippines
The docent was a lovely lady with a butterfly on her head (it was alive and just sat there), who enthusiastically gave me all kinds of facts on these incredible lepidopteras (latin for butterfly). For example, the reason for the high heat is due to the tropical plants preferred by the more exotic varieties of butterfly. They range in places such as Costa Rica to Kenya, so their climate needs to be similar for them to survive.
Some butterflies prefer overly ripe fruit to nectar
There was a butterfly security guard to make sure no one harms the butterflies or leaves with them attached to their clothing, as happened to my friend Carol. If a butterfly escapes, it could affect the ecosystem (giving credence to the term "butterfly effect"). Its native habitat must always be respected.
2 Doris Longwings enjoy a zinnea, Mexico-Amazon basin
I learned some fun facts, but these winged creatures have some trouble ahead. The American Monarch, which is capable of traveling over 2000 miles to migrate, is becoming threatened, and some worry about its possible endangerment. Wintering in the mountains of Central Mexico (smart butterflies), their habitat is being threatened by deforestation and increased agricultural development. The change in climate (thanks to global warming) has had a negative impact as well. Dry conditions on both coasts mean less milkweed, the catepiller's favorite food. All of these factors have affected the magnificent Monarch, making it important to spread the word for more awareness of its plight.
Blue Morpho attaches itself onto Carol's plant leg.
It's not just Monarchs that are being affected, many other varieties are also starting to disappear. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has designated 23 species of butterflies as endangered or threatened. If you think this isn't important, think again. These beautiful winged creatures play a key role in plant reproduction as they transport pollen from flower to flower, and provide food for birds and other insects. If you think about the pollination chain, upsetting it can have disastrous effects on all sorts of wildlife and plants. Preserving our ecosystem everyone's responsibility.
Great Mormon, Sri Lanka-India and S. China
Hopefully, the more people read about butterflies and the effects global warming, habitat loss, pollution and invasive species have on them, the more we can help preserve this banishing winged beauty. In the meantime, if you live in the vicinity of Washington, DC, put Brookside Gardens on your summer list of beautiful places to visit, it's well worth the trip and the six dollar entrance fee.
Dead Eastern Tiger Swallowtail blends into the ground, North America
Please note: My design studio does not support the use of releasing butterflies at wedding ceremonies as this harms not only the butterflies, but also our ecosystem. If a bride requests this, we will kindly decline services.
For more information on butterflies:
The Xerces Society:
National Wildlife Federation:
The Butterfly Site:
ALL PHOTOS BY THE FLOWER SPY