Butterflies and a Benevolent Season

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Butterflies and a Benevolent Season

Categories: Blog, Garden Guru

Powell Gardens’ annual Festival of Butterflies opens on Friday, August 7th at 9:00 a.m. Hundreds of butterflies shipped in as chrysalises are in flight in our conservatory including the spectacular tropical Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides) below.

Blue Morphos are still considered one of the world’s most beautiful butterflies. Their large size, buoyant flight and friendly nature make them a visitor sensation in our Conservatory. Their bright coloring comes solely from ambient light. The distance between their layered wing scales (the dust that rubs off in your hand when you touch a butterfly) determines which light is reflected into your eye resulting in the shimmering iridescent blues. We have copied this natural phenomenon in our technology of small handheld electronics to create pixel screens that require less battery power and are easy to read in bright sunlight!

When Blue Morphos rest with their wings closed they are a cryptic brown with marvelous eyespots that may help deter predators.

A visit to the Festival of Butterflies will also ensure you see all the stages of the miraculous metamorphosis process that all butterflies and moths go through from egg to caterpillar, chrysalis or cocoon and adult. This Cecropia moth caterpillar is one “big dude” for a caterpillar with orange, blue and yellow tubercles decorating its body. Staff and volunteers will be on hand to guide any close encounter you wish to make with these fascinating creatures. You will be encouraged to touch them in the Caterpillar Petting Zoo & Monarch Watch Science Center (please do not touch or handle the butterflies at any other location).

Here is a Black Swallowtail chrysalis which we’ve sewn on to the screen over our butterfly breezeway. The chrysalis is the stage where the caterpillar morphs into the butterfly. Summer Black Swallowtail chrysalises will emerge in about a week. In the fall, this is how they spend the winter to emerge the following spring!

The entrance Butterfly Breezeway features local wild butterflies we have reared from the gardens. It is planted in a beautiful manner with some of the best plants that provide nectar for butterflies. There are also some host plants here — host plants are the plants which the caterpillars eat to grow from egg to chrysalis stage. Each species of butterfly may have only a few specific plants which it can eat.

The Insectaries Garden surrounding the Fountain Garden is more exuberant then ever! This benevolent season of abundant rainfall and moderate temperatures have allowed all of Powell Gardens plantings to be more spectacular then we have ever seen. The insectaries garden is our butterfly garden where nectar rich plants attract butterflies and all the important pollinators for our Heartland Harvest Garden and all the plants throughout the gardens. Remember these creatures are needed to produce nearly all our fruit.
Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) is one spectacular nectar annual you will see that attracts many butterflies, hummingbirds and even goldfinches once it has gone to seed. You will learn the best plants you can plant to attract butterflies to nectar on as well those plants which host the caterpillars.
Be sure to take time and see all the beautiful beds of summer-loving flowers around the Visitor Center (this view is the north side of the building).
The north bed of the building always has a red theme and this season brilliant Righteous Red Zinnias are enhanced by white Angelonia.
Vines are the theme of the 2009 display beds so look for many varieties including this species morning glory known as Cypress Vine (Ipomoea coccinea). Its ferny leaves combined with hummingbird attracting red flowers make it a garden sensation.
A visit in the morning will show the aptly named Heavenly Blue Morning Glory (Ipomoea tricolor).
A mass of vining Purple Hyacinth Bean (Lablab purpureus) smothers the south wall of the visitor center.
Watch for hummingbirds in the Hummingbird Garden outside Cafe Thyme. If you enlarge this image or look closely you can see a hummingbird on the feeder.

A view of the south side of the Visitor Center depicts the lush nature of the plantings this season: be sure to see the Praying Preying Mantis Sculpture.
Take time to walk all the gardens from the Heartland Harvest Garden to the Perennial Garden. I had to take this shot this morning of our placid lake, the lush Island Garden and peaceful chapel. You will experience why your visit to Powell Gardens is not only educational but a “roadtrip for the soul.”