Out of the Blue, A Spring Butterfly Exhibit

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Out of the Blue, A Spring Butterfly Exhibit

Categories: Blog, Garden Guru

IT’S MARCH! Close friends know that’s my line for this magical month when winter finally let’s go and spring takes hold. Geese, blackbirds and robins migrate in droves and the wetlands come alive with the sounds of spring peepers and chorus frogs. The first flowers come to life from crocus and snowdrops in the garden to the little-noticed blooms of silver maple and elm trees overhead.

In celebration of the season and to entice guests out for a visit, Powell Gardens has added some magic to our conservatory display: Morpho butterflies from the tropical rainforests! This morpho March madness means shipping in 1,200 morpho chrysalises from butterfly farmers like El Bosque Nuevo in Costa Rica.  300 chrysalises arrived last week and have begun to hatch in droves, another 300 chrysalises arrive this Friday. (for comparison, we ship in less than 400 total for the Festival of Butterflies in August).  The display opens on Saturday morning (March 7) at 10 a.m and will run daily through the month of March from 10:00 a.m. to 4 p.m. Above is a newly emerged female Blue Morpho — I feel these March Morphos are a bit deeper blue than the summer forms we display during the Festival of Butterflies.

The Conservatory is maintained for a daytime high of 82 F with at least 60% humidity to create the environment needed for the Morphos to thrive. Our collection of tropical plants including orchids will all be on display to help create the habitat and environment to make the morphos feel at home. Here’s a preview of some of the lush plantings: Dioon Cycad (the sage green palm-like plant) which brings out the unique veining of the ‘Portadora’ Alocasia “Elephant Ear” above it with a Christmas palm above, a brilliant red bromeliad, fuchsias, orchids, and begonias beneath.

Morphos look completely different with their wings closed — a study of browns and unique eye-spot patterns which help it blend in and deter predators at the same time. Above, a Morpho landed on a Dendrobium orchid (spathulata “Antelope” type) for a beautiful composition and color echo between the flower’s and butterfly’s color.

We moved all our blooming orchids from the greenhouse and have them staged for placement in the conservatory display. The above orchids are all Phalaenopsis or Moth Orchids. What a diversity of flower colors!

I like this contrast of the Bromeliad (below) with the black-leaved Colocasia “Elephant Ears” above. You can get some ideas for summertime outdoor container plantings by visiting our display. The planting design layout of the conservatory is done by our Horticulturist Brent Tucker.

Below is a brief overview of what it takes to display a morpho. We have special USDA permits and inspected facilities in order to display these marvelous creatures.

The chrysalises arrive and are opened with appropriate protocol in our inspected “receiving room” lab — they are packed in soft cotton and insulating material. Two days ago they were collected from their farm in Costa Rica, shipped overnight through border security to Colorado where they are inspected and then sent over-night to Kansas City for delivery at Powell Gardens before 10:00 a.m.

Chrysalises are inspected again and mounted on dowels so they can be hung in our hatching room which you will be able to see inside the conservatory.  Here Stephanie Kemp and Caitlin Bailey assist with mounting the chrysalises. Yep, we use glue guns to re-attach them so they can hang just like they did when the caterpillar transformed by shedding its skin to become the chrysalis.

The re-hung chrysalises are transferred to a special cage to transport them to the conservatory hatching room.

Our first morpho emerged on Monday! What a miracle the process of metamorphosis is and come out to experience this in person.  We will also have a display of live Monarchs from Monarch Watch so you can also learn what you can do to help that declining native butterfly. Visit the Minteer Butterfly collection on display too as it showcases some of the world’s most beautiful butterflies. Lastly, take a walk through the grounds or hike the nature trail to get some fresh air and experience the magic of local early spring Nature out-of-doors.