Text: R. Collins
Spring is nearly here and with it, the world-class “Fred & Dorothy Fichter Butterflies Are Blooming” exhibit at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan is back with much anticipation after an abbreviated run last year due to COVID-19. The exhibition, which launched as of March 1, 2021, will feature extended hours in April, from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. ET on Sundays; Tuesdays until 9:00 p.m. ET; and all other days until 7:00 p.m. ET, and run through April 30, 2021.
A popular destination for the natural wonders of the insect variety, “Butterflies are Blooming” brings 60 species of more than 7,000 tropical butterflies to West Michigan, making it one of the largest temporary tropical butterfly exhibitions in the nation. This spring, the theme of “Into the Glass House” also returns with an interesting look at the invention of the Wardian Case, which is now known as terrariums.
The large-scale glass enclosures were a serendipitous invention by Nathaniel Ward in 1827 as he was studying caterpillars and moths in jars. Noticing that plant life flourished in these jars despite the harshly polluted airs of London at the time, Ward discovered that plants survived best in their glass enclosures, and the invention then enabled horticulturists around the world to transport items in “fern cases,” eventually leading the way to modern terrariums, greenhouses, and conservatories.
“Step Into the Glass House during this year’s Fred & Dorothy Fichter Butterflies Are Blooming exhibition and discover how the invention of the Wardian case changed the world,” said Lisa Roo, Annual Exhibitions Lead Designer & Project Manager at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, in a press release.
“This theme offers our community a sense of wonder with magical glass houses from four feet-tall to our iconic fifty-foot-tall Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory. We are again offering our guests the unique experience of stepping into glass houses to see butterflies soaring, caterpillars munching, and learn how the Wardian case paved the way for modern terrariums and greenhouses,” Roo added.
“Butterflies are Blooming” highlights the invention of the terrarium through displays and butterflies, moths, and caterpillars under glass in the Caterpillar Room, and invites guests to learn more about the cases from miniature scale to five stories tall, such as at the gardens. Of course, all species—which hail from regions of Costa Rica, the Philippines, and Kenya, among others—can be watched in flight as they traverse the warm, tropical environment of the Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory.
Butterflies from the Brush-footed families—including the Common Morpho and Lacewing—are some of the most brilliantly colored and patterned; iridescent in flight at times. Those in the Longwing family warn predators of their acrid taste through the bright spurts of color on their long, narrow wings. Swallowtail butterflies are elegant gliders thanks to the tails on many of their species, and the intricate patterns they boast make them a majestic sight bound to inspire audiences.
Nectaring butterflies are attracted to the carpet of ferns and bright fuchsia and mango-colored blooms within the conservatory, and they can also be found exploring the honey-water feeding stations or overripe fruit. Other hot spots for sighting butterflies comprise the sunny Double Coconut Island, the Orchid Wall, or the Release Pedestal, where many butterflies take their first flight. Around 1,000 pupae arrive at the Meijer Gardens weekly from around the world, and guests can watch as the delicate cocoons are placed in the Observation Station, where they will eventually spread their wings for the first time.
On Tuesdays, visitors are invited to bring their flashlights to search for butterflies and nightlife during Tuesday Night Lights, which runs until 9:00 p.m. ET and is included with the price of admission. During daylight hours, the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden hosts a variety of outdoor children’s activities like the Butterfly Maze, puppet shows, and a special Treehouse Village Hunt. Activities vary daily so check with the Information Center for updates.
Apart from Michigan’s largest tropical conservatory and one of the largest interactive children’s gardens in the country, visitors can also plan other adventures of their choice when visiting the Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. The 158-acre main campus also features an arid garden and Victorian gardens, a carnivorous plant house, a 1900-seat outdoor amphitheater for rotating musical performances, and more. The gardens and sculpture park are open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. ET, Monday through Saturday; and 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. ET on Sundays.
Photography: Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park | William J. Hebert | Tara Fletcher Photography