Winging it at 3 Midwest butterfly gardens

The little boy holds his hand out and patiently waits for a butterfly to light.  Hundreds of blue,
white, orange, black, and tan wings flutter all around him, brushing his shirt and then zooming to the next flower for a sip of nectar.  Finally, a black and white spotted variety finds
his finger—but just for a second.  The contact is too close for a four-year-old, and he quickly shakes the butterfly away.

Butterfly gardensYet he is smiling.  He just touched the velvety wings of a real butterfly and momentarily experienced the magic of nature. For children—and their parents—being in the midst of a butterfly garden is pure delight.  And it provides a learning opportunity without formal teaching.

This incidental educational experience is a prime reason several Midwest public gardens are including butterfly houses and displays among their attractions.  Here are three gardens that provide extra incentives to visit, especially during the spring.

Reiman Gardens, owned by Iowa State University in Ames, is one of the largest public gardens in Iowa, covering 14 acres.  In addition to beautifully planted indoor and outdoor spaces and an indoor tropical conservatory, the facility is proud of its 2,500 square-foot indoor butterfly wing and emergence cases. At any given time, there are approximately 800 individuals and 80 different species in the butterfly wing.

This summer, the Tiger Swallowtail, a large black and yellow butterfly, has been reported across Iowa. While spring may be the most prolific time for butterflies, different varieties provide incentives for visits during other seasons of the year.

Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House is a division of the Missouri Botanical Garden, located in
St. Louis County’s Faust Park in Chesterfield. The Butterfly House was the first in the world to be accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums; it’s also certified as a National Wildlife Federation Schoolyard Teaching Habitat.  More than 60 species fly freely in the 8,000 square foot glass conservatory.butterfly gardens

“A visit to the Butterfly House is not only exciting and educational, but it promotes environmental stewardship through example,” says Director Joe Norton.  In addition to marveling at the many native and migratory species attracted by nectar sources and host plants, visitors can learn how to attract butterflies to their own homes and neighborhoods.

Dow Gardens in Midland, Michigan, began as an outlet for members of the Dow family who enjoyed creating beautiful landscapes filled with flowers, ponds, waterfalls, and hills. Now encompassing 110 acres and including a forest, the Gardens have added exhibits like the butterfly house which is filled each spring with hundreds of butterflies like iridescent blue morphos and new species each year. It’s a popular place for school groups to visit, and families with young children enjoy butterfly-related arts and crafts for pre-schoolers on weekends.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier

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