GRAND RAPIDS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park’s most popular exhibit is back and bringing some heat to winter in the Grand Rapids area.
“It is hot and humid and absolutely fantastic for this time of year,” Senior Horticulture Manager Wendy Overbeck said from inside the Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory. “You step in here and it’s like you’re in the tropics. It just feels good. We haven’t felt this for months here in Michigan, so it’s a really nice spot to be.”
Inside the 15,000-square-foot conservatory, numerous butterflies are fluttering, gliding and landing on visitors. Altogether, more than 7,000 butterflies will take flight during this year’s Fred & Dorothy Fichter Butterflies Are Blooming exhibit.
Overbeck says it’s an experience you can’t replicate outside.
“The butterflies that we have in the tropical conservatory are all tropical, so they’re not anything you’re going to see in Michigan,” she explained.
Overbeck said the more than 60 species of butterflies that comprise the exhibit have something in common with your last online order.
“They get delivered by FedEx. The only thing different from them than what you would maybe get at home with a pair of shoes or something like that is that these will have “live insects” written on the outside. And that’s how we know it’s our butterflies. Otherwise it’s just your standard FedEx box,” she said.
The insects come from butterfly farmers worldwide, primarily in Central America.
“They are shipped in the chrysalid form, which is essentially a butterfly’s way of prepackaging itself, and they are packed in layers of foam, layers of cotton depending on the supplier … and then sometimes they’ll have ice packs in them. That’s not to keep them cold, it’s just to keep them at a regular temperature. Occasionally they’ll do that, not very often because the months they’re shipping to us are already cool months,” Overbeck explained.
A glass display at the back of the conservatory holds the newly delivered chrysalises and cocoons until the insects are ready to emerge. The moths and butterflies are then taken to a release site in the conservatory.
The team at Meijer Gardens helps their winged additions adjust to their new home by cranking up the temperature and pumping up the humidity with misters.
“The butterflies are tropical butterflies, so we try and replicate their natural habitat. They come from the tropics where it’s you know 80, 85 degrees, super humid,” explained Overbeck. “And that’s how they perform the best. They fly when it’s nice and warm in here, so we keep it warm.”
Along the conservatory’s winding paths, guests will see nectar dishes filled with honey water, plates of sliced fruit and flowering plants for the butterflies and moths to feed on.
BEST TIME TO GO
Each butterfly typically lives about two weeks, which means the Butterflies Are Blooming exhibit is constantly changing.
“Butterflies you can kind of think of like fruit. Some ripen at different times than others, so depending on when you come during the exhibit, you’ll see different ones throughout the exhibit. What you see in early April might be a little different than what you see in early March,” Overbeck explained.
She assured the crowd-favorite blue morpho butterflies will always be on display, along with the heliconious variety.
While luna moths are among the insects emerging now, visitors who wait until the end of the exhibit will also be in for a treat, according to Overbeck.
“Typically toward the later part of the exhibit is when our Atlas moths emerge. And those are always a lot of fun because they are huge. They have one of the largest wingspans of all the moths,” said Overbeck. “Glasswings, we tend to get in a little bit later in the exhibit. With over 60 different species, it’s hard to keep track of which are coming when, but it’s a good variety no matter when you come.”
Overbeck said the best time to see the butterflies in action depends on the weather.
“They’re a different kind of active on a sunny day versus an overcast day. On the overcast days, they tend to fly slow and low. Actually, they’re great days for photography because they’re not moving as fast. And then on the sunny days is when you tend to see them more like zipping around and up high,” she explained.
For visitors looking for a new experience, Overbeck said Tuesday nights (the only night the Gardens are open late) are an interesting alternative.
“A lot of people think, ‘Well, why would you visit a butterfly exhibit at night? The butterflies aren’t flying.’ What the butterflies do at night is they roost, and you can go through the conservatory with a flashlight or your phone light or whatever and you will actually find them hanging in the trees in just these huge clumps. And it’s just a really neat thing to see if you haven’t seen it,” she said.
Frederik Meijer Gardens expects about 185,000 visitors during the Butterflies Are Blooming exhibition, which runs from March 1 through April 30. Those staying in West Michigan during spring break can also take advantage of the venue’s extended hours.
“Everybody loves it,” said Overbeck. “It’s a really great thing to have for this time of year. We’re kind of at that in-between where the outdoor grounds, we haven’t quite gotten to spring and spring blooms yet, we’re through the holidays. This is just a really nice time to bring some color, bring some heat, and get people in here to enjoy that.”
For more information including ticket pricing, visit Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park’s website at https://www.meijergardens.org/.