San Francisco is notorious for its cold summer fog, but at the Conservatory of Flowers – the oldest wood and glass conservatory in North America – spring is in perennial swing at the colourful Butterflies and Blooms exhibit.
“People love being surrounded by these beauties, and the opportunity to observe them so closely is a unique experience,” said special exhibits curator Lau Hodges.
The special exhibit gallery has been transformed into an intimate garden where 20 different species of North American butterflies such as monarchs, Western swallowtails, red admirals and even giant moths, flit from brightly coloured daisies, sunflowers, zinnias and other dazzling flowers. Upon entry, guests are given a booklet that can be used to identify the species on view, as well as those back home in their gardens. While the exhibit is meant to entertain, it also serves as a chance, Hodges said, to understand the importance of butterflies to nature.
“I think if you asked most people to explain how a flower turns into an apple, they wouldn’t be able to,” Hodges said. “But life as we know it just wouldn’t be possible without pollination – no flowers, no plants, no fruit. It’s a crucial natural process and butterflies are the goodwill ambassadors of the pollinator world.”
The Butterfly Bungalow in the middle of the gallery is where visitors can observe the chrysalises: the hardened exoskeletons formed by caterpillars inside which one of nature’s great miracles – and one of the most critical stages of the butterfly’s life cycle – takes place, the transformation from caterpillar to winged beauty.
“I’d like to think that the awe people experience when they are surrounded by these gorgeous creatures will make them think twice about using toxic insecticides or paving over habitat,” Hodges said. “Maybe getting eye to eye with a butterfly and witnessing this metamorphosis is just the thing to encourage change.”
The exhibit runs until 20 October. Tickets can be purchased at the Conservatory of Flowers in the Golden Gate Park and cost $7 per adult, $5 for youths between 12 and 17 and $2 for those 11 and under.
Kimberley Lovato is the San Francisco Localite
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