GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park’s annual “Fred & Dorothy Fichter Butterflies Are Blooming” exhibition will bring more than 7,000 tropical butterflies to West Michigan beginning March 1. “Butterflies Are Blooming” is the spring’s most anticipated exhibition and the largest temporary tropical butterfly exhibition in the nation.
This year’s exhibition highlights Nathaniel Ward and the invention of the Wardian case. In 1827, Ward accidentally invented terrariums while studying caterpillars and moths by placing them in jars. He noticed that plants were flourishing in these sealed jars and discovered that plants and insects better survived the harsh conditions in London, a city known for heavy pollution at the time, if they were enclosed in sealed containers. This discovery led to horticulturists being able to transport items around the globe and these early “fern cases” paved the way for modern terrariums, greenhouses and conservatories.
About 60 colorful species of butterflies and moths journey from butterfly-rich regions of Costa Rica, Ecuador, the Philippines and Kenya to fly freely in the five-story tall, 15,000 square-foot Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory. At 85 degrees and 70 percent humidity, this balmy environment mimics the tropical regions that the butterflies call home. A rich carpet of ferns punctuated by bright fuchsia and mango colored blooms and lime green foliage creates an irresistible buffet in both sunlight and shade for nectaring butterflies. Plants that are flowering during the exhibition include pentas, orange plume flower, blue porterweed, jatropha, as well as Queen’s Wreath and Bleeding Heart Vines.
Species of butterflies expected to arrive include the blue common morpho, whose iridescence impresses in flight, as well as brushfoot varieties such as the Clearwing, Lacewing and Zebra Mosaic. Likewise, the longwings captivate with distinctive wing patterns as seen on the Small Blue Grecian, Doris, Postman and Tiger butterflies. Gliders like the Emperor, Ruby-Spotted and Orchard Swallowtails will also add to the diverse assortment.
“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 and project manager. “This year’s 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 offer 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.”
More than 1,000 pupae arrive at Meijer Gardens weekly from around the world. Guests can watch as delicate chrysalides and cocoons are placed in the Observation Station, where these unique and fascinating creatures then transform and spread their wings for the first time.
The Caterpillar Room, located within the Grace Jarecki Seasonal Display Greenhouse, features monarch caterpillars. Here guests will have the opportunity to learn more about how plants, butterflies and moths live in and under glass. Caterpillars hungrily feed on milkweed host plants mixed in with the flowering spring plantings and ferns that encompass the perimeter of the Seasonal Display Greenhouse. A docent will help guide guests and enhance the experience. A new Wardian case will be located in the adjacent Earl and Donnalee Holton Victorian Garden Parlor.