By CINDY LADAGE
GLENCOE, Ill. — The Missouri Department of Conservation, in a booklet it created about butterfly gardens, reports because of their sensitivity to pesticides and toxins, the presence of butterflies can be a sign of a healthy ecosystem.
It is up to the bees and butterflies of the natural world to ensure many fruits and vegetables are pollinated, or they will fail to produce. Butterflies are also known for their beauty and the amazing metamorphoses they go through in their life stages.
The Butterflies & Blooms exhibition at Chicago Botanic Garden allows visitors a chance to immerse themselves in a special butterfly habitat. The exhibit is comprised of species native to South America, Asia, North America and Africa, including those native to Illinois.
Enclosed in a 2,800 square-foot white mesh area, the exhibit is located on the lawn of the Garden’s Learning Campus. “It’s a great garden theme for kids,” said Tim Pollak, outdoor floriculturist for the Chicago Botanic Garden. “The whole metamorphosis is wonderful to observe.”
The exhibit began May 25 and only lasts until Sept. 2, so visitors need to solidify plans to come to the exhibit. It is open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, weather permitting, with the last ticket sold at 4:45 p.m.
Besides a chance for some lovely photographs, the exhibit is educational. Butterflies and moths make up a large group of insects known as the order Lepidoptera. The name derives from the Greek lepido, or scale, and ptera, or wings, and refers to the tiny scales that cover the wings and the rest of the body.
Visitors get the best view of butterflies during the day because that is when they are most active, compared to the moths, more active at night.
Lepidoptera includes a wide array of species with more than 15,000 variations of butterflies. Like the flowers of the field, butterflies have to be enjoyed quickly because most only live 2-3 weeks.
The bloom portion of the exhibit supplies the essential garden elements needed to support each stage of a butterfly’s life. During their lifecycle, adult butterflies lay eggs on host plants, where the egg remains until the larva, or caterpillar, hatches and feeds on the plant.
To complete the cycle, the caterpillar needs a sheltered area, such as one with trees, shrubs or a woodpile, where it can safely form a pupa, or chrysalis, until the butterfly emerges and requires the sweet nectar of plants.
Even after the butterfly is free of its cocoon, it still needs protection from the wind, plenty of water and sun. If you are thinking of creating a butterfly garden at home, Pollak suggests providing a rotation of nectar plants, with 3-4 in bloom at a time, between April and October.
Some of the plants used in the exhibit offering the required nectar include red star cluster (Pentas lanceolata), porterweed (Stachytarpheta sp.), spicy jatropha (Jatropha integerrima), sweet almond verbena (Aloysia virgata), Mayan spinach tree (Cnidoscolus chayamansa), Panama rose (Rondeletia leucophylla), plumed celosia (Celosia argentea), lantana (Lantana camara), golden dewdrop (Duranta erecta) and tropical sage (Salvia sp.).
The Chicago Botanic Garden is located at 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, IL 60022. For information, call 847-835-5440 or visit www.chicagobotanic.org/ butterflies/gardening