Meijer Gardens' 25th Annual Butterfly Exhibition Explores an Era of Discovery and Highlights the Story of the Wardian Case

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Enjoy thousands of butterflies as they fly freely in the Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory March 1 through April 30.

Two children look at butterflies flying in a tropical conservatory

Photo by Tara Fletcher Photography

“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 & Project Manager.

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.

Approximately 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.

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 be present to help guide guests and enhance the experience. A new Wardian case will be located in the adjacent Earl and Donnalee Holton Victorian Garden Parlor.

This much-loved exhibition attracts 185,000 visitors from all over the world each year.

Exhibition Activities

  • “Who Am I?” A Butterfly Ballet

Saturday, February 29, 10 am and 12:30 pm
Sunday, March 1, 12 pm and 2:30 pm
Fee: $5 members/$8 non-members; Free for ages 2 years and younger. Regular fees apply for general admission to Meijer Gardens.
Choreographed by Attila Mosolygo, performed by members of the Grand Rapids Ballet Junior Company and narrated by Errol Shewman.
Developed in collaboration with Grand Rapids Ballet, this unique performance highlights characteristics of butterflies through dance. Don’t miss this thoroughly delightful butterfly ballet. Told through the eyes of a newly emerged butterfly, the story will captivate young and old alike. With colorful costumes, spectacular music and exquisite choreography, this enchanting performance will provide a unique and memorable experience. Participate in interactive dance activities before the performance and take advantage of photo-ops on stage with the dancers afterward. Register online at MeijerGardens.org or call 616-975-3184. Who Am I? A Butterfly Ballet is generously sponsored in part by Karl & Patti Betz and Jesse & Gia Budrick.
An American Sign Language interpreter will be provided for the 10 am performance on February 29. Reservations for this service are required. To reserve your space, call 616-975-3184 or 616-975-3147, or email classes@meijergardens.org by February 24.

  • Scout Event – Butterflies and Ballet

Saturday, February 29
This special event provides a unique and memorable way to experience and learn about butterflies. Troops will attend a performance of Who Am I? A Butterfly Ballet, presented by the Grand Rapids Ballet Junior Company which includes colorful costumes, spectacular music, and exquisite choreography. Scouts will also create a special butterfly-related art project and visit the butterflies in the Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory. An optional fun patch will be available for purchase in the gift shop. Visit MeijerGardens.org/calendar/scout-day-butterflies for more information or to register.

  • Outdoor Children’s Activities

Sunday, March 1-Thursday, April 30, daylight hours only
Lena Meijer Children’s Garden
Included with admission
Once you have observed caterpillars in the Seasonal Display Greenhouse and butterflies in the Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory, come out to the Children’s Garden for engaging outdoor educational events. Fly like a butterfly, wrap up like a chrysalis, curl up like a caterpillar, or crawl out of an egg using life cycle costumes and your imagination. Perform your own butterfly-themed puppet show or read about moths and butterflies in the Log Cabin. Search for butterfly and moth life cycle stages in a special Treehouse Village hunt. Ring the bell after successfully navigating through the Butterfly Maze. Become a butterfly in the Monarch’s Migration game. Enjoy a springtime puppet show or story-time; days and times vary. There is something for all ages! Activities vary daily; check the Information Center for activities and times.

  • Tuesday Night Lights

Included with admission
Bring your flashlight on Tuesday nights until 9 pm to search for butterflies and see the nightlife in the Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory.

The exhibition is made possible by the DTE Energy Foundation, Howard Miller Company, Foremost Graphics Group, the Meijer Foundation, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Foundation, Botanic and Sculpture Societies of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. Media sponsors are Star 105.7 FM and Blue Lake Public Radio.

High-resolution images available for download here.

Extended Spring Break Hours:
Enjoy extended hours during Spring Break. Monday – Friday, April 6-10, 9 am – 9 pm.

Volunteers:
Wanted. Needed. Appreciated. Various jobs and shifts. Contact Valerie Maciejewski at vmaciejewski@meijergardens.org or 616-974-5221.

Membership:
Members of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park enjoy unique members-only events and exhibition openings, valuable discounts, and reciprocal benefits to more than 300 other gardens nationwide. Meijer Gardens is open early the first full weekend of each month on Saturdays from 8 am – 9 am and Sundays from 9 am – 11 am exclusively for members.

About Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
One of the world’s most significant botanic and sculpture experiences, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park served 670,000 visitors in 2019 and was recently listed in the top 30 most visited museums in the United States by The Art Newspaper, the leading publication in global art news. The 158-acre main campus features Michigan’s largest tropical conservatory; one of the largest interactive children’s gardens in the country; arid and Victorian gardens with bronze sculptures by Edgar Degas and Auguste Rodin; a carnivorous plant house; outdoor gardens; and a 1900-seat outdoor amphitheater, featuring an eclectic mix of world-renowned musicians every summer. The internationally acclaimed Sculpture Park features a permanent collection including works by Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Richard Serra, Louise Bourgeois, Ai Weiwei and Jaume Plensa, among others. Indoor galleries host changing sculpture exhibitions with exhibitions by Ai Weiwei, Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas, Mark di Suvero, Jonathan Borofsky, Alexander Calder, Jim Dine and others. In June 2015, the eight–acre Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park opened. Created by renowned designer Hoichi Kurisu, the garden features sculpture by Anish Kapoor, Jenny Holzer, David Nash, George Rickey, Masayuki Koorida, Zhang Huan and Guiseppe Penone.

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