HENRICO, Va. (WTVR) –Give me chrysalis or give me death; from a famous Patrick Henry quote emerges a butterfly reference.
Having recently taken a behind-the-scenes tour I can tell you that Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens was originally owned by Patrick Henry. It has cycled through several owners and purposes since then — narrowly avoiding becoming a housing project in the 1980s.
But you’re not here for a history lesson, are you?
No, you’re here to learn about the Butterflies LIVE! exhibit that opened May 2 and runs through the second week in October. It’s your chance to get up close and personal with hundreds of tropical butterflies.
As you walk out of the visitor’s center and head towards the 11,000 square-foot conservatory, you tread over spacious brick walkways that meander past the North Terrace Garden, Healing Garden and the Sunken Garden.
Take it all in; this isn’t just a destination for your grandparents. The beauty here is palpable; it’s thrumming through the dozen-themed gardens which grace the 50-acre sanctuary.
You can take your time heading over to see the fluttery inhabitants, or you can explore more later; your ticket grants access to all of the gardens.
Once you enter the Conservatory, head right towards the North Wing, following the butterfly tiles upon the walkway.
You’re almost there – but first you must enter a holding room. All backpacks, oversized totes, strollers, pocketbooks, etc. are discouraged and can be left in this entry. Butterflies, you see, are fabulously discreet hitchhikers and precautions must be taken to ensure they don’t leave the habitat.
Ok, now you’ve arrived at the worldwide Lepidoptera party.
Immediately your cheeks feel flushed. That’s probably not just from excitement, but from the new tropical realm you’ve entered.
These fluttering beauties are fragile, and heat will dry them out. Expect it to be humid, with misters occasionally sprayed. Make sure you’re prepared for the heat and humidity by dressing appropriately and drinking enough fluids.
There are more than 200 butterflies, with interesting species from Central, South, and North America highlighted, in addition to South Asian and African varieties.
Butterflies have four stages in their lifecycle. Behind the scenes of the vibrant exhibit is an Emergence room; a simple, small and very silent place where butterflies are transitioning from the third cycle of Chrysalis into final stage Butterfly.
Back here it’s easy to see where Hollywood draws inspiration for its bug-like alien creatures.
The light in the containment room is muted by thick plastic along all walls and the security door, which is a double-door entry with a holding space between each.
Dozens of chrysalids are suspended in their hard shells from the lids of containers, which are the remains of a caterpillar’s exoskeleton.
I learned from Jean Linell, Lewis Ginter Butterfly curator that only a few butterflies and moths actually emerge from a silken cocoon, like most people believe.
The emergence room won’t be included as part of your tour because it is highly regulated by the USDA.
But we can offer you a peek behind the curtain:
The typical lifespan for a butterfly is anywhere from two to four week, which requires the exhibit to be replenished weekly to guarantee maximum sightings on your visit.
Visitors now have the opportunity to purchase a butterfly release ticket for $10, which allows guest a new level of interaction as they introduce new butterflies into the exhibit’s habitat. There are only 15 release opportunities each Thursday.
Helpful and engaging signs run along the sides of the exhibit and detail each species.
The butterflies seem attracted to the mists and hover about more when it’s spraying. They are also more active on sunny days and in the morning and early afternoon.
A word of advice: make sure to put down the camera at least once and simply enjoy the live show with the naked eye.
That said, make sure to snap the award-winning picture, and enter it into the #Bflies Instagram contest. Details on that are here.
The exhibit hours are daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. and it runs until October 12, 2014.
The cost is included with regular garden admission or free for members. Regular Garden admission: $11 adults; $10 seniors; $7 children ages 3 – 12; children under age 3 are free. A butterfly release ticket can be purchased in advance or at the desk, and the cost is $10.
MOTHER’S DAY CONTEST
WTVR CBS 6 would like to announce a special opportunity for you to win a family four-pack of tickets to the garden, valid through the end of the year, that also gets you into the garden.
In honor of Moms the contest runs through the end of Mother’s Day — 11:59 p.m. Sunday, May 11th.
We must receive at least 50 entries to activate the contest. If not, we will run it again with the same prize pack. Make sure to share and help spread the word!