A Cure for Winter Doldrums
By Amy Yarger, Horticulture Director at Butterfly Pavilion
Have you ever been inside a snow globe? One of the perks of visiting Butterfly Pavilion in the winter is enjoying an “inside-out” snow globe experience. Outside it may be cold and snowy, but inside, there is warmth and color and the dancing of butterflies. It’s one of my favorite experiences, and it wouldn’t be the same without the colors, textures and fragrances of the exotic plants found in Wings of the Tropics.
One of the favorite winter bloomers among the Butterfly Pavilion team is Dombeya wallichii or dombeya tree. D. wallichii (pictured above), a native of East Africa and Madagascar, is a broad-leaved tree which may reach a height of 30 feet in the wild. Every December and January, dangling clusters of pink flowers appear from the branches. Its claim to fame, however, is the fragrance: Butterfly Pavilion staff and volunteers have taken to calling it the “caramel corn tree”. The fragrant flowers produce prodigious nectar, so be on the lookout for greater egg flies and paper kite butterflies visiting the flowers.
Another winter-blooming plant found in Wings of the Tropics is the red powderpuff, or Calliandra haematocephala (pictured above). This is one of three Calliandra species we grow in Wings of the Tropics. The big brushy red flowers, present from December through March, are especially attractive to our larger butterflies, such as swallowtails and birdwings. I like to call it the “Elmo Tree,” because the after a day or two, the flowers look rather Muppet-like.
For sheer number of winter flowers, it is hard to beat Clerodendrum splendens (pictured above) in the winter. This fast-growing West African vine clambers over many parts of the exhibit, and most of the year, visitors only see it as yet another green climber in the tropical landscape. From about Thanksgiving on, however, the green is replaced by clusters of scarlet flowers. On sunny days, clusters of butterflies drink nectar from the blossoms. When the blossoms fall, the sepals remain purplish-pink, adding still more color.
Other flowering plants in Wings of the Tropics bloom throughout the year; this is important, because most of our butterflies rely on flower nectar for their food. We enjoy the flowers for their beauty, the butterflies enjoy them for their breakfasts. Daily programs such as our "Rainforest Tour" or even our monthly Tripod Photography sessions will allow you to get a closer view of these and other plants. Or, if you simply find yourself experiencing botanical withdrawal, come pay us a visit. It’s like a tropical vacation without the long airport lines!
About Butterfly Pavilion:
Here at Butterfly Pavilion, we transform the way people think about invertebrates. These small but mighty animals that surround us are so much more than people think. They are everywhere, because everything depends on them. They are the hidden heroes of the animal kingdom. As the world’s only stand-alone invertebrate zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Butterfly Pavilion works to foster an appreciation of these critical animals by educating the public about the need to protect and care for threatened habitats globally, while conducting research for solutions in invertebrate conservation. Whether it is providing unique, hands-on learning experiences in our exhibits and educational programs, conducting new research that sets the standard for zoos across the country or building innovative solutions for species and habitat conservation in countries around the world, Butterfly Pavilion is leading the way in ensuring invertebrates are protected for the future. Learn more at Butterflies.org.
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