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Denver Botanic Gardens and Butterfly Pavilion to open Butterflies at Chatfield

Butterflies and plants rely upon one another for life.
Photo by Colleen Smith for Friday Jones Publishing

Denver Botanic Gardens and the Butterfly Pavilion now have common ground: a collaborative project named Butterflies at Chatfield. The exhibit, open May 22 until early October, will feature native Colorado butterflies within a native garden including approximately 50 plants indigenous to Colorado.

“The Chatfield exhibit will highlight our own backyard and the diversity of native butterflies and how each of us can help protect and conserve our native flora and fauna through sustainable gardening practices,” said Sarada Krishnan, Director of Horticulture & Center for Global Initiatives at Denver Botanic Gardens.
Chatfield, a branch of Denver Botanic Gardens, is located in Jefferson County at 8500 West Deer Creek Canyon Road. The Butterfly Pavilion’s permanent exhibit in Westminster features tropical butterflies and addresses issues such as tropical habitat destruction and the economics of butterfly farming.

“Butterflies at Chatfield creates an experience similar to our Wings of The Tropics exhibit, but with a primary focus on Butterfly species found right here in Colorado,” said Patrick Tennyson, CEO of Butterfly Pavilion. “To complete the native Colorado experience, Denver Botanic Gardens provides the native plants and habitat found in our beautiful state.”

The butterfly exhibit at Chatfield has been a long-term vision of Krishnan and Tennyson: “This partnership between the two institutions is such a natural fit. We (DBG) are experts in gardening and plants and the Butterfly Pavilion, experts in invertebrates,” said Krishnan. She served as Director of Horticulture and Conservation at the Butterfly Pavilion from 2000 to 2006 and is the author of “Butterfly Pavilion’s Butterfly Gardening: A Guide for Colorado Gardeners.”

Butterflies and gardens support one another in a symbiotic relationship: “Butterfly and other pollinators are critical in perpetuating plant life cycle, and plants in turn serve as food/host plants for butterflies. Creating this exhibit shows the mutualistic relationship between plants and butterflies while fulfilling the missions of both our institutions," Krishnan said.

Colorado is home to approximately 250 butterfly species. “Of these, we probably commonly see about 80 species in the Front Range,” Krishnan said. Colorado's butterfly population faces threats such as habitat destruction, changing weather patterns, drought and pesticides. “Typically butterfly populations are cyclic. We see good populations in certain years and not so much during others,” said Krishnan.

“Pesticides are a factor leading to decline in butterfly populations. Neonicotinoids have been reported to be highly toxic to bees and butterflies and should be avoided to sustain a thriving pollinator population,” Krishnan said. “Home gardeners should practice Integrated Pest Management that utilizes less toxic methods such as organic, cultural and mechanical methods of pest control.”

Gardeners also can assist butterfly populations and lure butterflies with certain plants: “By planting diverse nectar and caterpillar host plants, gardeners can attract butterflies to their home garden. Nectar plants can be both native and non-native plants with blooms that last all season long,” said Krishnan.
“Each butterfly has its own specific host plant that its caterpillar will feed on. Based on butterflies seen in one’s yard, planting these specific host plants will encourage butterflies to lay eggs and complete their life cycle in one’s garden.”

In addition to planting with butterflies and caterpillars in mind, gardeners also can provide shelter and puddles. from which butterflies can draw nutrition. “Some butterflies tend to puddle. and creating puddling sites for these butterflies will make a garden attractive to them,” said Krishnan.

In March, Krishnan led a group to a Monarch butterfly wintering sites in Mexico. “We visited two sanctuaries--the El Capulin Monarch Sanctuary and the Piedra Herrada Monarch reserve. Both sites had a sizable butterfly population, but news reports report a dramatic reduction in population size caused due to various climate-related activities, such as the drought of 2012 and the cold spring of 2013, that considerably reduced the breeding populations,” said Krishnan. “No matter what the size of the population, seeing large colonies of these butterflies congregated in one location is an amazing experience.”

Tennyson added, “Butterflies at Chatfield is not our first or our last partnership with Denver Botanic Gardens. We are also currently teaming up with them and the Children’s Museum of Denver on the Growing Scientist youth program which provides a multi-year STEM education opportunity for underserved elementary students in both DPS and Adams-12. Butterfly Pavilion takes great pride in creating education experiences that share the wonders of butterflies and other invertebrate creatures in the most immersive way."

Butterfly species will vary on any given day at the exhibit, with 100 new chrysalides arriving each week. Visitors can observe butterflies emerging in a custom chrysalis chamber. The seasonal exhibit is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with last entry is 4 p.m. A $5 parking fee per vehicle includes general admission to Chatfield. A separate admission ticket is required to enter the butterfly house: $6 adult, $5 senior, $4 child, free for children two and under. Butterfly Pavilion and Denver Botanic Gardens members' discounted admission costs $4 per adult and $2 per child.

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