The Butterfly House at Smith-Gilbert Gardens
If you’ve never been to Smith-Gilbert Gardens (SGG) in Kennesaw, or it’s been a while since your last visit, the seasonal opening of the Butterfly House is the perfect reason to plan a visit. Established in 2016, the Butterfly House is a treat for young and old alike, providing up close and personal encounters with butterflies. The exhibit will be open through July 31, and is included with the price of admission. Timed tickets are required online at https://smithgilbertgardens.com.
The SGG horticultural team and garden volunteers have been busy preparing the house in anticipation of the butterfly release. With all that is involved, I asked Lisa Bartlett, garden and education manager at SGG, if she could explain what it takes to create and sustain a butterfly habitat.
What is a butterfly house, and why did SGG want to create one?
A butterfly house, conservatory or lepidopterarium is a facility specifically intended for the breeding and displaying of butterflies, with an emphasis on education. Our goal was and is to educate the public on the relationship of pollinators and the native plants they need.
How many different species of butterflies will be released in the house?
Sometimes more, but typically 12 species are released.
What is the total number of butterflies released?
Initially, 2,000 will be purchased and released. Those will breed and populate the house with the next generation.
Are they released at a special time?
We order butterflies from butterfly farms that utilize sustainable and humane practices. At the farm, after emerging from the chrysalis, the butterflies are placed in cellophane envelopes, then packed in an insulated container with dry ice. The dry ice puts them in a state of torpor, a form of hibernation. Shipped overnight, they are released the next day, early in the morning.
Are all of the butterflies native to Georgia?
Yes, but some are seldom seen due to habitat loss.
Do you have some favorites?
The one I’m looking at! But, if you’re going to make me choose, I would say our state butterfly, the tiger swallowtail.
Are there specific plants needed to feed the butterflies?
Actually, plants are categorized in two ways: nectar plants, with colorful flowers for the butterflies, and host plants for the caterpillars. Caterpillars are very picky, or “host specific.” For instance, black swallowtails will only eat plants in the carrot family; bronze fennel is a favorite. Monarchs will only eat milkweed. If you want a specific butterfly, find its host plant.
How many plants are used?
It takes three, one-gallon plants per caterpillar to feed them properly. There were years when we didn’t have enough, and I had to quickly find “caterpillar fosters” to adopt them. So, hundreds of plants are needed.
When you release butterflies, what happens to them?
As soon as they are released, they start flying around their new home. They’re so happy, they don’t know whether to eat or reproduce.
What are the stages of reproduction?
There are four stages: the egg, the caterpillar, the chrysalis and the butterfly.
If I visit the butterfly house at different times, what will I see?
You will see the whole life cycle of the butterfly in one place. You will see the plants that the caterpillars need, and you will see colorful floral displays — ideas to take to your own garden!
What do you hope people take away from their visit?
I hope people gain a love and understanding of the importance of these amazing creatures.
Why do butterflies matter in our backyards?
Without pollinators, there would be no wildlife or people.
The Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County (MGVOCC) supports the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service and strives to improve the quality of life in our community by delivering research-based horticultural information, educational programs, and projects.
– Master Gardener Volunteers of Cobb County is a part of the University of Georgia Extension in Marietta.