Lisa Stewart and her daughter, Lyra, identify butterflies next to one of the chrysalis cases in the Blooming Butterflies exhibit at Olbrich Botanical Gardens.
Blooming Butterflies, the annual summer exhibit at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, runs for less than a month, but staff and volunteers begin preparing for the display months in advance, placing orders for pupae as early as December.
Once the exhibit begins, Cindy Cary, one of the chief horticulturists at Olbrich, handles two shipments each week that supply Bolz Conservatory with a variety of butterflies from across the nation.
"We get about a thousand in a week," she says. "We have a few that are native. Swallowtails, Monarchs, Painted Ladies, Red Admirals and Viceroys are local. The Zebra and Julia -- the long wings that we have -- they also are native down in Central America, but their upper range is Texas."
With a constant flow of shipments, careful organization and regular communication between the butterfly farmers and Olbrich staff is necessary.
"The biggest thing for us, getting the pupae in, is the weather in Florida," Cary says. "Over the years we've had hurricanes and really torrential rain for long periods of time affecting their production. They're farmers, and so they're impacted by the weather."
Many of Olbrich's 600 volunteers are involved in the management of the exhibit, and help to prepare the conservatory in March and April by bringing in various food sources for the butterflies and providing special types of flowering plants to attract the insects.
The volunteers also help keep the facility decontaminated and operating within USDA guidelines, cleaning each shipment of butterflies and the entire preparation facility in order to protect against invasive diseases and parasites that might hurt the local ecosystem.
Blooming Butterflies is one of Olbrich's major seasonal events, and it gives visitors a view of the changing landscape of the gardens and the conservatory. The exhibit opened July 17, and runs through August 11.
Sharon Cybart, manager of marketing and public relations at Olbrich, is still surprised every day by the variations in the exhibits.
"Every week, different things are blooming," she says. "It looks different, especially every month, every season."
Cybart believes that the gardens and the conservatory offer a special type of escape, allowing urbanites a chance to enjoy nature.
"You come here and it's calm and quiet. It's beautiful. You can get away and just enjoy some time with nature right in the city," she says.
The lush, steamy conservatory certainly feels like an island escape during Blooming Butterflies. Monarchs and painted ladies flutter between trees, stopping to drink from sugar water stations.
Although it feels natural, the temperature and humidity of the conservatory is carefully monitored in order to protect the butterflies in the exhibit.
"We don't have predators in there. In nature, birds are eating them," Cary explains. "We watch them a lot and make sure that once they do emerge...they have a food source."
While shipping butterflies across the country is far from a natural cycle, Cary assures visitors that the process is acutely monitored.
"It's carefully orchestrated. They'll ship them overnight so [the butterflies] arrive in the morning. They package them really well," she says. "The main thing is that when they do ship them, they're not close to emergence."
Cary believes that the exhibit gives many visitors a window into the natural world that might not ordinarily be available.
"A lot of people have never seen a chrysalis, never seen a pupa stage. I mean we're getting more and more urbanized," Cary notes. "They get to see it up close, this miracle. So that gets us more into what Olbrich is for, which is to help educate the community. That's what I enjoy the most."