Need a little tropical escape during the last of the dreary, cold winter days? How about a visit to the Butterfly Pavilion at the National Museum of National History? The museum has hosted the exhibit Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution since 2006.  This exhibit contains an 800-square-foot pavilion that is open year-round for visitors to learn how butterflies and plants depend on each other.  An average of 300 butterflies from up to 100 native and non-native species fly free in this handsome setting.  All those butterflies need a lot of food to survive and that is where Smithsonian Gardens comes in.   

National Museum of Natural History, Butterfly Pavilion

As Smithsonian Gardens’ Horticulturist for the Butterfly Pavilion, I utilize a 3,500-square-foot greenhouse to grow the plants that are needed.  The pavilion contains nearly 200 plants from approximately 30 different genera. Most of them are tropical, long- blooming nectar providers. The nectar from these plants is the only food source for most of the butterflies, as this pavilion does not utilize supplemental sugar water feeders.  A few of the butterfly species prefer fruit to nectar.  Stations containing a variety of fruit are available for them.  

Butterfly at the National Museum of Natural History, Butterfly Pavilion

Three days each week, I travel to the butterfly pavilion from the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouse Facility to check up on the plants. During these visits, spent plant material is removed and new plants installed to ensure that there is a constant source of nectar for the butterflies.  Each week as much as 20% of the plant material is replaced.  While there, I also scout for pests, remove dead leaves and flowers, and water the plants.  Once my work in the pavilion is completed, I return to the greenhouse to continue work growing the new plants that will be needed in the future. 

Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouse, Flowers

Even though the main purpose is to feed all those hungry butterflies, the plants also provide them with roosting spaces for rest time as well as a beautiful, lush environment for visitors to enjoy. So, the next time you are looking for a little tropical getaway, stop in for a visit to the Butterfly Pavilion and enjoy the wonder and beauty of the butterflies and plants!