But butterfly encounters needn’t be fleeting. Henning von Schmeling, Chattahoochee Nature Center operations director, shares five tips for inviting them into your garden.
1. Create a wild patch: Even if you live in a subdivision with tough covenants requiring a groomed yard, von Schmeling suggests dedicating a spot out back that is allowed to grow naturally. Butterflies are repelled, and often endangered, by herbicides and pesticides, he said. But they find their way into overgrown areas, especially if you add flowers and plants that offer nectar or a place to lay their eggs.
2. Flowers will attract butterflies, but other plantings will encourage them to multiply: "Everybody always hears that you have to plant flowers and flowers and more flowers because adult butterflies eat their nectar, " von Schmeling said. "But you won't raise butterflies unless you have the specific host plants that adults need to lay their eggs on."
For instance, Georgia’s state butterfly, the tiger swallowtail, will look for its preferred host plant for laying eggs, tulip poplar trees, in your yard or nearby. Showy monarchs are in search of milkweed for the same purpose during spring and fall migration through the metro area.
Check out AJC gardening columnist Walter Reeves' suggestions for butterfly-friendly plants and other helpful information at bit.ly/GAbutterfly.
3. Don't limit food offerings to nectar: Not all butterflies are into flower power. Multiple species of brush-footed butterflies, for instance, are attracted to rotting fruit, especially cut apples. Some even enjoy feeding on a rotting animal, so there may be a practical use for that squirrel that didn't quite make it across your busy street.
4. Check out a field guide: Von Schmeling recommends "Butterflies of Georgia" (Adventure Publications, $17.95), a 2004 paperback, by Jaret C. Daniels of the University of Florida's McGuire Center for Lepidoptera & Biodiversity. It features large color photographs of each butterfly plus an illustration that points out key identification marks. Information it details includes flight season, food plantings and distribution in the state.
5. Approach with caution: Kids in particular love interacting with butterflies. Putting some sugar water or bug juice on a finger is a well-known trick to attract the insects, but more important, von Schmeling said, is moving slowly.
“Their eyes are designed to see rapid shadow movement, and that usually indicates a predator. They can’t discern us fully as humans. For them, it looks more like, ‘Here’s this big block coming toward us,’ which means they’re going to fly away. If you are cautious in coming up to them, you’re more likely to get them to stay close by.”
Given how delicate butterfly wings are, he suggested making it a game for kids to get as close as they can to the butterflies without touching them, but near enough to encourage observation.
“Just enjoy them with your eyes,” he said.
3 MORE BUTTERFLY SPOTS
Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center: More than 1,000 free-flying tropical butterflies and birds, including macaws, call the octagonal-shaped conservatory home at Callaway Gardens, the Pine Mountain attraction an hour southwest of downtown Atlanta. Tropical floral displays surround a 12-foot waterfall indoors, while a 1 1/2-acre garden planted to attract native butterflies and birds grows outside the conservatory's 854 glass panes.
Most of the center’s butterflies are imported as chrysalides from Costa Rica, Malaysia, the Philippines and Africa. Before entering the conservatory, guests can watch chrysalides metamorphose up close in emergence boxes built into the glass walls of the “Transformation Station.”
A Butterflies 101 talk will be offered 10:30 a.m. daily, Thursday through June 27. 1-800-225-5292, www.callawaygardens.com.
Atlanta Botanical Garden: Two supersized butterflies are among the 28 mosaiculture (sculptures studded with annuals) works featured in the "Imaginary Worlds: A New Kingdom of Plant Giants" exhibit on view through October. 1345 Piedmont Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 404-876-5859, www.atlantabotanicalgarden.org.
Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden: A pocket park planted with native bird- and butterfly-attracting plants (with signage providing helpful details) at the corner of North Avenue and Candler Park Drive, directly down the hill from Mary Lin Elementary School. Started by the Atlanta Audubon Society, it's now tended by community volunteers. www.freedompark.org.
If you haven’t had the pleasure previously, this weekend you can make the acquaintance of red admiral, gulf fritillary, zebra longwing and painted lady.
These exotically named beings are butterflies that will be released by the hundreds at the 15th annual Flying Colors Butterfly Festival, Saturday (11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.) and Sunday (1:30 and 3:30 p.m.) at the Chattahoochee Nature Center. Set free twice daily in front of the Ben Brady Lakeside Pavilion, most will take wing to the skies above the Roswell attraction.
But if you’d like a closer encounter, the nature center provides the opportunity to “get nose to proboscis” with more than 200 free-flying creatures in the walk-through Butterfly Encounter located near the beaver habitat. Due to its popularity, it has been expanded by half this year, to 600 square feet, allowing more wing/elbow room. (The Butterfly Encounter will continue even after the popular fest, until July 13.)
Also new this year is a permanent display in the Nature Exchange of 100 species of Georgia butterflies grouped by families, as well as a case of similar species from Mexico. They were donated by the estate of the late Atlantan Ray Martin Suydam, who assembled more than 50,000 specimens over a lifetime of collecting.
Just about every area of the 127-acre riverside attraction busts out with butterfly-related activity during Flying Colors.
The fest includes the opportunity to create butterfly sidewalk art, shop for butterfly-approved plants, make butterfly crafts, participate in the Butterfly and Caterpillar Costume Parade at the end of each day, listen to bluegrass music, shop at a garden and natural-products marketplace and chomp on jalapeno corn dogs (among other fair-style grub).