Where the Butterflies Are
Beguiling beauties of the sky are bountiful at these sitesBy Karen Olson House
There seems to be nothing more elusive than a butterfly when you want to see one. Wait on your deck and look, wait and look. Come back later. Wait some more.
Then, just as you think you planted that butterfly bush for nothing, one of these enchanting creatures will flutter up in view long enough for you to gasp in surprise and pure pleasure. Then (poof!), it's gone, zig-zagged out of sight.
Not that butterfly-attracting plants don't work — they do. Just don't count on seeing butterflies on your own time. That is, unless you visit gardens, conservatories and pavilions that specifically cultivate and care for these mystical winged beauties. Places that entertain and educate. Places where you can see lots of wondrous butterflies in serene, nurturing atmospheres. These sites offer just that.
Charlotte Nature Museum, Charlotte
1658 Sterling Rd, Charlotte [map]
Open all year, its balmy Butterfly Pavilion is filled with gorgeous butterflies like Queen, Zebra Longwing and Buckeye butterflies. Its chrysalis house provides an opportunity to watch butterflies grow, emerge and fly (for the first time!) during weekly butterfly releases.
Pretty plants there include hibiscus, salvia and Mexican sunflowers. Admission is $8 for guests ages 2 and older, and is free for guests under 2 years old and members.
Museum of Life and Science, Durham
433 W Murray Ave, Durham [map]
Magic Wings Butterfly House is a lush, tropical paradise within a three-story glass conservatory. One of the largest butterfly houses in the U.S., it boasts more than 100 species of exotic world travelers.
Each week, the museum receives roughly 500 pupae. After each chrysalis unwraps, they are all hung so they can complete their development. Its butterflies are native to Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central and South America, including the brilliantly iridescent Blue Morpho, the translucent Paper Kite and glittering Emerald Swallowtail. Ask about the Dead Leaf butterfly — it looks just like it sounds, and is a fine example of animal camouflage.
Open all year, Magic Wings keeps its temperature at 80 degrees and has more than 250 species of tropical plants, most of them flowering plants known to be nectar and pollen sources. Staff and volunteers put out plates with fruits grown here, like mango and papaya, for the butterflies to dine on.
Visitors can also enjoy butterfly releases, which occur at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday. Admission includes Magic Wings entry, and is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors over 65 and U.S. military with ID, $10 for children ages 3-12, $8 non-school group rate and free for members and kids under 2.
Airlie Gardens, Wilmington
300 Airlie Road, Wilmington [map]
Hundreds of butterflies, all native to North Carolina, fly about in this 2,700 square-foot Butterfly House, including species like Giant Swallowtail, Monarch, Gulf Fritillary and Red Admiral.
The octagon-shaped house is filled with plant species that support butterflies and has mesh netting that lets in light and helps circulate air. Visitors enter and leave through vestibules.
The open-air structure is open from April 15 to Oct. 15. Admission is free with regular garden admission.
Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh
11 W Jones St, Raleigh [map]
Enter its Living Conservatory to enjoy vibrant butterflies in a Central American dry tropical habitat. You also can see Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, turtles, tarantulas, snakes and even a two-toed sloth, who may not look alive but is. Visitors can also watch butterflies through a giant glass wall, while they munch wraps and sip smoothies at the musuem's Acro Café.
The Conservatory's open hours are less than the museum's. Check hours or call before you go. General museum admission is free and includes the Conservatory.
Prairie Ridge Ecostation, Raleigh
1671 Gold Star Drive, Raleigh [map]
Museum of Natural Sciences also operates this 45-acre outdoor field station in west Raleigh. Its long list of butterflies include Checkered Whites, Sleepy Juniper and Red-banded Hairstreaks, Snouts, Silver, Swarthy and Long-Tailed Skippers, Pearl Crescents and Carolina Satyrs.
There's also a pond, native plant garden and katydids, foxes and birds (including woodpeckers, hawks and warblers) to enjoy. Admission is free.
Hop'n Blueberry farm, Black Mountain
24 Middle Mountain Rd., Black Mountain [map]
This seventh-generation, sustainable farm's butterfly flight house has native butterflies and plants, and touring visitors can learn about creating pollinator habitats. Owner Van Burnette is well known for his hard work in protecting the migrating Monarch.
Butterfly kits should be available by July. Tours begin May 16 and cost $7 per adults and children. Kids under 2 are admitted free.
All A Flutter, High Point
7850 b Clinard Farms Road, High Point [map]
Closed wintertime, this seasonal farm reopens April 15 and closes Oct.10. It raises thousands of Monarchs annually and sells them for special release occasions such as weddings and graduations.
Visitors learn about a butterfly's body parts and lifecycle. They also see eggs, caterpillars and chrysalises and tour the Flight House. The interactive presentations include a fun skit and each visitor gets a sugar pad to hand-feed butterflies.
Visitors can also buy Caterpillar Castles for $20 that include two Monarch eggs on a potted milkweed plant and instructions. Group tours are held by appointment only during the week. Family shows (smaller groups) are held Saturdays at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Admission is $6 per person; children under 2 admitted free.
NC State Parks: Emerge and Fly, ncparks.gov/Education/emergeandfly.php
Online Butterfly Atlas, www.dpr.ncparks.gov/nbnc/index.html
Carolina Butterfly Society, carolinabutterflysociety.org