The time to get all aflutter is approaching at Tucson Botanical Gardens, with the annual Butterfly Magic exhibit. Beginning each October, the Cox Butterfly and Orchid Pavilion exhibit offers an exclusive
opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the world’s most beautiful and exotic butterflies imported as chrysalises from Malaysia, Africa, Australia, and eight Central and South American countries. There are no native butterfly species here nor are orchids native to the Sonoran desert. That’s part of what makes the exhibit, in a closed and climate-controlled greenhouse, so special.
The humid, tropical interior makes this colorful, living environment thrive. A simple brick walk winds among flowerbeds and tree branches hung with botanicals, creating an optimal photo backdrop for selfies and close ups of colorful wings. If you pause long enough, you might get a chance to do both at once, as butterflies float to a landing on shoulders, heads, and noses.
The nearly 120 species available to the gardens include swallowtail, longwing, clipper, and the blue morpho, along with luna and atlas moths. At any one time, there are 400 specimens but the first week of November there will be 2,000.
There are more than 50 orchid species and hybrids wrapping around branches or anchored to peat moss nests. Since most of the orchids in the exhibit don’t produce nectar, a buffet of sweet treats — fruit slices, starflowers, and artificial nectar — satisfy the insects’ hunger.
A rare Amorphophallus titanum named Rosie is a popular fixture in the exhibit. The plant, from West Sumatra, Indonesia, smells like rotting meat in bloom, thus its common moniker the “corpse plant.” The odor attracts pollinating beetles and flies. It first blooms only after 10 years of growth. The TBG’s specimen last bloomed in April 2018, so it may not reappear for another decade or could bloom in two to three years.
Outside the closed exhibit a live chrysalis nursery shows the butterfly lifecycle. With patience and a little luck, you might catch one exiting its cocoon case. An outdoor butterfly garden attracts “wild” local and migrating butterflies with over 100 different floral species.
Tucson Botanical Gardens has 5.5 acres with 17 other specialty gardens and sculpture displays of cacti and succulents from around the world. It was named one of the “Top 10 North American Gardens Worth Traveling For” by the Canadian Garden Council. Special exhibits rotate throughout the year.
Tucson Botanical Garden hours are daily, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Butterfly Magic is open October to May from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The gardens are closed Jan. 1,
July 4, Thanksgiving, and
Admission: $15 adults;
$13 students, seniors, military;
$8 children 4-17