The Tucson Botanical Gardens in southeastern Arizona lies in the path of monarch butterflies flying to and from Mexico. Taking advantage of that natural pathway, the public garden sets aside an outdoor space for attracting butterflies and sponsors a butterfly exhibit in their greenhouse each year.
The Tucson Botanical Gardens’ meandering walkways lead to garden rooms on all sides, with the literally living rooms catering to sight, touch, and scent. Visitors will notice the landscapes weave to and fro with more planting beds edged by hard-surfaced and gravel paths leading to the end of their tour.
Garden staff plant several of the gardens to specifically attract pollinators and beneficial wildlife. The Wildflower Garden has beardtongues (Penstemon sp.,) Mexican gold poppy (Eschscholzia californica) and desert marigold (Baileya sp.) The Backyard Bird Garden suggests plants for food, nesting material and shelter; and the outdoor Butterfly Garden showcases a mass planting with a type of floss flower (Eupatorium corymbosum.)
Butterflies Visit the Greenhouse in Tucson
Botanical gardens hold butterfly exhibits inside their greenhouse or conservatory and grow large specimens of flower and foliage plants.
While the glass house offers other garden exhibits at different times of the year, for butterflies you will see containers sitting about filled with their favorite nectar and host plants meant to supplement the existing tropical displays.
Attendants diligently protect butterflies flying in a large glass enclosure.
The attendants carefully stage the steps people take to enter the enclosure.
Visitors engage in a similarly orchestrated affair to exit. However, attendants first check everyone for “hitchhikers,” or butterflies that cling to clothes, or even shoes. If the attendant finds one, he or she quietly lifts off the hitchhiker and puts it back in the garden.
At the Tucson Botanical Gardens butterfly exhibit, we saw a steel box sitting on a wood bench with the lid tilted open. You could see the mesh underside of the lid. Butterflies that had recently emerged from their chrysalis were hanging on, waking up and adjusting to their new surroundings. A spotted tiger, a glassy wing and a giant owl looked like delicate paintings praying with their wings folded together.
The butterflies flittered among the staghorn and Boston ferns, carnivorous plants and varieties of bromeliads that live in the botanical garden’s greenhouse. A string-of-nickels plant (Dischidia nummularia) trailed across a horizontal post above a collection of orchids.
Visitors might recognize the penta (Penta lancelotta) and lantana (Lantana sp.) flowers from their own backyard gardens. Coiled rods hanging by iron hangers held tiny colorful saucers filled with sweet treats that the butterflies love to feed on.
Five varieties of dart frogs live in the greenhouse and fish swam in the ponds. The dart frogs are native to Central and South America; watch for the yellow and black or blue and black amphibians hiding under tropical leaves.
Tucson Botanical Gardens Beginnings
Visitors first see the Historical Garden after entering the Tucson Botanical Gardens. The staff styled the Historical Garden from the popular landscape found around homes from the 1880s through the 1940s. The Porter family grew tall tropical and fruit trees, building adobe walls to shade the garden from the southwestern sun; all aimed at providing a cool space in which to live and garden.
Harrison G. Yocum, a local horticulturist and plant collector, founded the Tucson Botanical Gardens in 1964. When Mrs. Bernice Porter wanted to contribute her home and gardens to the local community, Yocum and Porter worked together to lay a foundation for today’s Tucson Botanical Gardens.
Visiting Butterfly Magic in Tucson Arizona
Tucson Botanical Gardens is a small public garden in the heart of the second largest city in Arizona. The five-and-a-half-acre urban botanical garden brims with several types of landscaped spaces beyond those just for pollinators: a Railroad Garden, Herb Garden, Zen Garden and Succulent and Cactus Garden each educate would-be gardeners, whether they are travelers from afar or live nearby.
The indoor butterfly exhibit, called Butterfly Magic, runs from October through April each year.
Families building a butterfly garden in their own backyard should bring note-taking materials like a camera or tablet with them. Botanical gardens fill their butterfly exhibits with ideas on nectar and host plants that gardeners can grow at home and also highlight examples of mechanical nectar feeders that families may replicate in their own backyards.