A Visit to the Marshall Butterfly Pavilion

cactus flower

Cactus flower

My husband and I celebrated our first anniversary a few weekends ago.  Because we both had to go back to work the day after our wedding, we never went on a honeymoon.  So we went all out on a three-day trip to Phoenix to celebrate our anniversary as a sort of belated honeymoon.  We stayed at one of the swanky resorts, ate a lot of great food, and mostly just relaxed.  Each day we ventured away from the resort for 3-4 hours to visit some of the sights in Phoenix.  On the last day of our trip, we went to the phenomenal Desert Botanical Garden.  I’ve been there before, but I wanted to go again because it was the first time I’d been to the Garden while they had their butterfly exhibit open.


One of the landscaped gardens at the Desert Botanical Garden

I LOVE the Desert Botanical Garden!  Although I adore flowers, I am not much of a plant person (just ask my poor rosebush!) and botanical gardens don’t hold my interest the way going to a zoo or a really spectacular art or science museum does.  Staring down at the ground at plants is simply less exciting to me than watching animals.  But the Desert Botanical Garden is different.  It is stunningly beautiful.  It’s laid out perfectly.  It’s huge and has a fantastic combination of landscaped gardens and native Sonoran Desert land.  It’s got desert plants, the ones I love the best.  And, for a few months each spring, they’ve got a butterfly exhibit.


Butterfly exhibit

I’ve been to a lot of butterfly exhibits over the past 15 years.  I enjoy them immensely.  There’s definitely something magical about sitting in a room with butterflies flitting around you, watching them feed like little gluttons on orange slices and flowers.  The vast majority of the butterfly exhibits I’ve been to so far have featured tropical butterflies and moths, so you usually get a mixture of giant blue morphos, any number of butterflies in the genus Heliconius, some atlas moths, and other flashy and/or big lepidopterans.  It’s always nice to see these guys because I’ve never been anywhere tropical to see them in the wild.  Tucson has a botanical garden with a great little tropical butterfly exhibit, so I go there when I want to get my tropical butterfly fix.

butterfly tree

Lots of butterflies in the trees!

The Marshall Butterfly Pavilion was a bit different.  You wander inside and are greeted not by tropical beauties, but by several hundred native butterflies.  Most of the butterflies in the exhibit are native to the Sonoran Desert and all of them can be found flying free in southern states of the U.S.  I thought it was fabulous!  While it’s fun to see tropical butterflies, it’s great that people at the Desert Botanical Garden can learn about some of the amazing butterflies they will find visiting their own yards.  If they take their guide to the butterflies in the exhibit home with them, they’ve got a head start on identifying their backyard butterflies.  Brilliant!

And our native butterflies are spectacular too!  Check out this giant swallowtail:


Giant swallowtail (Papilio cresophontes)

These butterflies are native to the Sonoran Desert.  In fact, if you read my blog last fall, you’ve already seen the caterpillar of this butterfly!  It looks like bird poop and then turns into this gorgeous animal.  Fantastic butterfly.  And look at this julia butterfly:

Julia butterfly
A julia butterfly (Dryas julia)

You probably won’t find this one in Phoenix, but it’s found in Texas and occasionally wanders as far north as Nebraska.  They’re a lovely orange color so I ended up with a WHOLE lot of photos of these!  Or what about the elegant luna moth:

luna moth

A rather shabby luna moth (Actias luna)

I’m pretty sure these don’t make it quite as far west as I live, but my mom sees them all the time in Missouri and sends me specimens now and again.  They’re so, so gorgeous!  Someday I’ll get to see one in the wild, but I was thrilled beyond belief that they had them in the butterfly exhibit in Phoenix.  This was the only one I saw and was rather worn, but it was still exciting to see a live one.

butterfly bowl

Butterflies sucked on orange juice in one of several of these glass bowls.

The butterflies were fantastic, but I was very impressed with the exhibit itself.  The space was large and open.  There was enough room for 50-100 people to share the space at one time, which was about how many people were in the exhibit when I was there.  They had a lot of docents wandering around answering questions – and getting them right.  (Entomological Pet Peeve #1: people who don’t know the answer to a bug question making something up that’s totally wrong…)  The exhibit space included a lovely garden full of butterfly plants that you can plant in your own yard, so it was part live butterfly exhibit and part butterfly plant demonstration garden.  There was a little pond in one corner, though the docents had to rescue several butterflies from the water while I was there.  The best part of the exhibit: the space was enclosed, but it was enclosed by a fine mesh.  There was lots of fresh air in the space and because it was a wonderfully cool and overcast the day we went, it was cool and overcast in the exhibit.  A lot of butterfly exhibits I’ve been to, especially those with the tropical butterflies, have been stiflingly hot inside, so this was a lovely change of pace.

Once outside the exhibit, there were educational displays about butterflies where you could touch dead butterflies (awesome) and learn more about them.  There were also some of those painted wooden boards with the holes for the heads cut out.  They amuse me greatly.  I got the best picture ever of my husband as the butterfly, but he refuses to let me put it online.  Sigh…

blooming palo verde

Blooming palo verde tree with honeybee

The trip to the butterfly exhibit was a great way to spend the last few hours of our vacation before going back home!  It was so peaceful and the people in the exhibit were so happy to be there.  I was really blown over by the whole experience.  If you ever visit Phoenix in the spring, I highly recommend a stop at the Desert Botanical Gardens.  Wander the beautiful gardens while everything is in bloom and spend some time with butterflies.  What could be better?


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