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Fluttering Through Time: 30 Years of Blooms & Butterflies

Published February 22, 2024

When you think of Franklin Park Conservatory, what do you think of? Plants, of course, but the next thing that comes to mind for many people is butterflies. This year, we are celebrating 30 years of the iconic Blooms & Butterflies exhibition. Once a saving grace during lean times, the butterfly exhibition is now an iconic staple of the Conservatory. 

As the Conservatory celebrates 30 years of its iconic Blooms & Butterflies exhibition, it’s hard to imagine that it all started with a daring gamble. Back in 1994, still fresh off the heels of AmeriFlora ’92, Franklin Park Conservatory was in desperate need of a refresh. Determined to keep the organization afloat, the Executive Director and Board Chair at the time made a bold decision: they would invest nearly all of the Conservatory’s remaining funds—approximately $30,000—to create a butterfly exhibition unlike any other.

Blooms & Butterflies circa 2001

Inspired by a permanent exhibition at Callaway Gardens, they envisioned a seasonal spectacle to captivate visitors. It wasn’t an easy feat. While other gardens opted for permanent structures dedicated solely to butterflies, the team at Franklin Park Conservatory wanted something distinct. They decided to integrate the butterflies into the existing plant collection, pioneering a new approach to butterfly exhibitions.

Employees initiated numerous tasks to retrofit the Conservatory and bring the exhibition to life. They constructed the Metamorphosis Lab, where visitors can watch the butterflies hatch and dry their wings until they are ready for their first flight in the Pacific Island Water Biome. 

Because the butterflies selected for the exhibition are non-native to the state, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) considers the insects pests and requires two separate permits. Our teams had to modify the biome to ensure proper containment of the butterflies before obtaining the permits. They installed double sets of doorways to enter and exit the Pacific Island Water Garden Biome, equipped with fans above the doorways. Our teams screened all ventilation systems within the biome to prevent the butterflies from escaping.  

Blooms & Butterflies circa 2022

After all the pre-work, our staff began ordering butterflies, prepping promotional materials, and installing plants for the exhibition. Shortly before opening day, Conservatory staff discovered that the Conservatory did not have enough nectar plants for the butterflies to feed on for the entire duration of the exhibition. Thankfully, Franklin Park Conservatory had a connection at Callaway Gardens. Molly Clark, an employee at the time, rented a van and made the 20-hour round trip to Georgia in just two days to get free nectar plants from Callaway Gardens. 

Finally, it was opening day. “It was a gamble; we had almost no funding at the time, but this was our chance to put the Conservatory on the map. There wasn’t anything like it [exotic butterflies], even beyond a conservatory. Plus, if you think of what kinds of things there were to do with your family in 1994, there wasn’t anything like it, especially in Columbus,” shared Garry Clark, who was a horticulturist at the time and has been with the Conservatory since AmeriFlora ‘92 and is now the Vice President of Planning. Throughout the exhibition’s first run, 40,000 guests marveled at the emergence and flight of over 1,000 butterflies representing 20 tropical species. Franklin Park Conservatory made history as the first botanical garden in the nation to showcase a seasonal butterfly exhibition. 

Blooms & Butterflies circa 2001

The exhibition’s name has had a few variations over the years, but in 1994, it was titled Butterfly Garden… Something Rare in the Air. Eventually, the Conservatory changed the name to what we know today, Blooms & Butterflies, to emphasize that the exhibition is a flower and butterfly show. This year, there will be approximately 120 flowering plants, creating 60,000+ individual blooms and 20,000 butterflies will take flight over the exhibition run.

In more recent years, the Conservatory has joyfully welcomed back numerous individuals who, as children, visited the exhibition with their families in its early days. Now, they return, bringing their own children to relish the wonders and beauty of the exhibition. There is something truly magical about creating a space where families can create and pass down those same memories to their children. 

To celebrate 30 years of this groundbreaking exhibition, Blooms & Butterflies will run from February 24-July 7, 2024. On opening day, the Conservatory will offer a butterfly craft, an opportunity to learn more about the Mother of Pearl butterfly, and guests can enjoy a slice of anniversary cake (while supplies last). 


Blooms & Butterflies circa 2008

The future of Blooms & Butterflies is bright, and it is because of the donors, members, visitors and volunteers who have supported the exhibition for the last 30 years. We thank you all for your continued love and support of our organization. The Conservatory takes pride in being a place where lifelong memories and family traditions grow, just like the butterflies and plants within our walls. 

General admission tickets include access to this exhibition, and reservations are not needed but are encouraged. To reserve tickets, visit our website.

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