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Powell Gardens Festival Highlights The Magic And Beauty Of Butterflies From Peru

A bounty of butterflies and moths will be fluttering and sipping nectar for visitors the 24th annual Festival of Butterflies at Powell Gardens in Kingsville, Missouri.

The 24th Annual Festival of Butterflies at Powell Gardens is a celebration of butterflies and moths from all over the world. For Tabitha Schmidt, Executive Director of Powell Gardens, the festival is about the joy of being close to butterflies, but it's about education too.

"We want people to understand the relationship between the pollinators, the butterflies and the plants in the ecosystem," Schmidt says.

This year the festival features Peru, home to the most varieties of butterfly in the world -- around 3,700 different kinds. For the next two weeks, the Martha Jane Phillips Starr Butterfly Conservatory will be filled with flashes of brilliant color featuring 22 new varieties of butterflies for die-hard butterfly fans to enjoy.

"You watch the kids, you watch the families," Schmidt says. "The joy and glee when a butterfly lands on them or they see one floating around in the garden."

Julie Denesha
Thirteen-year-old Mark Curtis tries not to move as a Great Eggfly rested on his hand.

The conservatory is filled with lush tropical plants. A fine mist also helps duplicate the steamy equatorial environment where the butterflies can thrive.

Visiting with her family from nearby Lee's Summit, Jean Bayless was delighted when a butterfly landed on her straw hat. It rested there for several minutes as a small crowd gathered to take photos.

"What was it like to have a butterfly land on me?" Jean Bayless asks with a laugh. "It was wonderful. I think everybody admired it but I couldn't see it myself."

Lead Horticulturist Brent Tucker is tasked with ordering butterflies for the festival each year. He says a new variety of Owl Butterfly has caught his fancy.

"It's called the Magnificent Owl and the owls are camouflaged, so they're typically closed and they have these big eye spots that help protect them from predators," Tucker says. "But when they open up their wings, there's this stripe of blue and yellow. It's beautiful."

Julie Denesha
A Monarch butterfly caterpillar munches on butterfly weed in the Seed to Plate Greenhouse.

Butterflies are still enclosed in chrysalides when they arrive at Powell Gardens. They are placed in the hatching chamber where they can safely emerge and dry their wings.

"Visitors can actually see that miracle happening in the hatching chamber," Tucker says. "You can actually see a butterfly coming out of its chrysalis, crawl up and then sit there before it starts pumping out its wings. Then it's ready to fly in a matter of minutes.

Education is an important part of the mission of the festival. Tucker says he likes to remind visitors that -- in addition to the bees -- butterflies play an important role in pollination, too. They are also just fascinating to watch.

"What I find most intriguing is the patterning and the color," Tucker says. "Sometimes it's about camouflage and other times it's all about being showy to attract that mate. That's what I really find exciting about nature and we see it with these butterflies every year."

Julie Denesha
Wings closed, eyespots on the underside of a Blue Morpho's wings help it blend in with its environment and deter predators.

For a few short weeks, the butterflies have free rein of the conservatory and then the festival is over.

"There are two words that really describe this moment: it's magical and it's fleeting," Schmidt says. "Butterflies don't live very long. They're this amazingly beautiful creature that have such a short lifespan. But they do so much for the world. They make such an impact."

Julie Denesha is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Kansas City. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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