20 Aug 2016

Butterflies Attract the Crowds

Bruce Langridge

The Postman, Mormons, Sara Longwing and Julia have been attracting a lot of interest in the Garden.

No, I’m not talking about religious female postal deliverers but tropical butterflies.

In June we converted our Tropical House into a tropical Butterfly House and boy what a good move this has proven to be. Now don’t get confused thinking that our Great Glasshouse has radically changed. No, that’s still displaying the largest collection of Mediterranean-climate plants in the Northern hemisphere and is still an enormous crowd pleaser.

I’m talking of the rectangular glasshouse in a corner of our Double Walled Garden which we have now renamed Plas Pilipala (pilipala is a Welsh word for a butterfly). Since it opened in 2006, the plants in there have been beautiful and fascinating but the theme of the plants has never caught on – tropical monocotyledons. It was intended to allow us to show a hot climate dimension to the outdoor Evolution of Flowering Plants display but really, it was a hard topic to sell given that most of our visitors won’t know the difference between a monocot and eudicot. As the person responsible for the interpretation at the Garden, I found it as hard to generate enthusiasm for a monocot display as I did for a Non-Mendelian Inheritance display bed that I was asked to interpret a few years ago.  In rugby terminology, these were hospital passes.

Tropical butterflies are totally different.

They can be colourful, huge, see-through, exotic and graceful, just some of the qualities which have helped to make them an instant hit with visitors – our summer visitor numbers are way up on last year. Butterflies make people smile and talk to each other, and in an age of the selfie, they provide some wonderful photo opportunities which are then shared with family and friends across the world. But that’s not all. As a national botanic garden, we also want to help our visitors to think and be curious about the natural world. With the aid of engaging signs, a brand new app (look for Plas Pilipala on Google Play and the App Store) and a wonderful troupe of friendly volunteers, we not only let visitors know about the lives of the exotic butterflies but we also provide a broader perspective about butterflies and other pollinators in Wales.

This message is crucial for us. Our science team, led by Dr. Natasha De Vere, use their DNA barcoding expertise and extensive horticultural resource to carry out fascinating research into the floral preferences of both honey bees and wild pollinators. If we can find out what plants are most important for pollinators then we can help to ensure that these plants are available in the pollinators’ natural habitat.
Garden volunteers help us to give out this message everyday inside Plas Pilipala. If you’d like to join them in helping us we’d be very grateful, as would our eager garden visitors. To do this, you could either phone our Volunteer Co-ordinator Jane Down on 01558 667118 or email Jane on jane.down@gardenofwales.org.uk