Sunday, April 3, 2016

Wonderful Birthday!

Tuesday, March 29 was a beautiful day, sunny, mid 50s with a light breeze.  A blessing of a day at a time of year that is just as likely to snow on us as remember that it is spring.  In fact, as I am sitting here writing this blog it is snowing… more than an inch of accumulation and since the temperature is dropping, it may be here for a bit.  Happy spring to us!

My annual birthday present as many of you know is a trip to Fredrick Meijer Gardens to see the Butterflies are Blooming event.  I love going to a huge greenhouse where it is warm to chase butterflies with my camera, soak in hot humidity, drool over plants, talk to people and go on a road trip to someplace exotic.  Well, perhaps not Costa Rica exotic but as close as I can get to it.  Also this year I wanted to see the new Japanese Garden that was put in last year.  I haven’t seen it yet because last year was not nice and no one wanted to walk around outside.  This year?  Perfect.

The entrance to the Main buildings is the Cook Entry Arbor which is a greenhouse with heated floors.  I am usually in such a hurry to get inside the main building itself that I rush through this section with a quick, “Oh that’s pretty” but nary a picture.  This hurry was made evident to me while writing an earlier blog this year about the Grand Rapids Home and Garden Show in which a staff member from FMG talked about the containers she takes care of in this entrance.  After looking through all my photos from past visits I realized I did not have a single one to show you in the blog.  So I remedied that.  She does a wonderful job of making it feel like spring in this beautiful area.  Now that I know what to look for, I was able to see how she keeps the containers fresh looking and yet able to move, add and subtract to keep it beautiful for several months.

Beautiful layers of flowers
Photo opportunity in the butterfly seat. I want to own one of these someday.
One of the two new olive trees donated to the garden.
They were budding.  The hyacinths in the foreground are just hot.

Upon gaining entrance after learning that there still isn’t a birthday benefit, I shed my coat and we headed to the Holton Arid Garden, home of the dryland plants.  Wonderful heat to thaw winter weary bones.  Warning:  Everything is pokey…. everything.  Very unfriendly plants actually.

I just like the composition of the barrel cactus
and the almost soft looking pillow pouf cushion seats they remind me of.
This little guy is one of my favorite statues.
He is a part of a group of five meerkats by the American artist Tom Hillis.
He made this sculpture entitled “Five Meerkats” two years before he died in 1998.
Did I mention pokey?  A miniature agave.

On to the Nelson Carnivorous Plant House where it was slightly stinky and very humid.  Weird plants live here.  I asked T where he would prefer to live and he said he would rather live in the Arid greenhouse than the Carnivore greenhouse, too humid for him and hard to breathe.  Can I have both?

The sticky Sundew Plant glistens so innocently.
Pretty to me but deadly to insects.

The next area we traveled through was the Jarecki Seasonal Display Greenhouse.  This is where they have done a monarch butterfly exhibit for the last couple of years.  The monarch is a popular insect and awareness of its declining numbers and how to mitigate that is growing.  While there are many insects and animals at risk, any positive change for the monarch will also benefit many others, so I applaud rather than complain about the sometimes single minded publicity of the monarch.

Monarch larva on a milkweed plant.

Curious, I talked to one of the volunteers about where the monarch larvae come from and what happens to the adult butterflies after hatching.  We had a very interesting discussion about monarch populations of which there are 3 (1. California – stays west of the Rockies and overwinters in California and Mexico  2. Midwest / Eastern (these are “our” monarchs) – goes all the way up into Canada on 3 or 4 generations and the 4th or 5th generation flies back to Mexico  3. Florida population - overwinters in Florida.) Did you know that? I only knew about two.  Our discussion also explored the idea of how the overwintering practices might change the genetic makeup of these different populations.


I also learned that the last generation of monarch butterflies have different wings than that of their predecessors.  The wings are longer to help them make the very long journey back to Mexico.  So not only do they not reach sexual maturity until after they over winter in Mexico, they are structurally different too.  All in all, the monarch is an amazing creature that cements in my mind an Intelligent Creator.  It is too incredibly complex for any other explanation.  Amazing.

Last stop before the Conservatory was the Holton Victorian Garden Parlor where the large Wardian Case lives.  This is pretty much a mini greenhouse that was created by Dr. Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward after a discovery of a sprouted fern in a glass jar that formally housed a cacoon.   Apparently the air in London was so foul that plants from the country side had to be protected from it.  I wonder how many people would have loved to live in their wardian cases?  This discovery also helped many species of plants from overseas survive the long boat trips to England during many plant collecting excursions.  I have a tiny one that I use to start seeds in but oh wouldn’t a big one be amazing?

Wardian Case with a variety of plants including a lady’s slipper orchid.

Now onto the Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory!  Oh Joy! Oh wow HOT!  Since the sun was shining, the temperature in the greenhouse was about 85 degrees.  After eavesdropping on a horticulturist in conversation with a couple who may have been her grandparents, I discovered it was also about 85 percent humidity too.  People were literally dripping with sweat and one poor mom was visibly wilting and told me the heat makes her feel sick.  An amateur photographer who obviously loved her work and was kind enough to answer my many questions about cameras and photography caved to the heat after a while and had to go out to cool off.  No, I did not run her off; she took a lot of pictures after our conversation before saying good-bye to me and leaving for cooler temperatures.   I loved it.

So here are a ridiculous amount of pretty pictures….  Ahem please note that I took over 400 that day.

Can a butterfly lurk or be ominous?  I didn’t even see the second one when taking this shot.
Small Postman on a white orchid with a Pink Rose Swallowtail in the back.
Pink Rose Swallowtail from the top.  It has pink on the underside of the wings which you can see in the earlier photo of the lurking butterfly.
I like the color contrast in this one.  Small Postman on a yellow Lantana.
Broken and battered winged Emerald Swallowtail on a white Penta
being dive bombed by a Postman.
T patiently waiting for me while I took lots and lots of pictures.  He is a good man.
Orchid ball.  This is quite amazing actually.

This is the first time I have seen an orchid ball.  As best as I can figure, each one of these plants was grown separately until it started flowering.  The stems would not be straight if it had been grown in the ball form.  After bloom has started, each plant was tied /wired into a (I am assuming) a sphere shaped wire form with sheet moss around the roots and then set on a pedestal hidden by Spanish moss.  I estimate there are about 20 to 40 plants in each ball.  It was beautiful. There were two white orchid balls and one purple and white flowered orchid ball.  These are Phalaenopsis orchids.

The purple and white Phalaenopsis version.
Maybe one of the Postmen?  The little butterfly guide leaves much to be desired.  I want a top and bottom view of the wings people!  Oh, and ALL of the butterflies in the exhibit IN the guide!
I’m not demanding at all.
While its markings match that of a Blue Wing, our butterfly friend seems to have lost its blue.
Atlas Moth still in the Butterfly Bungalow where the chrysalis hatch.
This baby is huge at about 10 inches across.
I had to go looking in past year’s butterfly guides for this one as it wasn’t included in this year’s guide.  It is a Blue Clipper and the first time I’ve seen one despite the fact they have apparently been included in the exhibit for at least 3 years.  Yes, I have all the guides and tickets from past visits… I am NOT a nerd!  Ok, I am a nerd but at least T thinks I’m cute.
Gorgeous variety of different types orchids as usual.
Along with the orchid balls, an orchid arch was new this year too.

Of course every year is another attempt to get a shot of the blue wings of the elusive Blue Morpho Butterfly.  At rest with folded wings, they are a tapestry of browns and reds.  Beautiful in its own way but the top of the wings... oh my gorgeous flashing blue.  In reality the wings are not actually blue but the way the light reflects off of the scales is understood by our brains to be blue.  Kinda like why the sky is blue.  Since it was so warm and sunny, the butterflies were very active.  Morphos are fast…  I felt like I was trying to chase a golf ball down a fairway with a camera.  (Have you ever thought about how hard that is?  A tiny white ball that blends in with the sky going very fast is being chased by a camera from far away… that was always the most interesting thing to me about a golf game the few times I was stuck watching one on TV.  I admired the camera man’s expertise.)  Anyway, here are some rather humorous, we are going with humorous because otherwise it is frustratingly sad, attempts to get the shot.

Yep, that is blue.  Focused?  Not so much.  There are two Blue Morphos in this shot, one flying and the other sitting on a leaf just above it.   Oh and a Postman too.
The brown, creams and rust color of the undersides of a Blue Morpho.
Yes, a Blue Morpho landed on T right next to me.  Ahhhh!!!

I had my zoom lens on the camera so I had to back up while frantically taking pictures.  Did I mention it was moving fast and I didn’t have the right setting on?  I had just been taking pictures of very still orchids.  BUT I got the blue!  Well, kinda but it is the best one of the day.  So cool that it landed on T. It actually crawled / flew all over him but just on the other side of him out of my sight.  However, for the brief time it was visible to me, I was able to get a couple of shots.  Score!!

I think this is the only guaranteed way to get the blue (besides the dead mounted ones for sale in the gift shop).  Sad but true.  Postman is doing a flyby.

I believe that I will leave you here and pick up the rest of the journey next week.  We visited the new Japanese garden and our favorite sculptures.  I don’t want to overwhelm you with too many pictures!


  1. Beautiful once again. I'm so glad you had fun in the sun, with the plants, flowers & butterflies!

  2. Love the photography...took my little "H" out on a nature walk to find Monarch caterpillars..sadly most of the milkweed we found was dead stuff from last year, and nary a caterpillar in sight.