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March 24, 2014

Planning a butterfly garden? Plant some milkweed

Montreal Botanical Garden presents 'Butterflies Go Free'

MONTREAL — Where is spring?

About an hour away.

The Montreal Botanical Garden offers an annual rite of spring with the flight of a delicate butterfly.

This year’s edition of “Butterflies Go Free,” which is held indoors in the main exhibition greenhouse, highlights the chrysalis, the stage of life between caterpillar and butterfly.

“We have never really shown how beautiful these chrysalises are,” said Maxim Larrivee, the Montreal Insectarium head of research and collections. “They’re so mysterious in some ways because it’s probably the thing you see the least.”

Larrivee says that of all the development stages of the butterfly, the chrysalis is the stage that’s not only the most hidden but also the most vulnerable.

“And some of the chrysalises simply look like jewels.”

Some chrysalises have the ability to blend into a given environment, for example, a chrysalis that mimics a dead leaf.

How long a butterfly spends time in a chrysalis all depends on the species.

Some Eastern Township butterflies will be in a chrysalis stage for 10 to 14 days, while a tropical species like the heliconius only need seven to eight days.

On the other end of the spectrum, some butterflies stay put in a chrysalis for an entire winter, a stage known as winter diapause.

The main exhibition greenhouse holds a giant “emergent cage” that holds about 200 chrysalises, “so visitors can get up close and personal.”

“And if you’re really fortunate, you’ll be able to see some butterflies come out of their chrysalises,” Larrivee said.

BUILDING A BUTTERFLY GARDEN

Larrivee says it’s quite simple to plant a garden that will attract butterflies.

The main tip for our Northeast region is to plant milkweed.

“This is the most important tip,” Larrivee said.

And it’s a vital one at that. Larrivee says that the Botanical Garden and Insectarium is a big supporter of “Monarch Odyssey,” a Monarch watch program that helps to tag and stabilize the dwindling Monarch butterfly population.

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