Author Archive

Getting to the Root of the Environment

Big mammals get a lot of press.  The World Wildlife Federation has its panda mascot. “Save the Whales” is a green cliché.  But what would be the greenest battle cry?  Well, let’s put it this way: I’m a plant nerd, and even I rarely hear people clamoring, “Save the Plants!”.   

 Plant Conservation Day began in 2004, as one day in the year for zoos to acknowledge the importance of plants in habitats and in our daily lives.  The Butterfly Pavilion celebrates Plant Conservation Day in 2010 on Saturday, May 29th with Bloomapalooza, a day-long festival devoted to healthy backyard habitats.  But, being the horticulturist around here, I have the right to assert the need for plant conservation not just one, but 365 days of the year!  

 After all, we rely every day on plants for oxygen, shade, erosion control, food and medicines.  Think of an ecosystem.  Chances are, if you thought of tropical rainforests, you saw deep green jungles of trees and vines; a desert might bring cactuses and creosote to your imagination, and savannahs mean grasses as far as the eye can see.  Plants are the foundation of food chains, the producers that bring their sun-fueled energy to every habitat. 

 Luckily for us, there are many dedicated scientists, land managers and volunteers who recognize this fact and work to keep native plant populations diverse and robust.  And, there are so many ways for all of us to get involved.  If you are grateful for the things plants give us, why not give back through some of these opportunities? 

 1. Butterfly Pavilion

Nature Trail outside the Butterfly Pavilion

The Big Dry Creek open space is adjacent to the Butterfly Pavilion’s habitat garden and supports a variety of native plants and wildlife, from tough, dryland grasses and wildflowers to bald eagles and checkered white butterflies.  The Butterfly Pavilion relies heavily on the efforts of community volunteers to remove invasive weeds, maintain trails, plant wildflowers and grasses and study the native butterfly population.  For those folks who want a hands-on, shortgrass prairie restoration project, volunteering at the Butterfly Pavilion can be a rewarding experience.  Please contact Kris Pohl, Volunteer Coordinator, at

2. Wildlands Restoration Volunteers

WRV is a non-profit organization that brings volunteers together to restore local habitats and learn about the natural environment.  They organize about forty projects a year along the northern Front Range.  For example, this month, WRV will be restoring riparian habitat in the Campbell Valley, outside Fort Collins.  You can’t get more hand-on than this!  To find out more, go to

3. Colorado Native Plant Society

To appreciate plants, it helps to know what they are, right?  The CONPS is a dedicated, committed group of plant enthusiasts, environmentalists, botanists and gardeners, but they are also a treasure trove of plant knowledge and advocates for Colorado’s natural environment.  By becoming a member of CONPS, you can work with state and local agencies and other environmental groups to educate the public about the importance of preserving Colorado’s beautiful flora.  To learn more, please visit

4. Bloomapalooza, May 29th 2010 

And, finally, did you know that plant conservation can happen in your own backyard?  A careful choice of garden plants and strict attention to the more thuggish of weeds can yield great dividends to the community.  Our plant conservation festival, Bloomapalooza, will offer numerous opportunities to learn more about the beauty of backyard habitats, from gardening demonstrations to ladybug releases.  We’ll even feature a “Get Dirty Project”, in which visitors can help with the planting of a butterfly habitat garden at the Butterfly Pavilion!  After a full day of Bloomapalooza, Butterfly Pavilion visitors will be plant conservation converts!

Posted by Amy Yarger

Horticulture Director

May 21, 2010 at 6:16 pm Leave a comment

A Winter Garden Experience

Not many visitors make it to the outdoor gardens or nature trail in the winter, and really, I can’t blame them.  Why go outside in the frigid wind or slippery snow, when one can bask in the tropical warmth and colorful blooms of our butterfly conservatory?  Is there really anything to see outdoors between November and March?

Well, hold on to your earmuffs, everybody.   Outdoor gardens during the winter months can be exciting, inspiring, beautiful places, if a visitor knows what to expect.  A sunny day in Colorado can be crystalline, or as one of our members told me once, “severe clear”.  On days like that, our habitat gardens are a symphony of blue, white and gold.  And as dormant as it may seem, there is a lot going on underneath the surface.

If you make the chilly trek to the Butterfly Pavilion gardens anytime soon, here are some things to look for.

Unleash your inner tracker.  We get a lot of bunny tracks throughout the garden (no big surprise there), but an observant visitor may also see different bird tracks, prairie dog tracks and even coyote tracks.

They aren’t dead, they’re waiting.  Most of our garden plants are busy gearing up for the spring explosion, but many contribute subtle hues to the winter garden.  Look for bluish evergreens, golden grasses, and silvery rabbitbrush.  Red twig dogwoods and coppery sedum add even more interest.   We wait to clean up our gardens in spring, so that standing shrubs and perennials provide valuable habitat for garden wildlife during the cold season.

Spot some winter wings.  Insects need a certain temperature to be active, but on a warm winter day, you may see a mourning cloak butterfly, which overwinters as an adult and feeds on tree sap.  You might also see some clusters of ladybugs searching for aphids, which can reproduce at 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

We don’t just sit around and drink cocoa, you know.  The horticulture staff and volunteers are busy getting the grounds ready for the growing season- adding compost and mulch, fixing paths and pruning trees.  They’re always happy to answer your gardening questions!

March 5, 2010 at 10:57 pm Leave a comment

Attracting the Good Guys

 From the title, you might think that Bug Bytes has suddenly become an advice column for the lovelorn.  Actually, since I began gardening here at the Butterfly Pavilion, I’ve learned to find emotional drama on a much smaller scale.  Why else would I curse when I see a cluster of aphids on a new milkweed leaf, or laugh at the uncanny appearance of a praying mantis?


Okay, okay.  I can accept that not everyone gets all gushy at the sight of a ladybug larvae (cootchie-cootchie coo!), but I will report that this small-scale soap opera is yielding many benefits for our habitat gardens here.  We don’t use any pesticides in our gardens at the Butterfly Pavilion; butterflies and other beneficial invertebrates (the “good guys” of the title) are very sensitive to chemical contaminants, and the risk of wiping them out is just too great.  In order to keep our gardens happy and healthy, we have to rely on other pest management (notice I didn’t say “pest elimination” or “pest Armageddon”) techniques. 


The first principle is to monitor the garden closely.  That’s right, watch your garden as if it was “The Sopranos” and “Wild Kingdom” combined.  Actually, those ladybug larvae are pretty bloodthirsty, if you’re an aphid.  By paying attention to your garden inhabitants, you can get a pretty good idea of how healthy your garden is and catch pest problems before they get out of hand.  Here at the Butterfly Pavilion, we keep a running tally of what insects visit our plants and in what numbers.  We also note what plants seem to suffer the most, and what plants attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies and beetles.


The second principle is to make your garden a home for beneficial insects.  Do you envision yourself building thumbtack-size condos for ladybugs?  Don’t worry, creating bug habitat is much simpler, and more satisfying.  Predators of garden pests need food and shelter just like any other creature.  Many beneficials need nectar as an energy source in their adult phase.  Most healthy perennial gardens, if grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, do a fine job of attracting ladybugs, parasitoid wasps, praying mantises, hoverflies and the like.  There are some plants, such as fennel, yarrow and rabbitbrush, which seem to bring the good guys in droves, however.


Of course, it is important to learn how to recognize a beneficial insect.  Often, when I’m releasing ladybugs in our habitat garden, visitors will ask me about these strange black alligator-looking bugs they’ve seen in their own backyards.  Are they pests?  Will they bite?  How relieved they are when I tell them they’ve just spotted a baby ladybug…and how relieved I am when they haven’t sprayed it yet!  There are some great insect field guides available, and of course, the Internet has information on insect identification.  A few minutes of research can mean a much happier garden for plants, people and wildlife.


Our habitat gardens at the Butterfly Pavilion are well-established and experience very few pest problems.  To be honest, the biggest pest problem comes from the vertebrates: rabbits, voles and litterbugs.  One of the goals of habitat gardening is to create a sustainable mini-ecosystem, and our “good guys” have made this possible.


Posted by Amy Yarger

Horticulture Director

May 14, 2008 at 4:34 pm 1 comment

Pollination Nation

Big Jobs for Some our World’s Smallest Creatures

Imagine your life without the ability to move.  Even plants, or at least plant parts, need a measure of mobility in order to reproduce successfully.  Indeed, life as we know it depends on the movement of pollen from one plant to another.  Without this process, most of our world’s plants would be unable to produce fertile seeds, stranding them in a reproductive dead end. While some plants can self-pollinate, most rely on wind or animals to spread their pollen to other individuals of the same species.   Insects are among the most common pollinators of flowering plants, and their partnerships with plants are vital to ecosystem health and our survival.

Pollinators and plants are partners in the true sense of the word, even if the partnership is sometimes fraught with complexity.  Animal pollinators tend to be faithful to certain plant types, as long as they are rewarded with food or some other resource.  For this reason, animal-pollinated flowers often use bright colors, strong fragrances and arresting shapes as advertisements to attract their pollen-carrying counterparts. Most people are familiar with those six-legged cupids, the honeybees, but gardens, fields and meadows host a wide variety of pollinators, including solitary bees, bumblebees, moths, butterflies, flies and beetles.

The importance of these often-overlooked animals to our global health becomes more apparent each year.  Some researchers estimate that a third of our food (including condiments, spices and beverages) requires animal pollination, and more than half of the world’s diet of fats and oils comes from animal pollinated crops.  In fact, animal pollinated products, from fibers to medicine to food, annually contribute 20 billion dollars to the United States economy!

Unfortunately, decades of habitat degradation and rampant pesticide use have taken their toll on the world’s pollinator populations. This could translate into negative effects on our dinner tables and in our wallets.  When declines in honeybee populations in Europe and the United States made news last year, many people surmised that Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) could act as a wake-up call for the plight of pollinators and their habitats.  While scientists have not yet identified a cause or a cure, many suspect newly identified pathogens may play a role in the bees’ plight. 

In the meantime, people everywhere can play a role in protecting our plants, pollinators and our world by improving our understanding of these important organisms and by making responsible choices to protect them.  

Learn more about plants, pollinators, and their impacts during


June 20-September 1, 2008

at the Butterfly Pavilion  

Posted by Amy Yarger
Director of Horticulture, Butterfly Pavilion


April 15, 2008 at 6:53 pm 1 comment

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