In the spring, the dry, hot East Valley desert transforms into a fluttering butterfly haven. Despite receiving an average of only a half-foot of rain each year, the Sonoran Desert’s rich ecology and warm climate are great for butterflies.
Arizona is home to 326 butterfly species, and during the warm months, East Valley residents can find plenty of opportunities to observe the little flutterers. Butterfly watching is fast becoming the new bird-watching, says Beth Hoss of the Gold Canyon Garden Club. “People are fascinated with butterflies,” Hoss says. “They’re just so hypnotizing to watch.”
Five years ago the Gold Canyon Garden Club created a lush 2,500-square-foot butterfly garden, which attracts hundreds of butterfly species each season.
After the recent winter freeze, the club spent February rehabilitating the garden
and is already seeing a new batch of butterflies.
“They’re just beginning to come,” Hoss says. “We get comments all the time from people who went down to see the butterfly garden and how much they enjoyed it.”
In mid-March, butterflies start emerging across the Valley. They need 14 hours of rest a day and are most active in the afternoon.
About 20 species of native butterflies as well as species that would normally not be found in the desert live seasonally at Marshall Butterfly Pavilion at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.
About 1,500 butterflies are housed in an greenhouse pavilion. Open for its sixth year, the spring exhibit is a butterfly lover’s paradise.
“We’re always getting changing butterflies,” says Melanie Day, manager of temporary exhibitions at the garden. “This year we’ve been getting a lot of zebra swallowtails, which we haven’t gotten a lot in the past, and people are really enjoying those.”
Patrons can also see giant swallowtails, great southern whites, queens, julias, painted ladies and malachites.
“The weather we have here in the springtime is perfect for butterflies,” Day says. “The butterflies in the spring are very social. They’ll fly all around you and land on you.”
“Find plants that are bright and shiny,” says Beth Hoss of the Gold Canyon Garden Club. “They love things that are colorful. That’s what attracts them.”
Plant multiple flowers to attract the widest range of species. It’s best to plant in a sunny location with a water source for the butterflies.
Native and desert-adapted plants that provide nectar for butterflies include red bird of paradise, yellow cosmos, yellow lantana, purple verbena, Mexican sunflower, dahlia, catclaw acacia and chaste tree.
Giant swallowtail Location: Blooming citrus trees, bougainvilleas in Arizona
Wingspan: 4 to 6.4 inches
Queen Location: Southern Arizona
Wingspan: 2.75 to 3.25 inches
Zebra swallowtail Location: Eastern North America, from Canada to Florida
Wingspan: 3.75 to 4.5 inches
Spring butterfly exhibit
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Through May 13. Cost: $12 adults, $11 seniors 60 and older, $7 students, $6 children ages 3-12 (includes garden admission) Where: Desert Botanical Garden, 1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix Information: (480) 941-1225 or www.dbg.org Gold Canyon butterfly garden Where: 2003 S. Alameda Road Information: (480) 288-1720